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Towns With Themes (And a Crazy Marlon Jackson Rumor)

Linda Rodriguez recently moved to England, and she posts about happenings in her new country a few times each week. Her column needs a name. "A Broad Abroad" sounds demeaning and Sarah Lyall just published a book called "The Anglo Files." Got any other ideas? If Linda picks yours, you win a mental_floss t-shirt. So get brainstorming.

Sir Terry Pratchett may not be exactly a household name in cities in the US, but he certainly is in households in the small Somerset town of Wincanton.

That's because Wincanton is currently modeling itself after a town in Pratchett's most famous creation, the fictional universe of Discworld "“ a world that's pancake flat, resting on the back of four elephants, which are standing on a giant turtle. Discworld and the adventures of its inhabitants, who include wizards, witches, trolls, dwarves, the Grim Reaper, the Hogfather (he's like Santa Claus) and a few humans, have been the subject nearly 40 books, all piss-takes of science-fiction and fantasy tropes, crime novels, martial arts, corporate crime, and The Da Vinci Code, among many other topics. They've been incredibly successful "“ Pratchett has sold more than 55 million Discworld books worldwide, netting himself a loyal following and a knighthood for services to literature to boot.

And now, Pratchett's creation is bleeding out into real life.

In 2002, Wincanton twinned itself to Ankh-Morpork, a metropolitan city based squarely in the fantastic Discworld, making it the first city in the world to twin itself to a fictional town. Since then, tourism to the small, previously nondescript town has exploded, with Discworld fans flocking to the Discworld Emporium, a themed store on the Main Street, to fancy dress balls, festivals and masquerades.

Wincanton has also recently named two streets after street names in the book series, with Pratchett, costumed residents and hordes of fans on hand for the dedication ceremony. The streets, Peach Pie Street and Treacle Mine Road, are located in a subdivision neighborhood of amusingly named Wimpey Homes, currently under construction and slated for completion in July. Two families have already promised to buy homes on the streets.

Wincanton may be the first town to twin with a fictional city, but it's certainly not the first town to take a theme and just run with it for the sake of tourism. Here are a few others:

Scotland: Ab FAB

Sadly, no, these three Scottish theme towns in the Dumfries and Galloway region are not dedicated to bringing the sordid, drunken world of Absolutely Fabulous to wondrous mid-"˜90s life. But Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbright and Wigtown are, respectively, designated Food, Arts, and Book towns. Get it? The towns, all small and rural, are reinventing themselves for the tourist trade: Castle Douglas is home to more than 50 food specialty shops and restaurants; Kirkcudbright has been an artist's commune since the 1800s; and Wigtown hosts an annual Book Town Literary Festival.

Pacific Northwest: Partying like its 1899

Everybody likes cowboys, right? Well, a few towns in the US and Canada sure hope so "“ especially since they've remade themselves into pioneer towns as part of a bid to attract tourism. In Washington, there's sleepy Winthrop, which was remade in 1969 as an homage to Western pioneer towns, and is now all weathered wood storefronts, hitching posts, late 19th century frontier town architecture, and rough-cut boardwalks. Up in British Columbia, there's Barkerville, a gold-rush town where costumed residents take you on guided tours, real stagecoaches still run, and you can go real old school in a schoolhouse from 1870. And in Oregon, there's Jacksonville, a National Historic Landmark preserving its pioneer past through architecture, costumed tours, and shopping.

Ironbridge: The Revolution Continues

Ironbridge, or the "Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution" as it bills itself, is a small town in the West Midlands of England that has never really moved past the Industrial Revolution. Home to the Ironbridge, a massive testament to the 19th century age of steam and iron, the town has worked hard to maintain its Victorian roots. Though a small town and valley, it has no less than 10 museums dedicated to Industrial Revolution history, as well as streets of Victorian era storefronts and shops, historical home tours, and, of course, the requisite costumed tours.

And lastly, bad taste

And finally, on the subject of themes "“ here's some news that just seems so weird, so wrong, and so disrespectful. Marlon Jackson, brother of Michael, LaToya, and Janet and former member of the Jackson Five, seems to be upholding the Jackson Family tradition of bad ideas: He's reportedly involved in plans to open a "slavery theme park" in Badagry, Nigeria, an historic port city that had been the point of departure for thousands of Africans leaving their country in chains as slaves. In addition to a replica of a slave ship, the Badagry Historical Resort Development project is also slated to have golf courses, casinos, and shops, and to house Jackson's collection of Jackson Five memorabilia.

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10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2
Hulu
Hulu

Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.

1. IT WILL PREMIERE WITH TWO EPISODES.

When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.

2. MARGARET ATWOOD WILL CONTINUE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE.

Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.

3. MOTHERHOOD WILL BE A CENTRAL THEME.

As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”

4. THE RESISTANCE IS COMING.

Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”

5. WE’LL GET TO SEE THE COLONIES.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.

6. MARISA TOMEI WILL APPEAR IN AN EPISODE.

Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.

7. WE’LL LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF GILEAD.

As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.

8. THERE WILL BE AT LEAST ONE HANDMAID FUNERAL.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”

9. ELISABETH MOSS SAYS THE TONE WILL BE DARKER.

Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”

10. IT WILL ALSO BE BLOODIER.

A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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