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Paul Krugman has noticed the same curious thing about Trantor that I did years ago: Trantor's population density is laughably tiny.

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Which is another case of the trouble with very large numbers, ie as soon as you have to choose some very large number relevant to an unfamiliar domain, you are likely to pick a too small number. The corollary of this is that one million deaths is viewed as a statistic.

I'd expect Asimov to be willing an capable of a quick BOTEC to get the right order of magnitude, though.

Shh. Do you really want Krugman in the running for Best Fan Writer in 2011? I bet he thinks a rocketship would look nice next to that medallion.

On the other hand, he might split the Pohl vote. Hmm.

Some of the rest of us might think the same way.

What if you cut the problem the other way? Trantor really is densely populated, but there's some reason the number has been wrongly reported.

Or in the future people will just be bigger.

Of course the real justificaiton is that most of the space on trantor is taken up by bottomless pits, like on coruscant, but with a few more safety railings.

You could of course explain the low population density by saying that 95% of Trantor's buildings and sub basements are devoted to all the endless filing cabinets, data storage, and computers required to run the Imperial bureaucracy. Once you put all that paperwork on one planet, there's very little room left over for people or for agriculture.

That sounds more like a Douglas Adams planet than an Asimov one.

Although I suppose it's explicit in-universe that the Empire wasn't big on miniaturization.

Unmentioned oceans? If the land surface is (say) 5-10% that of Earth, and the people don't (for whatever reason) live on the seabed or floating islands, the density suddenly becomes a lot higher.

I'm doing this off the top of my head; no idea if anything was actually said about the land area of Trantor, either as a percentage of the total or in some unit like hectares or thousands of square miles. (We seem to be assuming an Earth-sized world, rather than a Mars-sized one. Is that stated, or implied by mentions of surface gravity?)

The land surface of Trantor is "75,000,000 square miles in extent", so somewhat more than Earth.

Planetary ecologists laugh and point.

I wonder if it was ever pointed out to Asimov while he was alive - or better yet close to the time Foundation was published. It's not the type of insight that requires advanced knowledge they didn't have at the time of writing - just some basic math.

The moles who work underground in the atomic oxygen factories don't count as people, just the bureaucrats.

Perhaps he was talking British Billions rather than American ones.

Perhaps an unlikely lapse for the guy who wrote Only a Trillion on the theme of... the magnitude of the 'British Billion'.

I doubt one Brit in fifty knows what a British billion was anymore anyhow: our journalists long ago decided that a billion was a US-style gig, since that gave them headlines three orders of magnitude shockier. Their victory has long since been complete, and even I can't be bothered to lament it.

It's a shame how after 'meg' and 'gig', for a trillion/GBBillion we get the much-less-catchy alternatives of 'tera' or 'ter' - neither of which I've ever heard even a fellow-geek use in cold blood. I wonder if 'trill' would stick, now we've got hard discs whose capacity could reasonably provoke a casual plural?

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