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  • Anita Sullivan

SILOS: WORLD BUILDING

My BBC Radio 4 Serial Silos is a future-fiction thriller about human consciousness and climate change. To create it, I had to invent a world. (Beware minor spoilers...)


A high tech warehouse building with rows of cryogenic sleeping tubes, sleepers dreaming peacefully. Image by Anita Sullivan created with Midjourney

Silos is set in a fictional near-future where climate events are forcing people to relocate. But those in resource-hungry nations are still not doing enough to adapt their lifestyles. The alternative is human hibernation. A ‘sleep vacation’ in an energy efficient sleep-tube is used to offset your personal consumption. It’s a form of National Service with benefits. As the Si-Life advertisements say:


"Sleep yourself smart with our audio learning programmes. Sleep yourself fit, with our patented muscle-stimulation toning. Want to quit smoking or lose weight? Just sleep it off! Stasis has proven benefits for many long-term conditions and mood disorders. Book your tube-time to miss the winter. Save sleep-credits to pass on to your family as a legacy. Do your sleep-time, help the planet and wake up… a better you!"

 

Would you vote for this?

That’s what the people of our fictional island of Lanza did.



Container port with red cranes, fields of multi-coloured containers, and containers ships out at sea, going to the horizon

Making an island


For the story to work, I needed an island that was wealthy, large enough to be a political player, vulnerable to climate events, with an international, multicultural population. But using a real place felt too specific, not universal. So I invented an island, with its own physical geography, history and identity. From the Si-Life asylum-seeker induction:


"Lanza sits off the coast of Southwestern Australia. It’s about the size of New Zealand, with a similar history to Madagascar but a cooler climate. It’s in top 50 GDP nations, a leader in green initiatives including silos."


I must thank Francis Gallop for explaining why I couldn’t set it in New Zealand!


Developing the technology


An Indian man in his thirties sleeps peacefully in a cryogenic tube, blue lit. Image by Anita Sullivan created with Midjourney

The hibernation technology for Silos is based on real research from NIAC/ NASA in preparation for a Mars Mission. The study looked at two methods of inducing stasis in humans to reduce payload in transit: hypothermia and torpor.  The report is in the public domain. It concludes that torpor is the safest and lowest energy solution.


Torpor is a natural decrease of physiological and metabolic activity in an animal, a slowing of body function that conserves energy during cold or heat. When torpor is extended, it becomes hibernation. It’s thought humans used extended torpor to survive the ice-age and that ability is still in our DNA. It is used by the Aṉangu peoples to survive cold desert nights in central Australia. People can also experience it during freediving and meditation. It is an evolutionary survival skill.

 


Inventing a legal system


The lead character in Silos is a stasis lawyer, trying to protect her clients from new technology and rushed legislation. Her bible is the Climate Emergency Rights Act… which I had to invent. I’m indebted to lawyer Elizabeth Barrett. She used current UK legislation for people in custodial care (prisons and carehomes) to create fictional laws for the Silos. She really got into it!



A group of older Asian people stand proudly in their community garden

Building a community


Community is at the heart of the story, a web of connections from a building to a neigbourhood to an island… to the world. It asks questions about how we integrate cultures and languages while retaining individuality, how we help people who have lost everything recover from trauma and reorientate. It explores how we navigate our changing world, how hyperconnection can divide us.


Thank you to the team for making those connections feel real in the drama: Anastasia Hille, Paul Bazely, Rakie Ayola (shown below), Raad Rawi, and producer Karen Rose. They were my compass, navigating a diverse set of characters.




Photo of the production team for Silos, smiling at camera

Broadcasting hope


The world of Silos is challenging for the people living in it, at times a difficult listen for the audience. But it’s also a story full of humanity, a strong belief in our capacity to connect and find solutions.  Call me naïve, but I believe the more we tell tales like this the more possible connection becomes. The more we accept the divisions and dystopias we are fed, the more likely we are to bring them upon ourselves.

 

Photo shows: Sarah Tombling (producer), David Thomas (sound design), Anita Sullivan (writer), Rakie Ayola ('Rozmay'), Karen Rose (director), Ethan Elsenburg (production assistant)



Directed by Karen Rose

Series broadcast from March 19th 2024

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