There are no stars in Tokyo

So I have managed to write another chapter for Arctic Gale. Finally up to #30! Okay, technically it is the 31st chapter because I have a boner for prologues, but you get the feeling. It’s also looking like it will actually get to that novel length, which I wasn’t sure if I could manage on a first draft.

I have some things that I want to do when I go back and edit it for “publication,” but to hit that magical novel-length on the first run would be nice.

When I started out writing AG (in 2006, about 9 months before joining 4LS) it was already about an experimental colony and based around space travel. In fact, apart from changing the heat source from a huge, space-based mirror to a geothermal supply, I haven’t changed much about the setting at all. And yes, I did have a particular place in mind when I started writing it, and I think it still makes sense for the story to be set there.

But recently I’ve started getting interested in the science-y side of it again. One thing that I wanted to do was to make sure that everything was based on something that was at least logical. The genetics behind the Clock are something that people have been looking at for a few years now, and body enhancements are nothing new. Geothermal heating isn’t impossible, and the scale of the city and the economics of it all could technically work as well.

There is, however, one thing that you don’t realise until you experience it; light pollution.

In high school I did an extension course in Cosmology, and this included a few trips to the remote Australian telescope sites like Coonabarabran  or Narrabri 

These places are pretty much as remote as you can get; the nearest “towns” (some with fewer than 100 people) are tens of kilometers away. If you turn off the lights you get an eerie darkness. If you lay on the ground for long enough (with young, high-school eyes) you can see stars that are beyond an apparent Magnitude 6, which technically shouldn’t be visible to the naked eye. The Milky Way dances overhead like a long, luminescent cloud, mostly white but tinted in hues of red through the atmosphere (which would have scattered the blue away). It is very, very easy to lose your mind amongst the stars; you very quickly realise just how insignificant the Earth is in the great dance of the cosmos.

In Sydney the effect is greatly dimmed, but if you turn off your lights and find a bit of shade you can still stare at the stars. Unless you are right in the guts of the city you can usually get a bit of star-gazing done.

The year before last I took a weekend off with a friend in Japan. She had never been stargazing before, and I thought that we were remote enough to actually see something akin to the arching Milky Way from high school. But, alas, even a few hours from Tokyo on the train and we could see little of our Galaxy, and only the brightest stars were visible, even though it appeared as if it were a pitch black night. I was disappointed, but she was thrilled. It wasn’t until I moved to Tokyo that I realised why.

There are no stars in Tokyo.

It didn’t hit me at first, but I was guiding my parents-in-law around Tokyo Tower at night, and in staring up at the great structure I noticed that I didn’t notice something – the stars. Apart from the moon, there was nary a celestial body visible. Even from our apartment a few kilometers from the centre of the city you have no chance of seeing any stars. So seeing a few pinpricks of light against a navy-blue sky in Chiba must seem like a fantasy to the inhabitants of that metropolis.

And now that I can’t see the stars, I find myself wanting them; a classic case of you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-ism. I’m sure that I’ll make it better, but I wanted to try an inject that feeling into this latest chapter of AG; not only for nostalgia, but also because I have finally remembered one of the key points I wanted to introduce into Kate’s character – that utter isolation and fatalism that comes from realising that you are just a single speck of dust on this ball of dirt, and that 30-year life-span is exactly the same as a 300-year life-span in the eyes of the cosmos…

Arctic Gale Chapter 30

I am away from home so I can't post my Milky Way photos.  This one is By-CC-ND from
I am away from home so I can’t post my Milky Way photos.
This one is By-CC-ND from

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