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Starstuff harvesting starlight...

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(It’s been a year since I started this but I’ve been picking away at it again. I shared part of the thing last September, here’s some more of it.)



     Jagged edges. The light bent in unnatural ways around her field of vision, and a strong smell of curry hung in the air.

     ‘No,’ she thought. The smell was coming from Outside — it wasn’t part of the program. ‘Darie’s cooking,’ she realized. ‘Maybe I’ll mess around in here a bit longer.’ Somewhere, far away, she felt her stomach turn at the thought of Darie’s chicken curry.

     She moved forward, deeper into the illusion city. Trying to keep herself from cringing at warping textures and a laughable framerate. She didn’t want to admit it, but despite the horrid visuals, there was something about this program that caught her attention. Other than her footsteps on simple, flat-colored pavement polys, there was no sound to be heard. No attempt to emulate nature or the ambience of a city, and most definitely no background music — not even in the title screen. The awkward silence was intriguing.

     There was no map of the city — that she could find, at least. In fact, there were no menus, objectives, or text of any kind to be found anywhere. Other than an amusingly old-school chrome-finished symbol, there had been no information on the title screen, either.

     She looked up, pushing aside the thought of this being some programming student’s homework. Darie knew vintage software — it’s what he did. He wouldn’t have had her waste her time inside some kid’s coding experiment for no reason. She was having trouble finding that reason.

     From the alleyway where she was standing, all she could see were the sides of tall grey buildings and a small patch of the blue skybox, with its painted-on clouds. The scenery reminded her of rural Japanese towns, with their criss-crossing streets and tangles of power lines above.

     ‘Gotta get to higher-ground,’ trying to think her way through the maze.

     As she started to walk, something moved in the sky. Surprised, she focused on the patch of sky she could see, but there was nothing there. A z-buffer artifact? Jaggies? No, whatever it was, it had clearly moved purposefully — it was animated. Everything she’d encountered in the city up to now had been static and silent. Dead.

     Keeping her eyes on the sky, she ran down the alley, hoping to find a clearing in the blocky buildings. Whoever had programmed this place was obviously not an fan of physics. Bumping into the walls was more like bouncing off of them, and running felt far too much like gliding. But, right now, none of that could distract her, and she kept going.

     Suddenly, the buildings parted. She’d reached a tiny hill at the end of an alley, somehow. She scanned the sky until she saw them.

     A flock of them, in the distance. Tiny white, pixelated birds, beautifully animated as they flew toward the taller city buildings down below. They made no sound as they receeced and eventually faded into the program’s short draw-distance.

     Mesmerized, she hadn’t noticed the lighting had changed, as if to simulate a sunset. Had she chased after the birds that long, or did this program just have a sped-up time cycle?

     Or — and back Outside, her body tingled at the thought — had she triggered a scripted event?

     She started walking down the hill, to where the birds disappeared, when she felt something going wrong. The system’s physics had gotten even worse — choppy and sluggish. Textures flickered in and out of view, revealing giant patches of the unnatural green 3D models underneath. She felt sick as the illusion fell apart around her, devolving into a distorted jumble of broken polygons and curry and the silence was too much to bare, and off in the distance she could just barely make them out, flying towards her—-

     Outside. Darie’s apartment. He stood above her and seemed to be yelling, though she couldn’t make out what. Her ears were ringing. He’d pulled the plug, forced her out of the simulation.

     “—cking Christ, man,” his voice came into focus. “I thought you got fried, all of the sudden your scan went all over the place and, shit, Thesis, what the hell—”

     “Birds,” Thesis muttered as she rubbed her eyes.

     “I saw birds.”

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“There was a place near an airport, Kowloon, when Hong Kong wasn’t China, but there had been a mistake, a long time ago, and that place, very small, many people, it still belonged to China. So there was no law there. An outlaw place. And more and more people crowded in; they built it up, higher. No rules, just building, just people living. Police wouldn’t go there. Drugs and gambling. But people living, too. Factories, restaurants. A city. No laws.

William Gibson, Idoru

It was the most densely populated place on Earth for most of the 20th century, where a room cost the equivalent of US$6 per month in high rise buildings that belonged to no country. In this urban enclave, “a historical accident”, law had no place. Drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes lived and worked alongside kindergartens, and residents walked the narrow alleys with umbrellas to shield themselves from the endless, constant dripping of makeshift water pipes above….

Kowloon ‘Walled’ City lost its wall during the Second World War when Japan invaded and razed the walls for materials to expand the nearby airport. When Japan surrendered, claims of sovereignty over Kowloon finally came to a head between the Chinese and the British. Perhaps to avoid triggering yet another conflict in the wake of a world war, both countries wiped their hands of the burgeoning territory.

And then came the refugees, the squatters, the outlaws. The uncontrolled building of 300 interconnected towers crammed into a seven-acre plot of land had begun and by 1990, Kowloon was home to more than 50,000 inhabitants….

Despite earning its Cantonese nickname, “City of Darkness”, amazingly, many of Kowloon’s residents liked living there. And even with its lack of basic amenities such as sanitation, safety and even sunlight, it’s reported that many have fond memories of the friendly tight-knit community that was “poor but happy”.

“People who lived there were always loyal to each other. In the Walled City, the sunshine always followed the rain,” a former resident told the South China Morning Post….

Today all that remains of Kowloon is a bronze small-scale model of the labyrinth in the middle a public park where it once stood.

This isn’t to say places like Kowloon Walled City no longer exist in Hong Kong….

— from Anywhere But Here: Kowloon “Anarchy” City

here is a reddit AMA from someone who actually lived in this place. Here’s a list of the questions he got and what he answered. 

Nothing is more fascinating than hearing a first-hand account.

(via part2of3)