In Mortal Engines, both book and movie, the London people were excited about the Salthook chase that they all came to watch. The Londoners were cheering, but I was so shocked: why didn't they realize that someone may die, or be killed by their London? They don't recognize the horror of war.

It is comparable with a scenario when your soldiers are fighting a war, but your citizens come to the battlefield and watch in excitement.

Risks why someone might die:

  • Chasing at high speed, it's likely that some people from the prey city might die by accident.
  • Prey city booby trap (thinking: "if it is not mine, then it is not yours either, we won't let you take our city"), which might kill the Gut-duties people, most of whom are not soldiers.
  • Prey city makes a last stand.
  • Prey city shoots at London (unlikely for Salthook). In the movie, it seems that London is not fully armored, so a shell can hit and kill a chunk of people in the city.

I think that people should bunker themselves when the hunt is on, rather than doing their normal business.

  • 2
    Two words: Hunger Games. Taking down the Salthook will help the Londoners live another day; so why wouldn't they cheer?
    – Shreedhar
    Dec 2, 2019 at 7:26

2 Answers 2


The Londoners cheering lack empathy for the Salthook people.

We see this with many real-world patriots too: people who cheer their soldiers going to war, who identify with a national military effort in another country ("we invaded ...", "we won/lost ...", etc.), who call their country's soldiers "heroes". All of this without thinking about the actual reality of war: the hardship, injuries, deaths, including the deaths of innocents as well as of foreign soldiers who are, objectively, no more or less "heroes" than the ones from "their" country.

The sense of patriotic pride drowning out awareness of real horrors would be accentuated in the world of Mortal Engines. These people live in the era of Municipal Darwinism: when cities eating cities is the way of the world. When the world operates on that basis, many people would be happy at a victory for "their" city. Think of it, perhaps, like a victory in a football match; they don't think about the real horror and pain involved, because that's just how the world works.

Plus, this wouldn't be the first time London has gone chasing and hunting a smaller town. Some people who were squeamish to watch the first time might have become used to it over time. To take another real-world analogy, think of people who don't like to watch gruesome films - or, better, animals killing each other, in the original Darwinism. Watching a lion kill an antelope involves the real death of a real creature feeling real pain, but not everyone is going to be too horrified to watch such a thing.

Of course, the above doesn't necessarily apply to all Londoners. Some of them may have enough morals to find the chasing and consumption of other towns repugnant, or at least not to want to watch while it happens. But at least some proportion of the population is excited and oblivious enough to watch and cheer without noticing the human cost.

Salthook is small and easy meat, so there's little to no risk for London.

London is so much bigger and better armed than Salthook. The smaller town doesn't even try to stand and fight; running away is its only hope. They could try to fire something at London, but probably the big city has defence mechanisms that we aren't seeing - and in any case it would be a waste of time for Salthook, since even killing a chunk of Londoners wouldn't slow the city itself.

Plus, remember that the mentality of someone who wants to cheer the chase, without feeling empathy for the hapless Salthookers, is unlikely to be the kind of person who thinks overmuch about small risks. Again, there might be some percentage of people who do worry about the risk of injury from a Salthook projectile or booby trap, but those will be the Londoners who stay indoors. Enough people will not be concerned about that to make up the numbers of the cheering crowds.

From the point of view of the London authorities, there's no need to make a law against people coming out to cheer a chase. There's essentially no risk (as mentioned above), and such events are good at building nationalistic spirit hence loyalty to the regime. Equating the hunting of other towns with free entertainment just makes Municipal Darwinism more popular among the masses.


Although Tom recognises that the people on Salthook are people, he also sees that their city is prey for his own city.

The little town was so close that he could see the ant-like shapes of people running about on its upper tiers. How frightened they must be, with London bearing down on them and nowhere to hide! But he knew he mustn’t feel sorry for them: it was natural that cities ate towns, just as the towns ate smaller towns, and smaller towns snapped up the miserable static settlements. That was Municipal Darwinism, and it was the way the world had worked for hundreds of years, ever since the great engineer Nikolas Quirke had turned London into the first Traction City.

Mortal Cities

And that if London doesn't eat, it'll get eaten (along with him). Note here that London has been actively avoiding confrontation with other large cities for a decade and with its people becoming miserable and worried. Returning to the Hunting Grounds and attacking larger towns represents a return to a more confident age and locating a town of this size gives them reason to think that the Lord Mayor has made a wise decision.

In happier times, London would never have bothered with such feeble prey. The great Traction City had once spent its days hunting far bigger towns than this, ranging north as far as the edges of the Ice Waste and south to the shores of the Mediterranean. But lately prey of any kind had started to grow scarce, and some of the larger cities had begun to look hungrily at London. For ten years now it had been hiding from them, skulking in a damp, mountainous, western district which the Guild of Historians said had once been the island of Britain.

Mortal Cities

  • 5
    "a damp, mountainous, western district which the Guild of Historians said had once been the island of Britain" - ha! I'd forgotten that part.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Dec 1, 2019 at 18:40

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