An Inspiration For Icarus Down

Octavia, by Lei

This painting is of Octavia and is by Lei

If Icarus Down gets published, I’m going to have to thank my second year Planning 201 teacher. At the time, he made us read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and then assigned us cities within the book and told us to craft planning presentations on them.

Invisible Cities is a deconstruction of the urban form, using a narrative trope of Marco Polo describing to Kublai Khan the many different and bizarre cities he saw on his journeys. Gradually, it becomes clear that he isn’t describing different cities, but different aspects of the same city, over time.

It’s probably pretentious as all get out, but I enjoyed it, and the imagery of the book stayed with me for two decades and has influenced my fiction, from Shepherd Moons to The Night Girl.

But one city in particular nagged at my imagination, and as Icarus Down took form, it became the inspiration for the suspended city of Iapyx. I’ll quote the passage below:

If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands.   Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm’s bed.

This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support.   All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children’s games, cable cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants.

Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities.   They know the net will last only so long.

—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

It’s not a perfect match, clearly, and nor should it be, but you can see the lines of inspiration. I even paid homage to that inspiration by naming one of the major cities on Icarus Down Octavia.

A couple of announcements: my latest column is up at The Kitchener Post’s website. It’s my take on the Occupy Wall Street protests. I hope you like it. And I’m pleased to note that these guys have given me my own tag.

I’m also pleased to announce that the Ontario Arts Council has seen fit to award Icarus Down with their Works in Progress grant. The jury-chosen grant is to be used to cover my living expenses while I work on getting the story ready for publication. I’d previously won this grant for The Dream King’s Daughter, and Erin had one it for Plain Kate (I know. I’m working on getting The Dream King’s Daughter published as well. It’s just taking longer than I’d anticipated).

It’s a wonderful piece of good news, and quite an honour. There were 196 applications for this grant, and only 21 were accepted, so I feel it’s a strong vote of confidence in this novel. Hopefully, we’ll eventually see it on the shelf.

Further Reading

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