Living Space in the City

Image: Gontran Isnard

The City is a place of no scarcity and no want, where everything you could ever desire can be summoned from a Provider at will. Yet when we look at how the people of the City live, most of them have private living spaces that are, from modern American perspectives, quite small, almost Spartan even. Why, in a world where you can choose to have as much stuff and space as you want, does this happen?

Part of it is simply that the people of the City don’t need to warehouse a lot of stuff—indeed, they’d consider having a space where you simply store physical possessions (with the notable exception of gifts) to be quite odd. If you can simply conjure up whatever you need from a Provider, you don’t need closets to store your clothes, drawers to store your eating utensils, cabinets and chests and furniture to hold everything you accumulate.

And of course, unless you prepare food as a hobby or artform, you need not have any provisions for storing or cooking. Kitchens simply don’t exist in most living spaces in the City. Why would they? Cooking is an exotic pastime, like throwing pottery or making hats would be for most Westerners in the real world.

That same post-scarcity, instant-on nanotech assembly that lets the Providers produce anything at a moment’s notice also allows people to change their living space on a whim, at the push of a button. Well, no, you don’t even have to push buttons if you don’t want to; you need only sufficiently describe what you want so the AIs can make it happen:

“Planning to make any changes?”

“Yeah. Place is not really set up for me.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“You offering to help?”

“Sure.”

Yaeris smiled a genuine smile. “Thank you.” She called up a pullover shirt and slacks from the Provider, then conjured a terminal and tossed it to Lyrin. He perched on the edge of the tiny table. A few quick gestures later, a glowing hologram of the Avatar’s quarters filled the room. “What do you want to do?”

“Some windows would be nice,” Yaeris said. “I don’t need a place to write music. A simple art studio is fine. Let’s move that wall and make space for entertaining. We can build a new room for the bedroom. And make the bed bigger.”

A brief expression of sadness flashed across Lyrin’s face at the last. “If that’s what you would like,” he said.

Yaeris ran her hand up his back. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I…” She shook her head.

They worked throughout the night before they had a design that Yaeris found pleasing. As morning sun shone through the frosted ceiling, Lyrin tapped his terminal. The Provider in the studio flipped open. A swarm of tiny mechanical gnats boiled out. They flowed past Yaeris and Lyrin as they set about the job of reshaping her living space. Watching the small things go about their work filled Yaeris with a wild joy.

from The Hallowed Covenant

Imagine if you could shape your living space to anything you wanted any time you liked, but you never had to store anything, because whatever you might need was always at your fingertips, all the time. What would your living space look like? How would that change the way you think about space?

In a sense, as Eunice pointed out, the City is almost the perfect consumerist space, because it is constantly consuming new goods all the time…but it isn’t a capitalist consumerist space. In the real world, minimalism is a wealth display—a minimalist space signals that you have the means to afford to buy whatever you need whenever you need it and then throw it away as soon as you’ve used it. (Think Elon Musk and his tiny homes.) In the City, it’s exactly the opposite: everyone has the ability to have anything they desire all the time, so there’s simply no need to keep all your possessions at hand.

But it isn’t just about space for your stuff. There’s another component to this as well: in the City, a lot of your living is done outside your home, in public spaces. It’s something that also happens in many, if not most, of the countries in the real world, both historically and today (excluding the oddities of the last few years, when public gathering was significantly harder). Suburban North America is something of an outlier—through much of history, living was something you did away from the home (for men, anyway—in some societies the rules were often, as you might imagine, rather different for women).

The Cities in the Passionate Pantheon are all built along a similar template (well, except for the City in the fifth Passionate Pantheon novel, which is quite a departure—stay tuned for more details!): they’re enormous circles, protected by a shield dome that also regulates the weather, with the Temple District at the center, surrounded by an enormous belt of open green space—parks, forests, rivers, and so forth—with a ring of living towers around the outside edge.

The space between the Temple District and the living towers is, in a sense, the living heart of the City. Socialization happens there. Parties, festivals, gatherings, all take place there. The space changes constantly; what was a small forest yesterday might be a lake filled with boats today, perhaps with an island with a party space in the center, and a valley park filled with paths and gardens tomorrow. The City is a living place in a way that’s hard for people in the real world to imagine. (And if rubbing shoulders with lots of people isn’t your bag, you can create a small home for yourself wherever you like in that space between.)

Each of those towers is itself almost a miniature city of its own, with living quarters separated by communal spaces that occupy an entire floor. Living and socializing happen, for the most part, not in people’s own spaces, but in those community spaces. The City thinks about space differently, and those differences are reflected everywhere, even in the architecture of the City itself.

And speaking of the shield dome, that has an impact on yet another aspect of the way the City thinks about space. If you want to, you can just…ask the drones to make a bed for you in a park somewhere, secure in the knowledge nothing will happen to you if you decide to bed down there for the night. You won’t freeze, or get sun/heat exhaustion, or be harassed, or have your things stolen, or be aggressively moved on by law enforcement. In a very literal sense, you can, if you choose, live completely without a private space of your own at all, and be just as comfortable as everyone else. The division between “public” and “private” space is quite different. In a very real sense, while there may be spaces in the City that are yours, nobody really “owns” land—in fact, the idea would probably seem quite weird to citizens of the City. The deep emotional attachment that some show to a specific little plot of land…that just doesn’t really make sense in the City.

You can also move whenever you like. At a moment’s notice, you might decide to change towers, or move from a tower to a small space in a park somewhere (or vice versa), and it just…happens. The space you occupy is temporary. Of course, people still decorate and personalize, but that’s much easier as well, with the help of the drones and assemblers. There’s no sense that it’s “your” space and moving to a different space is an ordeal. This means that communities and bonds can be a lot more fluid and wide-ranging as well. Communities of interest that are also communities of location become more typical, forming clusters of people that move on when their interests change.

If you have anything you want at your fingertips, the drive to accumulate stuff isn’t necessarily a given. We can be tempted to think of the drive to accumulate wealth, resources, stuff as intrinsic to the human species—stuff is how we measure our success, how we show wealth and status, how we display social power, and so forth—but if you were absolutely confident that you could have whatever you needed, all the time, whenever you needed it, and nobody attached status to it, would that still be true?

We think the answer is no. Up to a certain point, having stuff, whether that’s physical space or possessions or resources, is ultimately about security. If a society is completely secure—if you absolutely know, without question, you will always have whatever you need—there’s no point to accumulating more physical accoutrement (and therefore needing more space to store it in). The drive for security moves to accumulating financial resources instead, as a proxy. In a post-scarcity society, accumulating financial resources doesn’t provide security; accumulating personal connections does. (The character Jakalva in Unyielding Devotion is the ultimate expression of this; she is, in some ways, a post-scarcity version of someone like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. She has extraordinary power through her connections at all levels of society, and her presence and actions impact people whether she intends to or not.)

When we started writing the Passionate Pantheon novels, our goal was a sexy romp in a far-future Utopia. Somewhere along the way, though, we started asking questions about what that means. What would the City look like? What would life in the City be like? This novel, The Hallowed Covenant, is the first that looks at life away from the Temples, and explores what living in such a city would really look like.

As we think more and more about life in this society, we find ourselves more and more often removing sex scenes to make more room for story and world, even though we long ago decided that a sex scene will only appear in the story if it also informs the reader about the characters, their motivations, the plot, or the setting. Which is perhaps not what you might normally expect from porn…but this isn’t, as far as we know, anything like any other porn out there.


Preorders for The Hallowed Covenant, the new Passionate Pantheon novel, close in just a few days! Act now to get a copy of the book, and an advance review copy of Unyielding Devotion (due out fall of 2023), here!

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