Five SF Strategies for Creating More Land

“Buy land—they’re not making it anymore!” So the real estate saying goes. Of course, a moment’s contemplation reveals that this is either misleading or irrelevant. We possess ways to make more land, or at least create its equivalent. Science fiction being science fiction, authors have imagined methods whereby the effective land area of a planet could be increased without leaving said planet.

Here are five.

Tall Buildings

Perhaps some Cro-Magnon muttered “they’re not making any more caves,” justifying why they just murdered a family of Neanderthals for their cave. Even then, the claim would have been inaccurate. Humans and their kin have been building shelters for a very long time. Multi-story buildings are an ancient variant and each floor adds to the effective land area available for human use.

2012’s The Tower provides a notable example. One hundred and eight stories tall, the titular building dominates the Korean cityscape surrounding it. The exemplary structure offers nearly every amenity Korea’s wealthy could desire for a lavish Christmas Eve celebration… save for a functional fire suppression system above the 60th floor. What could go wrong?

The Tower is a spiritual successor to the venerable The Towering Inferno, without Inferno’s effervescent sense of optimism. I’ll note that it’s super easy to remember the names of all of the surviving characters by the end of the film.

Climate Change

We tend to see rapid, dramatic climate change as calamitous, threatening as it does to destabilize our agriculture and weather while facilitating gratuitous citations from certain dreadful SF novels I could name. However, ice ages expose land shelves, while greenhouse Earths have more clement Antarcticas. My gut feeling is that ice ages are a better bet for a net increase of useful land, but I have not run the numbers.

The visionaries featured in John Jacob Astor IV’s 1894 A Journey in Other Worlds plan to engage in extensive climate engineering. The Terrestrial Axis Straightening Company is busily engaged in exactly what the name suggests, correcting Earth’s obliquity from 23 degrees to zero, thus increasing land useful to Americans and perhaps the lesser nations before America sweeps them aside. The project turns out a great success!

The architects celebrate by going on safari: travelling to alien worlds to kill every animal they can.

Astor had an eventful life of which writing novels was but a small part.1 His contemporaries might have focused disapprovingly on his scandalous 1909 divorce and the second marriage that soon followed. I prefer a positive perspective: Astor remained happily married to second wife Madeleine Talmage Force for the remainder of his life.

Shell Worlds

Shell worlds are the logical extension of high-rises, tower blocks, arcologies, and their ilk. Trantorforming the entire landmass (or for the ambitious, the oceans as well) amplifies effective land area by as many floors as one cares to add. A single planet might offer its inhabitants as much area as a small galactic empire… all within a day or two’s travel.

Brian Stableford’s The Realms of Tartarus­ trilogy—The Face of Heaven (1976), A Vision of Hell (1977), and A Glimpse of Infinity (1977)—offers a modest example. Having polluted the Earth’s surface beyond toleration, humanity invested eleven thousand years building a vast shell above the tainted land. Humans rarely think of the spoiled land below their visible perfect world… a mistake, as the conditions imposed by the shell on the realm below it turn out to be ideal for accelerated evolution amongst species long forgotten by humans.

The Realms of Tartarus also serve as an example of something that’s worth an essay: a culture that managed to maintain the same goal for about as long as humans have possessed agriculture. It is an inspiration for everyone who struggles to keep a project alive for a mere decade or so.

Time Shares

One could effectively increase land area and related resources by limiting the duration during which each human made use of them. Various means offer themselves—hibernation, stasis fields, and the like—and while we do not know how to do any of them, that’s not an issue for SF authors!

Philip José Farmer’s 1971 “The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World” features a world so overpopulated that the government mandates universal suspended animation for six of every seven days. Tom Pym is awake only on Tuesdays. Jennie Marlowe, with whom Tom is smitten, is awake on Wednesdays. What are the two lovebirds to do?

A simple note left by Tom for Jennie or vice versa outlining their plans would have been a very good idea. Characters in stories like this have never read “The Gift of the Magi.” Readers for whom this short tale was insufficient will be pleased to know it inspired the Dayworld tetralogy of novels, each volume of which is somehow even more dire than the previous.

Smaller People

One can effectively increase the area available by reducing human stature. There are many ways humans could be made smaller. Some are plausible. Some are humane. In real life, the method used should fall into both sets. Once again, authors are not so limited.2

By the time readers meet Matthew Dilke, protagonist of Lindsay Gutteridge’s 1971 Cold War in a Country Garden, he has been shrunk to one-three-hundredths of his original size. From his perspective, the world is now three hundred times larger… including all of the predatory insects with whom Dilke must now contend. Nevertheless, miniaturization offers a solution to overpopulation3 and a valuable tool in the Cold War.

I cannot have been the only audience member who wondered why Thanos didn’t simply shrink everyone in the universe to half their original volume. I joke! Obviously in a universe that has an Ant-Man, miniaturization was an option, but Thanos wanted a method that killed untold trillions of entities because Thanos is a jerk.

These are but five ways authors can use to effectively increase the amount of land available to us. No doubt there are more. Feel free to make the case for your favorites in comments below. icon-paragraph-end

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