The Cities You Can Never Leave

Science fiction imagines strange and wondrous cities in our future, but many are less paradise than prison. We take an ill-advised vacation inside the cities that will never let you leave.

Gilded Cages

The Axiom (WALL*E): The luxury liner Axiom has taken humanity on a multi-generational space cruise so successful that humans have lost the drive to even contemplate leaving. But when the Axiom's marginally more self-aware captain gets it into his head that it's time to return to Earth, he learns that the ship's robots have standing orders to keep the population trapped on board — for their own good, of course.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The Community (The Giver by Lois Lowry): In the tightly regulated Community, everything is carefully structured and everyone is provided for. Most residents would never dream of leaving, but believe that if they break some of the Community's more serious rules, they'll be "released" and live outside the Community. As it turns out, however, "release" is less exile than execution.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Tally's City (The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld): The denizens of Tally Youngblood's post-scarcity community want for nothing. Food is plentiful, entertainment is readily available, and people are peaceful. And, once sixteen year-olds move from Uglyville to New Pretty Town, they get fresh, attractive faces and life becomes an endless series of parties. Of course, the price is a couple of intelligence-numbing lesions on your brain, and that any attempts to leave will be blocked by the fearsome Dr. Cable and her team of surgically-enhanced Specials.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The City of Domes (Logan's Run): After a population explosion resulted in disaster, it was decided that people within the City of Domes would live a life of pleasure until age 21 (or 30, depending on whether you're reading the book or watching the movie). You can try to escape before your fatal birthday, but then you have to deal with Sandmen, people employed to kill the people who run.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The Capital of Panem (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins): In Panem, geography is destiny. Those born in the North American nation's twelve districts must endure the harsh conditions set by the Capital. But in the Capital, where citizens live lives of pleasure and ease, they're no more free. Escaping from the Capital means execution, or a life of servitude as a mute and mutilated Avox.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The Urban Monoliths (The World Inside by Robert Silverberg): The Urbmons are not actually a single city, but a series of enclosed, thousand-story buildings bursting with an ever-growing human population. People have no privacy and may never go outside, instead living hedonistic lives indoors ruled by rampant sex, prepackaged entertainment, and happiness-inducing drugs. Anyone who contemplates stepping outside the ant farm is termed a "flippo" and risks a trip down a shaft that leads into the power generator.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The Village (The Village): A less scifi example comes from M. Night Shyamalan's film about an isolated rural village. The village elders created what they believed to be a utopian society free from violence, and agreed to remain by compact, but force their children to stay inside the village limits with spooky stories of "Those We Don't Speak Of" and the occasional dose of animal mutilation.

Labor Camps

The Cities You Can Never Leave

One State (We by Yevgeny Zamyatin): Perhaps the prototypical inescapable city, One State is made entirely of glass, a megacity where work and sex are under state control. When D-503 awakens to the oppression imposed by the Great Benefactor, he begins to dream of rebellion. But D-503 finds that even a mental escape from the city is temporary at best.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The Electronic Labyrinth (THX 1138): As in One State, the underground city of THX 1138, workers are completely controlled, albeit with drugs and mindless entertainment instead of indoctrination and sex. Most of the city's workers, even those in prison, can't even contemplate escape, but those that do have to face the city's police force.

City-Wide Prisons

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The Village (The Prisoner): Men and women who know the secrets of the world are captured and sent to the surreal Village, a place that might be idyllic if you could ever leave it. Although there are no clear boundaries preventing escape, Rover, the Village's eerie white balloon, will be sure to nudge (or drag) an potential escapees home again.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Seahaven (The Truman Show): Only one person is actually a prisoner inside the domed town of Seahaven: Truman Burbank, unwitting star of The Truman Show. To ensure that he never leaves (or even realizes he's imprisoned in the first place), the show's creator has placed him on an invented island and saddled him with a traumatic fear of water.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The Strangers' City (Dark City): The Dark City is actually a strange urban petrie dish, a city created by the alien Strangers to stage their experiments. Most denizens don't even realize they're imprisoned by the aliens, since, along with the city, their memories are altered each day.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Vault 101 (Fallout 3): When a nuclear attack turns all of Washington, DC into a nuclear wasteland, life in a fallout shelter doesn't sound like a half-bad plan. But Vault 101 wasn't designed as a means for preserving humans to repopulate the Earth; it's rather an elaborate science experiment to test the results of indefinite isolation under an Overseer. Although no one (save the Overseer) is ever supposed to leave the Vault, a couple of folks do manage to get up to the wasted surface.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The Colony (The Island): Residents of the enclosed colony only believe that the Earth has been entirely devastated, leaving them in a comfortable facility and hoping for a ticket to "The Island," the last habitable place on Earth. But when Lincoln Six-Echo does a little sniffing around the facility, he discovers that they're not in a shelter but a prison, and that they're cloned humans made to provide spare parts to the wealthy and unscrupulous.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

New York and Los Angeles (Escape from New York, Escape from LA): When crime and moral decay reach a critical mass, Manhattan — and then Los Angeles — are declared maximum-security prisons. Unlike many other urban prisons, New York and Los Angeles are fairly straight-forward, with high walls, moats, and guards keeping criminals inside.

Cities at the End of the World

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Diaspar (The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke): For the most part, the denizens of Diaspar feel no compulsion to ever leave their enclosed urban home. As far as they know, there are no other humans on Earth and humanity will encounter a dreaded foe if it ever again spreads into the stars. When Alvin, the first new soul born into Diaspar in seven thousand years, begins to inquire what's outside, the other residents won't even consider his questions, though he does eventually find a passage to a second civilization, and seeks to discover why the people of Diaspar are so afraid of venturing outside.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

The Underground Cities (12 Monkeys): When a biological agent wipes out most of humanity, the survivors are forced underground. Until a cure can be found, there's no point in going outside unless you have a death wish. There is one way to enjoy fresh air, however: travel back in time before the virus was released.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Zion (The Matrix): In the realm of The Matrix series, humans are generally either plugged into the Matrix or living in Zion, the last human city. Ships do come and go from Zion to battle the machines or remove more humans from the Matrix, but even that must be done carefully to keep the machines from learning its location — although, in fact, the machines are already well aware of it.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Paradigm City (The Big O): After "The Event," residents of Paradigm City found themselves without memories and without a world outside their own city. Everything outside the city is a wasteland. Some folks claim to come from outside the city, but it's likely their origins are more sinister than that.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Ember (City of Ember): After an unnamed disaster, those living in the underground city of Ember believe they exist in the last inhabitable place on Earth, with no reason to leave as long as the city's generator keeps working and the lights stay on. But when the generator begins to fail, two of Ember's children must find a way to escape the city and spirit the entire community to safety.

There Be Zombies Outside

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Land of the Dead): The survivors of the zombie apocalypse set up a haven for themselves in Pittsburgh, using the city's surrounding rivers and an electric fence to keep the undead outside. But even without the threat of a zombie attack, Pittsburgh has it share of problems, with an emerging feudal system causing tension among the living humans.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

ARC Island (The Zombie Hunters): Jenny Romanchuk's zombie comic has its own haven in the form of ARC Island, which serves as a village for survivors and a research lab to find a cure. The only ones who venture into zombie-infested territory are the Zombie Hunters — still-living humans infected with a dormant form of the zombie virus.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Mary's Village (The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan): In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the zombie apocalypse occurred so long ago that people living inside Mary's fenced-in village hardly remember technology or the ocean. The only thing that keeps them safe from the Unconsecrated undead is a chain-link fence, which none but the most desperately suicidal pass.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Raccoon City (Resident Evil): The problem with Raccoon City isn't so much the zombies outside; it's the zombies inside. When an experiment creates a zombie outbreak, the Umbrella Corporation places the entire city under quarantine, forcing anyone who wants out to battle both zombies and private military forces.

Other Cities:

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Bregna (Aeon Flux): Much like the totalitarian labor camps and gilded cages is Bregna, one of two cities in the Aeon Flux universe. In order to preserve order and keep the Breen population separate from its anarchist Monican neighbors, Trevor Goodchild has erected a small, but heavily booby-trapped Berlin Wall.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Alixus' Colony (Deep Space Nine "Paradise"): Alixus is the leader of a small human colony stranded on an Earth-like planet. With all of technology on the planet suppressed, the colonists have been unable to summon rescue, but have happily adapted to a luddite existence. But when Sisko and O'Brien find themselves trapped on the planet, they learn that Alixus has deliberately suppressed the colony's technology and isolated the planet without her neighbors' knowledge or consent.

The Cities You Can Never Leave

Kandor (Superman): Once the capital city of Krypton, Kandor was miniaturized and stolen by Braniac, who kept the entire city in a bottle, lit by an artificial red sun. Superman eventually recovered the city, and it sits in the Fortress of Solitude, with city life going on until the day Superman can restore it to its original size.