by Stone Semyorka
Remember Pleasantville? Where Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon were transported from their tumultuously teenage lives in a stereotypical 1990s household back into the calm and collected black-and-white world of a TV sitcom set in a perfect 1950s town? You know, something like the hometowns of Father Knows Best or Leave It To Beaver?
Reese is hot and Tobey is a nerd, neither of which was imaginable in ’50s Pleasantville. Back home in the ’90s, he had been a couch-potato expert on Pleasantville trivia. She had been sexually precocious.
In the ’50s, she worries about her figure when her stay-at-home mom ladles on breakfasts of eggs, bacon, ham, waffles and pancakes. Reese finds the innocent basketball team captain and teaches him about sex, which changes everything for the satisfied folks enjoying their simple lives in Pleasantville.
A cold war
TV does not always mimic RL in the same way SL mimics RL. For instance, the superpower rivalry in the 1950s was anything but the simple life depicted in TV sitcoms back then.
A major period in the Cold War, the 1950s was a time of intense tension and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union that continued to the ’90s.
The Cold War was about political ideology, military coalitions, weapons industries, psychological operations, espionage, technological developments, and massive spending on a nuclear arms race.
Golden Age of sci-fi
The renowned writer Robert A. Heinlein tells us science fiction is “realistic speculation about possible future events.”
The 1930s and ’40s were the Golden Age of sci-fi. By the time of Pleasantville in the 1950s, sci-fi writers like Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Damon Knight, Donald A. Wollheim, Frederik Pohl, James Blish, Judith Merril, Arthur C. Clarke, A. E. Van Vogt and William S. Burroughs were stimulating readers with a plethora of sci-fi genres.
Contemplation of what we now call nuclear winter pushed amazing realities out of the minds of science fiction writers through their typewriters onto paper and film.
One popular sci-fi storyline depicts a dying earth in the far distant future where the Sun has faded and civilization has long since declined.
A spinoff from that is apocalyptic fiction about a catastrophic end of civilization through nuclear war, plague, famine or some other disaster.
Beyond that are post-apocalyptic stories about civilization in the world after such a disaster.
A post-apocalyptic story might be about the physical and psychological troubles of survivors either immediately after a catastrophe or considerably later when much memory of the pre-catastrophe civilization has been lost, myths have grown and only scattered elements of technology remain.
The Mad Max series of films are popular examples of post-apocalyptic sci-fi stories depicting a bleak Australia of the future after a breakdown of civilization.
The three films from 1979-1985 were Mad Max, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. A fourth movie, Mad Max 4: Fury Road, was not released.
Do oil shortages sound familiar?
Mad Max was not nuclear-holocaust fiction about a large scale exchange of bombs among warring powers. Rather, the films depict a bleak, degraded future environment populated by an impoverished society after a breakdown of civil order due to, according to the second film, widespread oil shortages. Imagine that.
Like the expression from Mad Max 2, “In the future, cities will become deserts, roads will become battlefields,” Second Life sims by NeoBokrug Elytis are stupefying places where civilization and the environment have degenerated seriously.
The Wastelands and the Junkyard depict people in a desolate place battling to survive through combat and salvage — a ruthless, savage place of stark beauty that is spectacular to behold.
I had to see it for myself
The scene is a broad desert with a long deep gash opened like an exaggerated brown wound — the Great Fissure — in the drab sandy landscape.
It reminds me of Stars Wars Episode IV where the Jawas and their droids scour their desert homeworld of Tatooine in pitted and rusty sandcrawlers searching for discarded scrap and wayward mechanicals.
A 36.8 meters long sandcrawler was like a very large mobile home for the Jawas on the harsh deserts of Tatooine, an environment very rough on machines.
One of the sand-scarred crawlers was the size of a building — several dozen meters high, according to George Lucas in 1976.
The scavenger vehicle towered above the ground like some monstrous prehistoric beast on multiple treads, themselves taller than a big man.
Its metal skin was pitted and battered from untold sandstorms, Lucas wrote. Inside, it not only had living space, but also a large maintenance hangar and shop area.
You’ll remember the scavenger species Jawas. They were relatively tiny, one-meter-tall humanoids wearing rough, hand-woven robes. Their faces were concealed in the dark folds of a cowl, from where you saw only their glowing yellow eyes. You may remember the Jawas captured R2D2 and C-3PO and took them away in a sandcrawler.
In a surprisingly similar scene, the Wasteland sim and the Great Fissure are very reminiscent of Tatooine.
They are a seemingly endless desert cooked by the intense energy of the SL sun. The Great Fissure itself, as well as the flat expanse of kilometers of shifting dunes punctuated by rocky mesas and arroyos, provide stark contrast to the glitz and glamor of distant sims elsewhere on the Second Life grid.
Days are hot, hot, hot on top of the land — only a minuscule bit cooler down at the bottom of the Great Fissure — while the nights everywhere are frigid. The soil is parched and the air is dry.
Even so, there’s abundant human life in this vast wasteland
Life here comes from human stock. If the residents aren’t human today, their ancestors were.
The numerous mutant humans living on the land were driven from pure human genes in various ways — by a quirk of evolution, an element of the harsh environment, or a relic of the past run amok.
There aren’t any aliens here, however. There are no supernatural, extraterrestrial, or purely mechanical beings. With one exception: NeoBokrug. You’ll see why in a moment.
Nobody has super powers
On the other hand, some of the mutants have unusual traits, such as being faster, stronger or harder to kill.
People have been here for awhile
The land was settled 40 years ago, according to NeoBokrug, when a ragged band of wanderers gathered here to scavenge what they could from the wreckage strewn across the area.
They knew next to nothing about pre-apocalyptic technology.
Then, one day, they discovered a machine they called the salvager. It took them years to figure out what they had.
In fact, just seven years ago, the scavengers began to understand what the salvagers could do.
Human nature being what it is — and for that matter post-human nature as well — everybody wanted to control the powerful machines. People and tribes fought each other for dominance of the region through control of the salvagers, according to NeoBokrug.
In the midst of severe squabbling and fighting that damaged the machines, a strange mechanical man showed up, speaking a odd gibberish, and began to tend and care for the salvagers.
The mechanical man lashed out at people who fought near the machines and kept them at bay.
A tenuous peace returned to the desert as the ignorant barbaric people finally got the picture. No one individual or group would be allowed to claim the salvagers.
Here’s the twist: NeoBokrug is that mechanical caretaker of the salvagers.
A barter economy
Paper currency and coins are not in use in the Wasteland, although once in a while local notes of credit are exchanged.
Bartering is big in the desert. People trade goods and services to exist.
Useful raw materials are much more valuable than currency, according to NeoBokrug.
Recipes are important to the locals
In this salvaging society, recipes are a commodity in their own right and are carefully guarded.
Practical knowledge is power here in the desert so recipes often are traded for other recipes or other useful information.
NeoBokrug explains that most anyone might be able to put together a knife, but it takes considerably more time and effort to gather the parts and learn how to make many of the more complicated projects.
Some typical recipes
- nails and screws + CO2 cannister + roll of tape = airgun ammo
- pipe + nuts and bolts + knife blade = crowbill, a fighting pick that resembles the bill of a crow
- wood scraps + nails and screws + blade = machete
- nuts and bolts + wood scraps + chunk of plastic = pistol handle
- twine + pistol handle + pistol barrel = scavenger pistol
- wood scraps + rope + monstrous rattler fangs = the rattlesnake
- duct tape + chunk of plastic + knife blade = knife
- ammunition feed = gears + electrical parts + mechanical parts
- bullets = spent shells + gunpowder + iron scrap
- chunk of rubber = tire
You can see in these valued recipes the desperation in the lives of these post-apocalyptic desert denizens.
There are shops even here in this remote hole
What SL resident doesn’t love to shop? Traversing this harsh place, a visitor finds shops even here.
They sell the kinds of specialized clothing, equipment and supplies needed for survival on the sand under the Sun.
And then there’s Scavenger’s Rest, a gas station-turned-bar that is a neutral meeting area in the wastes. Alan Beckett runs it. They say he’s great if you need your machine worked on, too.
There are people extracting value from the odds and ends of scrap scavenged here, using them to manufacture a variety of tools and weapons and other odd implements specialized for this place.
There even are moisture farmers using micro-evaporators to suck what little vapor is suspended in the air to irrigate subsistence crops underground.
Ancient bomb shelters
We hear a lot of talk in the 21st Century about weapons of mass destruction. Fear of those is not new, however.
The Cold War reached a crescendo in the 1950s and people were scared missiles would fly and bombs would drop.
When a nuclear explosion occurs, matter vaporized in the fireball becomes radioactive. It condenses into a cloud of dust and light sandy material that looks something like ground pumice.
Fallout is this highly radioactive material falling to Earth as a significant hazard.
During the Cold War, governments, businesses and individuals built what were called fallout shelters or bomb shelters as civil defense measures.
A fallout shelter was a place where people of the 1950s thought they could escape exposure to harmful fallout for some time while radioactivity outside decayed to a safer level. Usually underground rooms with concrete walls, people built them in their basements and backyards.
The hostile environment today is home to a colorful mix of hard-bitten scavengers extracting a lifestyle from the unforgiving geography, as well as transients visiting the world for god only knows what.
I’m going back. And on my next visit, I’m going to look closer for other desert creatures — banthas, rontos, dewbacks, scurriers, womp rats, krayt dragons and eopies.