Plot territory: Future Junkyards

I was going to say that they seem to be everywhere these days but actually I can only think of three recent ones. But three is a lot right?

The junkyard in Becky Chamber’s A Closed and Common Orbit (reviewed here). The book has two interwoven stories one about an AI trying to live as an embodied being with help from her friends and the second story told in flashback about Jane – a cloned child who (along with other cloned children) works in a giant junkyard on an isolated planet.

The San Jose junkyard zone in Blade Runner 2049.


Without spoiling the plot Ryan Gosling visits this hi-tech scrap heap to interview the owner of an orphanage which turns out to be…a child slave labour workshop where kids recycle hi-tech junk. Given the timing of the film and Chamber’s book it is unlikely either cribbed from the other but the visuals in Blade Runner 2049 almost work as visuals for Chamber’s book.

Less focused on the horrors of child exploitation we’ve also had recently the giant intergalactic junkyard from Thor Ragnarok (review here):


Is it just me or do junkyards only exist on cloudy days?

The city in Borne isn’t technically a junkyard but it has similar tropes of gangs of scavangers making use of the remains of technology but with the twist that it is discarded bio-tech. I guess The Phantom Menace has the child-labour-junkyard trope but without the giant space junkyard.

As a piece of plot territory, the giant junkyard is one that is implictly science-fictional rather than fantasy or at least requires a society in which mass manufacture is a thing and hence the disposal of used goods is a thing. A junkyard can then become a place in which the fringes of society live but also a place where technology can be found.

A junkyard is also a place that hides in plain sight. They are by their nature visible but exist where people with wealth can ignore them. There is an in-built critique of capitalism (whether an author intends that or not) with an implication of the ugliness of waste. The inhabitants of the junkyard are also people being discarded by their society – the sfnal junkyard is rarely a day job but instead home to gangs or slaves or slave owning gangs.

There’s an implication of secrets, forgotten knowledge, death and also rebirth in the fictional junkyard – dead things coming back to life for good or ill. An alchemical theme to the junkyard.




28 thoughts on “Plot territory: Future Junkyards

  1. It also implies a society that’s rich enough to waste all of that material. In a poor society, all that stuff would be repurposed one way or another.

    A flaw I see in a lot of stories is that they posit a future where 95% of the population lives in crushing poverty, and yet for the most part the world looks like a slum of an otherwise prosperous county, where perhaps only 5% are impoverished. The junkyards are just one example.

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    1. Rey is a junk scavenger in The Force Awakens. The Millenium Falcon is sitting in the junkyard, though (*spoiler*) it is ready to fly.

      Maybe the Falcon was just towed there for unpaid parking tickets.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Junkyards full of things that work remind me of movie ghost towns where everything works. Food in the general store, candles (sometimes already lit) in the lamps. Full bottles of liquor in the saloon—and the piano works. It’s even pretty much in tune.

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  3. Wen Spencer’s Tinker begins in a junkyard, and it becomes quickly important to the plot because metal and electromagnetism disrupt magic, thus foiling an elaborate assassination plot.

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  4. Actually, the junkyard SF notion that I like best is in Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire. In that book, fortunes were made by folks mining 20th century junkyards for all their discarded valuable materials, and one of the more important secondary characters is a rich academic who comes from junk-mining money.

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    1. He’s right, it certainly is. LA and San Diego are basically one big city even now; in the dystopian future they sure would be. Robot Ryan Gosling wouldn’t have jurisdiction as far north as San Jose.

      Also everyone should look at the Gravatar. That’s absolutely him. Top-notch fauxhawk and ThinBot, the world’s best drink-mixing robot (literally award-winning). ThinBot makes a mean Vesper Lynd, and has a bell that goes “ding!” when your drink’s ready, which I think more robots should have.* It was quite popular at Worldcon 2012. I heard a guy talking to his girlfriend back home to gloat that he was at a party in Chicago drinking a robot-made martini. She was properly envious.

      *But not Ryan Gosling. He’s OK as-is.


      1. I think if Ryan Gosling had a bell that went “ding!” when my Vesper was ready I would be quite happy. And probably quite tipsy from finding ways to ring Ryan Gosling’s bell. 😀


      1. The terrier doesn’t go on his head, it goes on his arm.
        And now I’m picturing Ryan Gosling bringing me Vespers with a terrier tucked under one arm.

        Sorry. Can’t hear you because I keep ringing that drink bell 🙂

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        1. I gotta say, I have never really seen the appeal of Ryan Gosling. For one thing, his eyes are too small and too close together.

          I’ll take Reynolds over Gosling any day. Or any of the Chris-es, for that matter: Evans, Pratt, Pine, Hemsworth. In fact, I just watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 the other day, so at the moment I’m especially fond of Pratt — and there’s no denying that Hemsworth is fiiiiiiiiiiiine. But Gosling? Ehhh.

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          1. Both Gosling and Pratt grate on my nerves like steel nails on a chalkboard, and always have. Cumberbatch annoys the hell out of me. On the other hand, I could watch Pine and both Hemsworths all day and night. Evans and Reynolds are fine; they neither excite nor annoy me.


      2. Booze and cuteness!

        I’m fond of the Chriseses too, who isn’t? Hemsworth is so hunky and yet so goofy, I think he’s my favorite. I was glad to see so many yuks in the latest Thor movie, and also loved him as the dumb blond in “Ghostbusters”.
        (Screw the MRAs; I don’t like McCarthy and *hate* Wiig and still loved the movie. Because McKinnon and Hemsworth.)

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      3. I’m quite fond (in an eye candy way) of all of the Chrises as well… but this started from comparing movie junkyards and synthetic bartenders, and I don’t believe any of them have portrayed android or cyborg characters, so Gosling it is for this thought experiment. And he cleans up pretty enough for the purpose 🙂

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  5. The 2009 feature film Astro Boy also has a planet-wide scrap heap, to which the titular character is chased by the villain. Once there, he is forced to participate in gladiatorial combat, where he has to fight a giant who is actually his friend…

    Hm. Sometimes it’s far too easy to make one story sound like another, by picking similarities carefully.

    (Also, while on the subject of scrap heaps in animated films, don’t forget Toy Story 3.)

    While many scrap heaps serve to confront the privileged with the discarded (Thor, Astro Boy), that is a different genre than the one in which low-status people escape the trash heap and are found to be golden (Wall-E, TFA). The latter is not quite rags-to-riches, but definitely trash-to-worth.

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  6. Fantasy stories do tend to prefer the underground spaces for their poor and criminal — tunnels, catacombs, sewers, dens of thieves, underground chambers and caves. A junkyard is too exposed a setting for the fantastical a lot of the time, though it occasionally gets used. Whereas a junkyard for science fiction is the debris and ruins of an advanced society. And quite often it’s also the wasteland/prison, like in Escape from New York, where all of Manhattan is a junk filled prison.

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