October 14, 2016

Icarus Down

by James Bow
Scholastic Canada
374 pp.
Ages 12+
September 2016

Icarus Down may be science fiction but it is truly a cautionary tale of environmental destruction, colonization, genocide and cultural discrimination.  Their world, or rather planet, may be foreign to our 2016 one, but it’s what happened on Old Mother Earth that resulted in this new world.

After the Extinction Wars which took place following the Great Warming, the Icarus, a colonizing spacecraft, travelled 25,000 light years into the darkness, spending 72 years looking for a new planet to inhabit.  They called the planet upon which they crashed and settled Icarus Down, a web-like world of thirteen cities tethered by cables to anchors in cliffs far above the fog forest and the ticktock monsters below.

Simon Daub, who begins the telling of Icarus Down, is on his maiden flight as an ornithopter pilot with his older brother Isaac, a senior pilot and all-around golden boy.  Shortly after Isaac reveals to Simon that he believes their mother was murdered, not as a result of jumping to her death, something goes awry with the battery and Isaac, attempting to repair it, is burned to death by the powerful sun.  Simon manages to parachute out but he is badly burned and scarred.  Nathaniel Tal, chief of security for their city of Iapyx and older brother of Mayor Matthew Tal, questions Simon about the “accident” and Grounders, those supporting the move of the colonies into the foggy land below.  His questions make Simon begin to wonder whether Isaac and perhaps his mother had been Grounders themselves.

When lights start flickering, and steam-pipes burst, and message canisters travelling by pneumatic tubes are misdirected, the troubles are attributed to  Grounders terrorism.  Simon, having met with Grounders via Isaac’s betrothed Rachel, suspects the sabotage is being used to discredit their movement and he begins to investigate.  Suspecting Nathaniel Tal of the sabotage, Simon gets in a little too deep and, after witnessing the actions that would result in the inevitable destruction of their city, Simon and Rachel jump into the oblivion beyond Iapyx, hopeful of safety, fearful of death.

Our second narrator in Icarus Down is a human girl known as Small, Fierce-Hearted One to her people, which sounded like Ek-Taak-Tock-Taak in their language.  When she goes in pursuit of revenge on the invaders who destroyed her people and now reside in the air, she is witness to the literal fall of Iapyx, and discovers Simon, injured but alive.
I did not know what I had expected after travelling nine dozen sleeps to one of the invaders’ giant metal hives, but surely not to have it fall and almost crush me.  one of my dreams of revenge were so large. (pg. 163)
Simon, or Silly Strange Boy as she thinks of him, and Ek-Taak-Tock-Taak whom Simon eventually calls Eliza, must find a way to communicate and trust each other in order to survive and attain that which each seeks: justice or revenge.

This is but a slice of James Bow’s complicated story of conflict and colonization and conspiracy.  Though an unfathomable world of tethered cities and planetary travel and lizard-like creatures, the worlds of Icarus Down are reflective of the atrocities perpetrated here on earth in the name of exploration and colonization with the usurping of land and culture for our own purposes.  The truth is out there in Icarus Down but, like with all conspiracies, it is hidden away from those who might demand change.
If I didn’t do something, this would stay a lie.” (pg. 272)
Icarus Down is about the clash of cultures, invader and indigen, so seemingly different in dress, manner and language at first encounter but who find a way to work together and appreciate their commonalities.  By creating a cosmological allegory of settlement and occupation, with a thrilling adventure of intrigue and treachery, carried out by good guys and bad guys and a few playing both sides, James Bow has made Icarus Down a turbulent bit of travel into an unsettled future, perhaps a little too much like some historical disgraces from which we’ve yet to learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment