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Some book locations are just an anonymous background to the story that readers will barely notice, but some are far stronger and an integral part of the plot. I remember one of the first reviews of Earth Girl on Ebookwyrm’s review blog described the setting for my Earth Girl novel as so atmospheric that it almost becomes a character itself.
Most of Earth Girl is set in New York, but this is the New York of the twenty-eight century. When interstellar portals were invented, people flooded away from an overcrowded, polluted Earth to new and better worlds, and the great cities of Earth were left to fall apart.
Let me introduce you to a New York that has been abandoned for four centuries. It’s a grim and hostile place. Only archaeologists visit it, searching the ruins for old treasures and the secrets of lost technology. The main character of Earth Girl, Jarra, is one of a class of archaeology students. This is the moment their lecturer gives the class their first view of New York Dig Site.
“Playdon obviously enjoyed the dramatic, because he gathered us up into a group again just before we reached the top of the hill, so everyone got to see New York at once. I’d seen it before, but never in winter. In summer, it’s a vast black expanse as far as the eye can see, with the odd patches of green trying to make an impression on the mess. At this time of year, the white of frost and a dusting of powdery snow added an extra bleakness to the mounds of rubble and the blackened skeletal remains of skyscrapers still soaring up into the sky.”
The ruins are a dangerous place. Playdon warns the class of some of the hazards they’ll be facing working there.
“There were many fires after it was abandoned. There were inflammable materials left in a lot of the buildings, chemicals, even explosives. One massive fire continued burning for nearly two months. Always keep in mind that the ruins themselves are dangerous. It’s not just wild beasts, there are vicious pieces of glass and metal, decaying chemicals, and buildings that can collapse if you just breathe on them. Never trust the ground underfoot because it’s treacherous. They built downwards as well as up, and you can fall through into underground sewers, cellars, the transport network, even underground waterways. If you ever need to find your own way through the dig site, then look for the marked clearways, or failing that the deer trails. The herds have worked out their own safe routes.”
Later in the story, the class travel into the heart of New York to work on a special excavation.
“Out here the ruins were higher, and blacker, and grimly threatening. At least, they seemed that way when we were so far from our base. We turned left on to the Grand Circle and drove a lot further. The ruins didn’t get any better.”
The class camps out among the deserted ruins. Inevitably someone starts talking about ghosts.
“The ghosts of all the people who died in the ruins. They’ve haunted them for centuries, and they’re out there in the blackness, filled with hatred for those who come and destroy their old homes.”
The class would normally laugh at ghost stories, but not in a place like this.
“It’s surprising how fast people sitting round a camp fire, in the darkness of a winter night, surrounded by vast expanses of ancient ruins, can go from cheerful to terrified. Or maybe it isn’t surprising.”
But the class doesn’t just have to face their fear of ghosts, but very real dangers.
“I was watching the suspect skyscraper, looking for more breakaways, but it was the one next to it that folded over sideways. It seemed to happen in slow motion, as the huge mass of concrete and metal finally lost its battle with time and fell with a long drawn out dying scream. A dense cloud of dust billowed up to mark its grave.”
When one of the ancient skyscrapers collapses, another team of archaeologists are trapped in the rubble, and the class of students are the only people close enough to have a chance of saving them.
“There were people down in that rubble who could be killed by my mistakes, but would run out of time if I did nothing. No pressure. No pressure at all.”
Earth Girl is the first book in a trilogy. The other two books Earth Star and Earth Flight are set in other, very different, future locations. You can also read Earth 2788 – The Earth Girl Short Story Collection, and Earth and Fire – An Earth Girl Novella. I’m working on another novella right now.
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Janet Edwards lives in England. As a child, she read everything she could get her hands on, including a huge amount of science fiction and fantasy. She studied Maths at Oxford, and went on to suffer years of writing unbearably complicated technical documents before deciding to write something that was fun for a change. She has a husband, a son, a lot of books, and an aversion to housework.
Find out more about her and her EARTH GIRL trilogy at www.janetedwards.com