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Repost: Hunger Games, population, infrastructure, and technology - The Phantom Librarian — LiveJournal
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Repost: Hunger Games, population, infrastructure, and technology
Okay, so I was looking for something in an old post and I came across this one that I'd done as a f-locked post. And I thought, it was kind of fun. If anyone wants to toss this around.

It's the trucks in the movies that got me started thinking about this.

Why I was thinking about trucks in the HG movies, I don't know, but I was.

I've always had the trains be the main mode of transportation in my HG stories, but it wasn't because I was necessarily giving it a lot of thought. It was just an assumption.

But here's why:

While I don't doubt that there are plenty of road vehicles in the Capitol, as a major mode of moving troops, it doesn't make sense in Collins' world, and it struck a weird chord in me when the new Peacekeepers drove into D12 in the Catching Fire movie.

Sure, the technology is there. But the roads? I really don't believe the roads would be able to support any scenario where moving troops by truck is the most efficient mode of travel.

I think one place where the films falter is that they repeatedly forget how devastated the population is, to a point where even evil characters don't dare use weapons of mass destruction because that much loss of life would literally threaten the human race with extinction.

We see this mistake in the shots of the districts in CF, where they largely have a run-down urban look, instead of a run-down small-town or even rural look. District Twelve, of all places, is given a quasi-urban look. I know, I know, Katniss calls it her city, but 9000 people? That's a little smaller than Geneseo. It's not Syracuse or even Ithaca. The two possibilities are that Katniss has a really skewed sense of perspective or that, in Panem, even that small a population would be considered a city. I tend to favor Katniss's skewed perspective, because even I don't think the population is small enough that 9000 is not a serious outlier in terms of small district populations.

My point, though, is that the movies' read on the districts as, basically, one version or another of urban blight doesn't really fit the world. Some of them, sure. You pack, say, 100,000 people into the same size fence as D12 has, add a smelly industry, and you'd get something like D8. But take 300,000 and spread them out over a huge district that supports something like logging or livestock, and you're going to end up with a very sparsely populated area. For instance, Alaska has over 700,000 people, but because they're so spread out over a vast territory that it evens out to about 1.26 people per square mile.

Which brings me to roads.

Google Maps can't give road directions between Barrow and Anchorage. Why? No roads. Literally, you cannot drive to Barrow. And this makes perfect sense. It would be a waste of resources, really expensive to keep up, and generally very inefficient.

All of Panem would be like that.

Even assuming that D12 is an outlier at only 9000, the other districts plus the Capitol can't be that big, or we wouldn't be in a situation where they're worried about extinction. Let's say the Capitol is a genuinely decent sized city -- say, 2 million. That's more than I'd generally estimate, but for argument's sake, we'll go there. Be wacky generous and assume a couple of hundred thousand in the bigger districts, and a few tens of thousands in the smaller ones. D13, will go with half the Capitol population. You could probably inch the population of Panem up to about five million, being super-generous with those population counts.

They live in "North America" -- total area, 9,540,000 sq. miles. Let's say they decide to stay out of the tundra in the north of Canada. It's hard to estimate the square miles of the strip of heavily populated Canadian territory at the south, so for argument's sake, let's add the area of the U.S. and Mexico, though theoretically, there's no reason that Panem couldn't include Central America as well-- 3,881,491 sq miles. Even at the smallest possible, assuming that "North America" was Collins' euphemism for, "Everyone's in the contiguous United States," that' 3,119,885 sq. miles. The highest population density would be 1.6 people per sq mile. The lowest would be about .52 per sq. mile. (The middle is about 1.29)

In other words, we're talking about a nation which, at a generous estimation, has roughly the population density of Alaska.

Since that population is forcibly gathered in 14 population centers, that means that there's a lot of the land where the density is 0.

Does it make sense to build and maintain roads through that? No. Roads are expensive. They require a lot of work, and they're susceptible to a lot of weather damage. People have to travel them frequently to notice it. Panem has a train system, which is single tracks. Difficult to maintain, but not impossible at the level of roads. And the track is more easily controlled by the government. Same with the hovercraft system, which is, in all likelihood, solely a government enterprise.

There's no reason on earth that the Capitol would rebuild all the roads and bridges. Who would be using them most of the time?

Meanwhile, the technologies they do develop make some sense -- communications, entertainment, etc. They no longer have satellites (if jets can't fly, then it's a sure bet that no one is launching things into space), so they must have developed other modes of broadcast, because something would need to keep the districts united under the government, and this government in particular seems devoted to mental control through propaganda. Genetic engineering in the Capitol makes sense, since, with the population so drastically reduced, there most likely would have been geneticists working like demons to get rid of/repair as many fatal genetic diseases as they could, so that the population wouldn't run into some of the problems we've seen in bottleneck populations. Did they need more weapons tech? Not really. Seems there were plenty of effective weapons, and they actually wanted less effective ones. I think if I were creating it, I'd probably have invented more non-lethal weaponry to solve some of that.

But, at any rate, the notion of troops arriving in District Twelve by truck struck me as an example of the producers not giving much thought to the impact of drastic population reduction. And honestly, while the real themes interest me more, I've found that considering the effects of worldwide depopulation is one of the more interesting mental games to play, so I would think that would have been something they'd have had fun with, too.

Anyway, trucks aside...

What other impacts of depopulation would there be that we didn't see? Any other mistakes related to it?
12 comments or Leave a comment
lilacsigil From: lilacsigil Date: January 12th, 2017 08:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Thinking about rural Australia, there still are roads (apart from between major population centres), only they're not roads so much as tracks. They're great for moving small numbers of people who know the terrain, when the season is right. And Panem would have old infrastructure to work over, just like parts of England formed along the old Roman roads. But maintaining a major road network let alone the vehicles to use it swiftly is not going to happen. There might be a few major roads between districts to allow quick travel in case of sabotage of vulnerable train lines, but they would also be seasonal and more suited to heavy vehicles than troops. The troops get to go by train or walk.

Also, in Australia you only have to have 10,000 people to call yourself a city, so I guess 9000 is pretty close!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 12th, 2017 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe there'd be a serious road system between, say, 3 and the Capitol -- technology seems like something the Capitol would want constant access to. We never hear Katniss talking about any roads into the Capitol from the attack route in 13. If the Capitol is on the Western slope of the Rockies, that would also be a limiting factor -- roads through the mountain passes are notoriously bad for upkeep. So maybe, from the east, there's just the one train.

But you bring up an interesting point about the tracks that small numbers could move on. I'd bet there are quite a few around districts like 2 or 10 or 7, where there's a lot of internal ground to cover.

Towns and cities are pretty arbitrary here, often defined by the state. Technically, my village was mostly in a town of hte same name, though part of the village was in the next town, and also in the town were several hamlets -- mostly crossroads where a few people had built houses. Then there was the "city" just north of us (Batavia) where the "Entering the city of Batavia" sign was right by the silo of a barn on a big dairy farm.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 13th, 2017 06:16 am (UTC) (Link)

Transportation in Panem

There's also the matter of controlling movement in Panem.

I read an article about how Spain cleverly avoided the possibility of being invaded by railroad from France: they made their tracks a different width. Thus, French trains could not run on Spanish tracks.

Now apply that to Panem. The Capitol doesn't want people moving from District to District. So they build transportation technology -- hovercrafts and high-speed railways -- that can't be used without certain vehicles of which they have a near-monopoly. Furthermore, they can monitor those routes for intruders.

If they did build roads, rebels with a jury-built car or truck might be able to use them. (At the Georgia Institute of Technology, the engineering students used to be challenged to build cars from scratch -- the "rambling wrecks from Georgia Tech")

By the way, nice to see that you still have an interest in the Hunger Games Universe.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 12th, 2017 05:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just yesterday, at a training, the presenter showed a chart of the disease-caused population decline in Native South Americans in early 1500's. it was from the book 1491. They lost 80% of their population in 30 years. Absolutely mind boggling. As a natural resource professional, topic of the talk was land use history. With that population loss, they couldn't maintain their villages, agricultural fields went fallow, and the burning they did to keep the woods open for hunting/travel/foraging stopped. By the time European settlers got here, they found a very different place than the earlier explorers had seen.

Here in Virginia, many of our oldest forests date to the civil war, when population decline and loss of labor caused farmland to revert to woodland.

I would think that more arid parts of the country would change less than the eastern seaboard. All that moisture makes stuff grow like crazy when people aren't keeping it in check. It's the freeze/thaw cycle that's so hard on our roads. They may have them in the southwest, but in Pennsylvania and Virginia, we can barely maintain them adequately now.

Great topic ~Karen

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 12th, 2017 08:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
A lot of the decay is shockingly fast. The city of Pripyat, which was where the Chernobyl workers lived, is a ghost town already mostly reclaimed by nature. (The things I look at while writing in this fandom.)

The roads into Appalachia, with all that moisture and freezing, would be impassible without constant upkeep within a year or two, I'd think. And since no one is traveling on them, with everyone forced into fenced districts, who's going to see where the repairs need to be made?

The southwest would definitely be the treasure trove for old things... which probably explains why the Capitol ended up where it did.

Edited at 2017-01-13 01:32 am (UTC)
jedinic From: jedinic Date: January 14th, 2017 09:07 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the insights you have into the HG world. This is fascinating - thank you for sharing!
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 14th, 2017 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Overall, a lot of the stuff in the films don't make sense. Like the Peacekeepers leaving early before the bombing.
Contrast with the books where things can be filled in, and questionable elements can be dismissed as Katniss' POV.
And yeah, Twelve is definitely an outlier that skewed Katniss' perspectives as to population standards.
... But I digress.

Now... how would infrastructure in Panem be like?
All in all, trains would dominate. Even more than hovercraft, which are implied during the bombing to actually be lower in capabilities to 21st century aircraft (barring cloaking and possibly shielding tech).
On that level, it wouldn't be strange for military vehicles to be carried on those transports. However, the way the scene is shot does imply that they drove in.

It'd probably be simpler to integrate power and communications lines into the lines (which would be largely be straight-shots as it'd be be easier for high speeds; on that note, despite the mention of "refueling", high speed trains are electric rolling stock).
On that note, communications would be limited around the ground lines. Ie there'd be wireless tech, but it'd simply be radio or like wifi that'd fizzle if you go into the wilderness.

So you get a hub-and-spoke element.
For the industrial cities, everyone would be concentrated in the cities. Zero development in the wilds of the respective districts (I do picture for ease of political demarcation, districts do touch on maps; when it comes to inhabited areas though, it'd be much more patchwork)
For the ag districts, you would likely have roads that go out a ways; however, they'd all go to the nearest train station instead of a highway to the Capitol.
Like you say, most highways would fall by the wayside; though it's likely that high speed rails would follow the path of the interstates due to the nice grade given.

Oh, and I don't think it'd be out of the question for D9 to actually fill its borders, as grain can be taken care of with minimal density due to mechanization. Same goes for D10, though in this case due to size of ranches.
In contrast, I imagine that D11 is one of the most populous districts, but the nature of the crops means that usable land would be more concentrated.
Related, one nice side effect is that there wouldn't be a concern of water pressure; be it aquifers or runoff pollution.

Does that rambling make sense?

-- FFR
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 14th, 2017 01:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
On a fun note, I picture Carolina Parakeets and Passenger Pigeons in the air of D12.

-- FFR
Tracy Wood From: Tracy Wood Date: January 16th, 2017 04:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Not only did we see the new peacekeepers arrive in D12 in trucks, but in MJ1 Gale says they left in them before the bombing. I assumed when I read the books that they arrived by train or maybe hovercraft.

If they didn't have satellites, it seems like they would have to have some kind of large antenna to pick up the Capitol broadcasts. Which would then be wired to the homes. And not have individual antennae on each house. One thing I've speculated on is each home's TV might be bugged. So the government could spot check for seditious conversations.

Other things that don't add up. How did they heat their houses in D12. Electricity was spotty. They were not officially supposed to go to the forest for wood. I guess coal was just something else that had to be bought. And if it was a choice between starving to death and freezing, that was just tough. I don't think the book said anything other than Katniss telling Rue that they couldn't get as much coal as they wanted. When she erroneously assumed that D11 got as much food as they wanted.

Speaking of population. Did you ever have an idea of how may out district people there was supposed be? In your fictional interpretation of a work of fiction. LOL.

One thing the movies did get right. When they go to D11 on the victory tour. That fence really drives the point home that for all intents and purposes it is exactly what it looks like, a forced labor camp.

Edited at 2017-01-17 01:04 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 17th, 2017 11:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Did you abandoned the Neville fanfic? :(
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 18th, 2017 06:12 am (UTC) (Link)
No. I got ill this week, but I'm most of the way through chapter 6.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 24th, 2017 01:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Jumping in a little late here, but..

What a great question- why would the Capitol use outdated equipment that runs on a fuel that is difficult to obtain and goes bad quickly?

I think you've ignored an important point- why do we never see gas-powered vehicles until the third movie? Perhaps the use of vehicles could be considered a scare tactic? Bear with me here for a second:

If rail and hovercraft are the only forms of transportation that the districts know about, in a revolt, rebels are likely to guard the rail stations and open areas. Because they don't know about the existence of gas-powered vehicles, they would have no way (and no time) to prepare for massive land vehicles holding troops. Similar to Hitler's Blitzkrieg tactic, the Capitol troops could roll in quickly enough to catch the districts off guard using vehicles they have never seen for and aren't prepared to defend against.

Gas powered vehicles have their downsides, but military vehicles are generally all-terrain, and it would make sense to use when invading a District with infrastructure as poor as 12 has. Maybe they've had a lot of experience doing this in 11?

Just a thought by a passing stranger arriving far too late...
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