INSIGHT - A Vancouver Story

It seems appropriate that I am writing this today.  Outside the weather is the template of what people think of for Vancouver.  The sky is a dark blanket of cloud and the rain, while not a deluge is consistent.  But here's the thing... it really isn't this way as much as people would have you think.  There is an image of Vancouver, which I believe is perpetuated by people that live here, that it rains constantly here.  Or... that it only rains here once a year - from November through May.

That is a fictional Vancouver.

Many people - perhaps even you - tuned into Vancouver for two weeks straight this past year.  February 12th to 28th specifically.  That was the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Vancouver was a socially and climatalogically warm yet brisk place where everyone had the time of their life 24/7.  While that image was based on Vancouver's best face, it too was fiction.

Necropolis is also a fictive version of Vancouver (and not just for the obvious sci-fi-horror reasons) that is based on true aspects of the city.

I love Vancouver.  It is a vibrant and exciting place.  In recent history - say, reaching back into the 19th century - there have been a list of cities that have been "the place to be" for a period of time... a few years, a decade, maybe more.  Paris, Berlin, London, Prague, New York have all been that city, as have many others.  And despite the exclusivity implied by the use of the definite article ("the") there have most certainly been more than one "the place to be" at one time.  The catch is, I don't think it has been easy to say that a place was the place to be until after the fact.  Despite this, I think there is a chance that in a decade or two we may find ourselves looking back to now - the turn of the 21st century through the 2010 Olympics and and declare that Vancouver was the place to be.  I am rather biased in this.

A local observance is that no one is from here.  It certainly seems that way.  There are precious few born and bred Vancouverites.  Nearly everybody who lives here is someone who came here from somewhere else (and I think that is part of the evidence that it is "the place to be.")  My Mother was born here.  My daughter was born here.  I was not.  My Mother didn't grow up here.  My daughter has thus far (a whopping three months).  I didn't quite.

I was born in Prince George - a mid-sized city in the dead centre of the province, often called "BC's Northern Capital."  My grandparents lived in Vancouver, and I spent a substantial portion of my summers (and various other times) here with them.  I went to University mostly in Victoria, but on either side of that (and discounting the many months I spent on tour) I have lived pretty much my entire post-high-school life in Vancouver.

I've watched it grow from the pre Expo '86 (the first time we invited the world) big, but un-remarkable city to the vital world-class destination of the second time - the 2010 Winter Olympics.  I've lived here long enough to watch the decline of Gastown and it's resurgence (indeed, I live in the Woodwards' Building that is symbolic of that fall and renewal.)  I've lived in Kitsilano, the West End, Burnaby Mountain, Trout Lake, The Drive and of course now, the DTES (Downtown East Side for you non-locals.)

There are other cities I have loved - London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, DC, Montreal, Adelaide - but none that I've really wanted to have a permanent address in. 

Yeah, no doubt I am a homer.  I cheer exclusively for the Canucks (whose first game was on my first birthday), I ride SkyTrain not the subway, I orient my internal compass by the lights on Grouse, staff (well, a few) at The Cambie and The Railway call me by name.

One of the oldest tricks in the book is to lend your writing veracity by writing what you know.  I think even if that weren't the rule, I'd still be making Vancouver the setting of Necropolis.  All of the "the places to be" places of the past have all had a literary history attached to them.  Vancouver doesn't yet have it's "great novel."  Not that I presume to lay claim to that, but a boy can dream... that said I don't really think "sci-fi horror" tends to qualify as literature.  There are novels of note that take place here: Girlfriend in a Coma; Stanley Park.  There are notable Vancouver authors: William Gibson; Douglas Coupland; Spider Robinson; Yann Martel; and my friend Mark Leiren-Young.  But there is no book that has truly risen above and that makes Vancouver the back-drop in any truly immortalizing way.  Not every city gets a treatment like Runyon's New York, Dickens' London or Hugo's Paris - and those are admittedly lofty ambitions.  But how often is that even attempted?  Honestly I don't know that one can even fairly attempt to do so, but to treat your domain with the reverence and attention that could lead in that direction... that seems like an admirable action.

While there is a lot of imagination going into this book and the Vancouver of it's chapters needs to live up to the title of "Necropolis", I do hope to present a Vancouver that is recognizable to those who are familiar with it.  When I use an abandoned building as a model for the action of a later portion of the story, I could not be happier than if Vancouverites are able to make good guesses as to it's real-world counterpart.  Some locations are more obvious - the action of the first chapter begins under the Burrard Street bridge and I make no bones about it.  Others will be semi-fictionalized - I have plans to include a fairly transparent analog to the Bentall Centre, though it will appear under a different name.  It is certainly my intention that every location in the book will at least be modelled after a true local place - even if I have played with the details considerably.

Yet here is my conundrum....

A lot of bad shit is going to happen herein.  Inevitably I am going to make Vancouver look like a place where a bunch of awful things happen.  I also want to be as honest as possible in my presentation of the real-world dark-sides of Vancouver.

The DTES has been (though things are changing) one of the most notorious drug-problem neighbourhoods in the world.  For a while around 1994 the cheapest place on the planet to buy heroin was about four blocks from where I now sit.  Access to the Pacific and a not very well policed port were the main contributing factors, I believe.  Heroin is not the problem it once was here, but crack and crystal-meth have each made their mark.  Add to that the indelible scar left by Robert Picton and the other numerous and inevitable costs of having Canada's poorest and richest postal codes a mere two kilometers apart.

I don't really know what my answer is.  I shall discover it along the way, I expect.  I assume that no-one will mistake Vancouver as being a place where the fantastic elements of my story actually do take place.  I hope that the good - and there is a lot of good in this small part of the world - that I love about my home will shine through.  And I hope that the reader can glean a sense of Vancouver that both encourages them to visit, yet doesn't pull punches when it comes to the unfortunate aspects of this relatively young, rapidly changing, friendly, vibrant and inarguably beautiful city is concerned.

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Creative Commons License
Necropolis by Kennedy Goodkey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.
Based on a work at necropolisnovels.blogspot.com.