In Philip Reeve’s steampunk book series Mortal Engines, World War III has happened, and what is left of humanity roam the post-apocalyptic wasteland in cities on wheels, fighting the elements and consuming each other for survival.

Now adapted into a movie of the same name, the story follows the adventures of Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), a boy from London, and Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), a mysterious scarred girl, as they uncover a plot by Tom’s city to create the ultimate metropolis-destroying weapon.

Produced by Peter Jackson and Christian Rivers, the filmmakers behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, we are looking forward to jaw-dropping fights between these massive, mobile municipalities called Traction Cities.

To be released in Singapore cinemas on December 6, Mortal Engines has us thinking: In Reeve’s brutal alternate universe of Municipal Darwinism (the practice of bigger cities eating smaller ones like a civic food chain), would Singapore survive as a Traction City or end up as a Nasi Lemak burg-er? Here’s what we think.


1. Pray that the LRT doesn’t break down

The city of London on wheels. Credit: IMDB

The London of Mortal Engines is a stratified society – quite literally. Like a wedding cake on tank treads, the disenfranchised struggle in the lower tiers and the Gut, where captured cities are dismantled. The aristocrats breathe the rarefied air of Tier One. See if you can spot the villas of the rich and St Paul’s Cathedral in the featurette below.

How would Singapore be built as a Traction City? We think Marina Bay Sands and Parliament House can be the conurbation’s “crown”, while the hoi polloi would live in stacked heartland towns like Tampines and Toa Payoh. Yishun can be its underbelly! In the book, Londoners drive around in cars called bugs, and have traded in the London Underground for the monorail, and lifts. Those who venture out of the city, like explorer Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), fly airships. The rich and poor dine in restaurants and cafes, with the bluebloods getting tastier grub. For Singapore, the LRT will have to do the heavy lifting, and hawker centres will remain, but one might get a side of vertigo with their Chatterbox chicken rice on the upper decks.

2. Singaporeans can stomach recycled sewage 

The view from Hester’s childhood home. Credit: IMDB

In the scorched-earth universe of Mortal Engines, every city and town needs to be self-reliant. Like a terrarium, it has to be an independent ecosystem capable of supporting its inhabitants. In the book, London harvests its residents’ faeces in Turd Tanks, making it into fuel for its engines. Its engineers have even experimented with “turning it into a tasty and nutritious snack” – “poo poo” platter, anyone?

Can the Traction City of Singapore survive on its own? Definitely! Why, we are already drinking recycled sewage, with 40% of our current water needs already being met by NEWater. By 2060, NEWater is expected to meet 55% of demand. With initiatives like vertical farming and solar-energy islands, Singapore is already preparing itself for the apocalypse.


3. NSmen are on standby to protect the city from hostiles

London faces off against an unlikely opponent. Credit: IMDB

Every nation needs to defend its sovereignty against invaders, or in Tom and Hester’s world, Predator Cities. In Mortal Engines, it’s survival of the fastest, with smaller towns hoping to outrun bigger conurbations. The New York Comic Con screened two clips of London chasing the small mining platform of Salthook and later destroying the captured town in its gut. You can see some of the footage of London harpooning its “prey” in the latest trailer:

Singapore is said to have the best air force and navy in South-east Asia, conscripts males in the uniformed services, and heavily invests in research and development in the Defence Technology Community. In the book, towns were equipped with rockets, guns and grappling hooks for repelling or attacking enemies, but they were mostly Victorian-era weaponry as almost all pre-apocalyptic technology was wiped out. Assuming Singapore recovers, it is more than well-prepared to fend off any bullies.


4. We try to make more friends than foes

The flying town of Airhaven. Credit: YouTube

Not all Traction Cities are predatory like London. There are even stationary cities, called Mossies. The Traction Cities’ biggest adversary is the Anti-Traction League, an organisation opposed to Municipal Darwinism. The League is made up of static settlements united in preventing the Traction Cities’ expansion into Asia. In the book, Tom and Hester visit the flying town of Airhaven, a trading hub which serves as neutral ground between Tractionists and Anti-Tractionists. Singapore can play a similar role in hosting sworn enemies and welcoming trader airships on board.

In June, Singapore was the natural choice for a suitable location to host a summit between United States president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Our island nation is probably the US’ closest security ally in Southeast Asia and has maintained diplomatic ties with North Korea. The Republic is also a member of the United Nations, ASEAN and the Commonwealth, and maintains cordial relations with China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Even when certain prime ministers want to renege on certain agreements… Ahem.


5. We have strength in diversity

Jihae as sky pirate Anna Fang. Credit: IMDB

The cast of Mortal Engines is just as diverse as the Lion City’s. Lord of the Rings stalwart Weaving stars alongside young bloods Sheehan and Hilmar, and South Korean rock musician Jihae stars as Anna Fang, a sky pirate with a secret alliance. The Han Solo-like outlaw mans a spacecraft equivalent to the Millennium Falcon, called the Jenny Haniver!

Singapore is a multiracial country with four official languages. As a nation built by many immigrants, it welcomes foreign talent and values their contributions. If you remember your social studies lessons, “social defence” is one of the five key pillars of Total Defence. In a town-eat-town world, it is important for a city’s people to stay united. In the book, class divisions exist in London and Tom learns more about the world beyond his city from the Anti-Traction League’s members from across the globe.

So what do you think? Can the Little Red Dot punch above its weight in Reeve’s ruthless world? Would it stand a chance against London, in the face of the British city’s game-changing weapon? What is this secret weapon, anyway? Find out for yourself and marvel at cities of the future, both real and imagined, in the fantasy epic Mortal Engines, which opens December 6.

Sources: IMDBYouTube, Channel NewsAsia, Hollywood Reporter, Business Insider Singapore, PUB, SCDF, Mortal Engines WikiaGolden Village Cinemas


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