Hey friends! This weekend I am in San Antonio for World Fantasy Convention 2017. The theme is “Secret Histories” and I am moderating a panel all about cities as palimpsests! The panel is called “The Role of Cities in Fantasy Settings” and it will be tomorrow morning at 10 am if anyone is in town.
I got to be panel moderator because of my day job, so I thought I might use this post to make recommendation of some of my favorite books about cities for those of you who may not be able to join tomorrow. I’ll also try to do a recap of what the other members of the panel discuss for next week, though we’ll see how on the ball I am tomorrow morning with note-taking.
First, I spent several weeks leading up to this panel reading the book Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson. It was a super interesting read, and I recommend it if you are a writer daylighting as an urban planner, like myself. Anderson does a broad survey of the city in literature and architecture, including such famous minds in the urban planning field as Le Corbusier alongside philosophers like Plato and fiction writers like Italo Calvino. It’s a dreamy, memorable survey with a delightful way of looking at things. One of my favorite early lines in the book talks about Le Corbusier’s vision for the city: “It is a city rethought as planetary space, but what can live in a vacuum?” There’s enough fodder in here for all of your storytelling and visioning needs.
On the semi-fictional spectrum, one of my favorite cities is Istanbul as depicted in Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, a tense and smart techno-thriller meets near-future dystopia meets historical fiction. Yes, there is a lot going on in this book, and it is done so well. The layers of Istanbul sit on top of one another, bleed into one another, and each character carries their own city with them. It’s a book of intensely vivid prose and gorgeous vistas, all contained around a tight knot of action.
Paolo Bacigalupi has made a name for his near-future dystopias focusing on climate change. Most memorable of these is the Wind Up Girl, which won several awards, but I think the author really comes into his own with The Water Knife. This book takes place in Phoenix, AZ, conveniently enough the city I was born in, and I had a hard time reading it because it was so incredibly believable. As might be expected, climate change means that the setting is absolutely integral to the plot of this work, and that setting is a grim, waterless future indeed.
Really you could pick up any Martha Wells book and get a delightful lesson on building worlds, but why not start with this one? This city hangs parallel in time or space to another, and the big crisis of the book is trying to keep it from being erased by that other place. Wells draws on canal cities from around the world to design Duvalpore.
I left the Craft Sequence for last because there aren’t enough words to explain Max Gladstones adroit use of the city in these works. The first of the books in order of publication, Three Parts Dead, is set in the city of Alt Coloumb, a magnificent place whose infrastructure is literally the body of a god. Every book in this sequence is set in a different city, each more fascinating than the last, with the most recent book focusing on how cities are narratives, communal decisions in how we want to experience our world. If you have any interest in cities historically, urban planning, fantastical zoning law or anything of that nature, you should probably read these books.
Go forth and read, and I’ll see you next week!
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