How do traction cities work in Mortal Engines?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018
traction city concept art london

How the traction cities and towns of Mortal Engines work

First of all, let's not go all Star Wars nerd level in our analysis of how the traction engines of Mortal Engines work and carry their giant cities across the Earth and ice.

Sure you can argue that the idea of traction cities actually roaming the Earth for 10,0000 years is as absurd as the subsequent theory of municipal darwinism, but we need to suspend our disbelief for a moment.

We need to accept that traction cities such as London work and they are giant beasts of machines kilometers wide that each carry complex societies that has its own 'world orders' that ensure those 'big wheels' keep on turning, Turd Tanks and all.

They were built after the 60 Minute War destroyed the Earth and made it a wasteland. The Cities were built so as to be able to move the surviving human populations to safer areas. The prequel novels of the series, starting with Fever Crumb show how they were developed under the watch of Nicholas Quirke based on the ideas of  Auric Godshawk.

Traction Cities are giant metropolises that are built on tiers that rely on giant internal fuel based engines to move on gigantic wheels or caterpillar tracks.

'Hungry' Cities such as London have populations of millions whereas some are small villages and hamlets propelled by small engines or even sails.

These cities such as London, hunt smaller cities (in order to tear them apart for resources and fuel) which in turn hunt towns which in turn hunt villages and static settlements.

How does the societal structure of London work?

The city of London models itself on a kind of Victorian-era society.

London's society is divided into four major and a number of minor Guilds.

The Engineers are responsible for maintaining the machines necessary for the survival of London, many of which are found by the Guild of Historians. The Historians, such as Chudleigh Pomery, are in charge of collecting and preserving highly prized, often dangerous artifacts - young Tom Natsworthy was an apprentice historian.

The Navigators are responsible for steering and plotting the course of London. The Merchants are in charge of running London's economy. London is officially ruled by an elected whom at the time of the original novel is the hardly magnanimous Magnus Crome, who is also the head of the Guild of Engineers.

Atop the whole of London sits St Paul's Cathedral. It is the only building known to have survived the Sixty Minute War and proves a central plot point in the movie.

The inhabitants of captured cities are integrated into the population of the predator city, or, in less ethical cities, taken as slaves and made to work. Cities will openly buy and seller slaves - the Nabisco Shkin Corporation being a feature of the later novels which does just that.

London is 2.5 kilometers long in the movie.

How do traction cities catch their prey?

To capture a city, the bigger city will usually have to chase the prey. They increase the speed of the engines and then chase. They aim to do it as fast as possible so that fuel expenditure is kept to a minimum.

Most cities have attachments called "Jaws" to catch their prey and drag them into the Gut. In the movie, London features large hooks which are fired out to capture the prey and then drags the catch toward the jaws.

The 'Great Under Tier' in London consist of hangars and harvesting districts where the captured prey is dismantled and looted for as much resource as possible, including humans found in the cities.

It is described by Tom Natsworthy as "A stinking sprawl of factories and furnaces between the jaws and control room".


  1. LOLLL "We need to accept that traction cities such as London work"? LOLL Yes, let us not question. The Nerdist Left has spoken and we must obey LOL How does something as ludicrous as the premise of this movie compel anyone to suspend disbelief?? What's hilarious is that there's no theory even offered as to how this mangled manga mutant city could have been mounted up like that in the first place. It's sort of like how atheists like to talk about evolution of life, but can't even explain how life began as "abiogenesis" in the first place, only someone that dumb could go along with this movie's concept LOLL

    1. It's a fantasy movie made of a fantasy book, so what you're complaining of? And to be honest if you've even touched one of the books or searched a bit around on the web then you would see that there are several theories and explainations about how for instance London mounted up. Because there was a time between the sixty minutes war and the actual scenario of moving cities. But in case that you don't believe me here's a link to a well written explaination.
      In this sense ;)

  2. Reading through Fever Crumb and Mortal engines again it’s likely to assume that London and other traction cities are steam driven probably with huge engines sizes yet of designs comparable with that of the large triple expansion engines used in most ships and factories. This assumption mostly relies on how London was breaking up and cutting down any burnable material to feed the engines in its run east to the shield wall which would be or fuel a huge fire to generate the steam needed to drive the city. This would also explain the huge amount of smoke that issues from cities as at this point of the story many are starting to starve and presumably burning anything and everything to move themselves resulting in immense amounts for exhaust gases as the cities are not burning the correct fuel or efficiently. Sorry for going star wars nerd on this I know it wasn’t really wanted.


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