Alexander Jablokov: Actually, I think Sarah predicted District 9 with the way the Phneri show up, as refugees.
DAS: Well, and that comes off of the Irish being transported here in the early 1850s after the potato famine. The Irish were the 19th-century Phneri; we just modified it a little bit. . . . Most of the things we put in the future were modeled off of the past.
Jon Burrowes: That was the poignant thing riding in all our hearts: what if we take this history we all know so well and subject it to this sort of unimaginable thing — the aliens and all this crazy future — what's going to happen? And we were all kind of interested in that. We really did want to find out.
Yet all of you have very different takes on this shared universe.
DAS: This [book] was created by very different people with very different personalities and very different areas of interest. But somehow they were all part of the book.
That's what makes cities interesting to me. Because cities are the inherently messy output of people who have very different visions of what a city should be, and there are too many of them to cope with.
Sarah Smith: One of the things I liked about us is that we had plenty of working-class aliens. . . . For me, one of the things that had a permanent effect on the way I think about Boston is the upper class having great plans for Boston on the backs of the lower class, and then the lower class subverting them.
DAS: One of the things you and I worked out was, we had the assimilation of classes. So we went from the politicians being Irish, to the politicians being Italian, to the politicians being black, to the politicians being Cambodian, to the politicians being alien.
Is there anything that’s essential to Boston throughout the eras?
SP: The water is the biggest piece, the biggest central character in all of it.
AJ: That, and an exaggerated sense of self importance. [Laughter] Well, I guess I'm an out-of-towner.
JB: There was a big focus on the evolution of the city. We really tried to figure out what that was all about and describe it in many different ways.
DAS: I would argue that Boston is the most engineered city in the world, just in terms of the current footprint versus the original footprint, and the continuity of fairly major structural change. . . . From the moment the Pilgrims landed, they started technologically modifying their environment. Long Wharf? Major technological feat. The first bridge across to Cambridge? All these things: big engineering projects for the 17th century. They keep doing this stuff, and it just doesn't stop. And so what's interesting is to run that forward, sink a lot of the city, and put walls around what was left.
AJ: The interesting thing about Boston is, no one ever made anyone do anything around Boston. St. Petersburg was decreed by a dictator: "You're going to build a city here, even though it's a terrible place to build a city." Bostonians came here, and no one ever made anyone do anything. They said, "We can make a buck. We'll cut this mountain down."