another sci-fi megadungeon
Last night I read “The Chateau d’If” by Jack Vance in the collection The Narrow Land. It’s a 1950 short story about a guy who goes looking for adventure and gets caught up in a body/mind-swapping racket of sorts, where people can (for a fee) trade in their old body by swapping minds with someone else. Perhaps the most interesting moment in the sci-fi tale came when the protagonist describes just a few levels of the Empyrean Tower, a Babel-esque construct of 900 floors built “from the conglomerate resources of the planet’s richest wealth”:
“The 221st Level housed the finest hospital in the world. The staff read like the Medical Association’s list of Yearly Honors. Level 460 held an Early Cretaceous swamp-forest. Full-scale dinosaurs cropped at archaic vegetation, pterodactyls slipped by on invisible guides, the air held the savage stench of swamp, black ooze, rotting mussels, carrion.
“Level 461 enclosed the first human city, Eridu of Sumer, complete with its thirty-foot brick walls, the ziggurat temple to Enlil the Earth god, the palace of the king, the mud huts of the peasants. Level 462 was a Mycenean Island, lapped by blue salt water. A Minoan temple in an olive grove crowned the height, and a high-beaked galley floated on the water, with sunlight sparkling from bronze shields, glowing from the purple sail.
“Level 463 was a landscape from an imaginary fantastic world created by mystic-artist Dyer Lothaire. And Level 509 was a private fairyland, closed to the public, a magic garden inhabited by furtive nymphs.
“There were levels for business offices, for dwellings, for laboratories. The fourth level enclosed the world’s largest stadium. Levels 320 through 323 housed the University of the World, and the initial enrollment was forty-two thousand; 255 was the world’s vastest library; 328 a vast art gallery.”
Is it me, or does the Empyrean Tower sound like a land-locked version of the Starship Warden?