Making the Mortal Engines Movie

News, views, quotes and trivia about Philip Reeve's 'Mortal Engines' books and the Peter Jackson movie production.

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Monday, May 8, 2017

What is 'Municipal Darwinism' in Mortal Engines?

municipal darwinism mortal engines

What is the concept of 'Municipal Darwinism' in the Mortal Engines movie and book?


Municipal Darwinism is the 'technological ecosystem' by which most of the world works in the Mortal Engines novel and movies.

It's basically a play by author Philip Reeve on scientist Charles Darwin's survival of the fittest concept from his natural selection theory.

But you need to add the twist that it's a zero sum game, meaning there can be only one winner, kind of like The Highlander.

Think of the concept as 'there's always a bigger fish' from Star Wars. Every fish is looking to get a meal but in the end, only the biggest fish will dominate and survive.

But what does the biggest fish do when there is no food left?

There in lies the rub and the point of the book.

So how does this play out in the books?


The traction cities are the municipal part of the concept (or conceit as we see it). They are organized communities that follow their own laws and customs. For instance the city of London follows an Elizabethan hierarchy of structure. In General, the larger 'predator cities' look to consume smaller cities for their resources.

Physical resources are used for fuel or re-utilised within the city.

Humans living on the captured cities can be enslaved or used as a source of protein and eaten.

That's right, eaten.

The main theory of Municipal Darwinism is a predator and prey cycle; if the bigger city or town is faster than the smaller, the smaller town will caught and then be eaten.

But if the smaller town is faster than the bigger town, the bigger town risks running out of fuel and thus losing it's prey or even facing attack itself in a reversal of fortune.

Such situations make Jeremy Irons so proud...

While in the context of the book's universe, this form of Darwinism has existed for 1000s of years since the 'Sixty Minute War', it's a zero sum game which refers to the fact that the society of Municipal Darwinism is not actually a sustainable means of living in the long term.

The meaning of the title of Mortal Engines is that all the cities' engines are indeed mortal as eventually there will be nothing left for them to consume and they will fail and die, just like the humans who lived on them. Indeed, the title 'Mortal Engines' is a direct reference to a quote from William Shakespeare's Othello.

And in part, that's the irony about the book's ending.

One must bear in mind that not everybody believes in this concept.

There are many people living in hills and islands that choose to not live the traction city 'lifestyle' and they determinedly seek to form self sustaining cultures.

And there is of course, the whole Anti-Traction League thing at play...

The Anti Traction League / Green Storm hates these mechanical cities. They can see the end game and that it ultimately means death for all. That's why they seek to sabotage and destroy the big cities, knowing if they can stop their spread, their own territory would be safe.

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