The Bay Area has had front-row seats in the past couple of months for two major celestial events: first the total solar eclipse (I’ve already lost the special glasses used to view that), then a few days ago, the total eclipse of a super blue blood moon (super because of its size at the moon’s closest distance to the Earth along its elliptical orbit, blue because it was the second full moon in the same month, and blood because of its color, imparted by red light from all the sunrises and sunsets on Earth passing through the atmosphere to be reflected back from the moon). Shivering in my greatcoat and wiping the condensation off my binoculars at 4:30 in the morning, I watched the super moon gradually bleed red as it slivered into the pre-dawn darkness.
It brought to mind an early morning in my novel Fourth World Nation (the sequel to Fourth World), when Benn steps out during the Double Lunar Eclipse Festival to explore the Martian colony where he now lives:
“Low in the morning sky, Deimos and Phobos sat perfectly aligned as Mars moved between them and the sun, plunging both moons simultaneously into darkness. Over the preceding hour, Benn had watched tiny Deimos, which was 20,000 km away and appeared like a slow-moving star in the sky, duck into hiding behind Phobos, which was not only larger at 22 km across, but also much closer, appearing more like a small moon. Phobos, circling the planet at high speed from west to east, had swallowed its little brother, and now both sons of the ancient Greek god Ares (called Mars by the Romans) lay in their father’s dense shadow. Q! A double-lunar eclipse! Benn had never witnessed one, simply because he had lived most of his life underground. It was highly unlikely that anyone from Tharsis Colony had ever seen such a spectacle.
In contrast, everyone in Highland City was out in the streets to begin the holiday, despite the early hour. All eyes, drowsy or alert, were directed upward for the duration of the eclipse, which, although relatively brief, did not disappoint the cheering crowd. The rarity of the phenomenon, the surrounding media buzz, and above all, the opportunity to throw a city-wide party at five-thirty in the morning more than compensated for the brevity of the actual eclipse. In fact, the festival would stretch through the entire day, from unusually early opening times for the downtown bars, to the Mayor’s Parade at ten, and the lunar-themed dinner menus at many restaurants.
Among the myriad festival events, Benn had highlighted a noon concert by the Highlander Symphony; the program on his da-disc featured “The Planets” by Holst; Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” transcribed for horn and Mars-harp; and finally, Panic and Fear, a modern piece by LaGuardia. What a stark difference there was between Highland City, where wealth and a sophisticated population could support a “world-class” (albeit a small world) symphony orchestra, and Benn’s home colony of Tharsis, where the only musical ensemble was the five-man pit orchestra at Tharsis-on-Avon, the Shakespeare company. At the thought of that singularly talentless quintet, Benn had to laugh. Their conductor often made his musicians play over the actors’ voices, and Benn’s best friend Jace had sometimes stopped in the middle of a soliloquy to rail at them. What had Jace called them? Scurvy rogues? Rampallions and fustilarians? Was he making these up? No, he remembered: Basket-hilt stale jugglers! At one particularly disjointed rehearsal, Jace had rushed downstage, drawing his cutlass and yelling, “Away, you cut-purse rascals, you filthy bungs, away!” When the conductor responded with a rude hand gesture, Jace had raged on, “I’ll tickle your catastrophe; I’ll thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps!” Hmm, Benn chuckled, maybe there was high culture at Tharsis, after all.
On this rare day off, the first thing that struck Benn—who had so far been shuttered away in an underground lab at MWI—was that Highland City clearly tried to fashion itself after New York Metropol—even their Mayor had been imported from there. He savored the great outdoors by strolling aimlessly north on Av7, east on St46, then north again on Av5, stopping to explore the illogically-named neighborhoods. Notably, there was no rise in altitude at Morningside Heights, neither park view nor terrace at Parkview Terrace, and he would have been shocked to find a river at Riverside Drive. Pleasantly diverted, Benn wandered on, taking in the fascinating billboards and door signs on every street. They reflected the City’s ethnic and cultural diversity (at least commercial diversity, down here at street level). Overhanging the arched entrance to Nasser’s Lunch Site was a rocket ship that looked like chunks of meat on a skewer; its menu spoke with a Mideast Zone accent, promising an oasis of lush, exotic pleasures within. Several doors down, Benn peeked into The Pho Chateau, a chain restaurant originally based in Earth’s Mekong District, which offered moon-shaped rice noodle dishes, served family-style in a Baroque white-and-gold paneled room, its high ceiling ringed by a slate mansard roof. The menu at The Pho Chateau’s gilded entrance depicted dancing dumplings which accurately reflected the elongated shapes, if not the movements, of Deimos and Phobos. Farther up Av5, a quasi-religious group calling themselves the Highland Druids hawked tiny Aresite amulets and gave demonstrations of Areodynamic cookery, which, they claimed, had healing powers tied to the phases of both moons.”
The similarity to New York City had already struck Benn at a high-society dinner party. Here’s another excerpt from Fourth World Nation:
“From his long wait in line, overhearing the nasty comments that the cream of society made about one another, Benn had concluded that the oldest families in Highland City enjoyed far less prestige than the newer ones. Some even referred to them dismissively as Oldies (at least they weren’t called Martians, a distinction enjoyed only by natives of Tharsis)! Benn thought again of the archived black-and-white films. Unlike the New York high society they were trying so hard to emulate—where the oldest established families, many with Dutch or English surnames, looked down on social climbers and the nouveau riche—here, wealthy Oldies like the Monroes were perceived as the most backward colonial subjects. It was the recent arrivals from Earth who occupied all the positions of power. Unlike the early settlers of colonial New Amsterdam and New York, whose philanthropic families became permanent fixtures of city life, their modern equivalents on Mars had become largely irrelevant, as a growing technocracy rapidly supplanted the old plutocracy under the PWE. Still, the old families understood the rules governing fashionable society. They had defined local tradition, and that was something the diverse newcomers craved. Therefore the Monroes and other Oldies were invited to high-society events; however, whispered the young technocrats and their spouses to one another, the blue-bloods should not let that further puff up their leathery egos, which some compared to overstuffed, old-fashioned club chairs.