As a pilot, it’s difficult to give a fair review to a book about mankind’s first flying experience. As a friend to Icarus and the Wing Builder’s author, Robert Case, the task reaches impossible heights. Then again, I’m always up for a challenge, so here goes.
Icarus and the Wing Builder is a solid novel that resides in the historical fiction genre. In the prologue, Case mentions that the historical record, if it can be called that, of Icarus and Daedalus (the wing builder) is very lacking. In fact, it seems all we really know is that Daedalus built the wings, and then Icarus used what Charlie Hunnam’s arse-hole character in the film Cold Mountain aptly calls “the confidence of youth” to go and get himself killed. That’s it. (Of course that’s not it. Human flight is something that has always captivated the attention of nearly everyone. To prove this point, during pilot training, our instructors told the story of a few student pilots who crashed and died while having fun in a rental plane over a weekend, and then our instructors provided a home video that some random family took with an air of “look at that plane!” only moments before it slammed into the side of a cliff off camera. The lesson–there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old and bold pilots. …Re-focusing then…)
Robert has a passion for Greece, a passion for history, and a passion for the plethora of imagery and lessons this unforgettable story has buried within it. As we all know, however, passion isn’t always enough. That’s what sets Case apart. He has already established himself as a credible speaker and storyteller, having been awarded as such by groups who award such things. Icarus and the Wing Builder (which is the first book of a trilogy he is calling The Minoan Trilogy) is the tasty treat created by this combination of passion and skill.
Sure, you could probably go your whole life without reading this book and not be too much the worse for it, but you would be worse. That’s because Case’s book is ultimately about hope. Hope, that pesky concept that just won’t go away no matter how hard we try to blot it out.
Why did Daedalus and Icarus want to fly? Robert would answer that question by asking, “Why did you first want to fly? Because you know you did.” And this fire that is so aptly illustrated by man’s dream to soar through the sky–this hope–needs constant tending.
Getting into specifics now, let’s bring ol’ Mark Twain into the picture. I am a big fan of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, to include the last published prequel The Deerslayer. Mark Twain was not. In fact, Twain wrote a hilarious review of Cooper in which he says Cooper violates eighteen of the “nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction.”* The first rule Cooper apparently violated, the one that is relevant to my eventual point here, is “that a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.”* Ever since reading this criticism of Cooper I have kept an eye out for tales which neither accomplish anything, nor arrive anywhere. You can imagine as I was editing Icarus and the Wing Builder that I was anxious to discover how Robert’s story measured up. Let me be the first to say that Case’s tale definitely does not break this rule. The book is chocked full of action, and Case never strays too far from the main storyline. The storyline being, of course, Daedalus and Icarus find themselves paired together by a twist of fate and in need of an escape. Along the way they run into several great characters, to include Naucreta, a former courtesan to King Minos. Case uses this book to flex a variety of writing skills. He plays it safe over all, but clearly has a firm grasp on palpable settings and landscapes, authentic dialogues, and likable characters whose trials and tribulations reflect those each of us face to a lesser degree in our own lives.
In the end, Icarus and the Wing Builder is a page-turning account of the events that led up to and surrounded that first flight. It is entertaining, sometimes surprising, and always well-written. Read it. And then join me in waiting for the movie.
*Cooper, James F. The Deerslayer. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005. Print.
My mother (Djaynn-net) once read somewhere that you can tell within the first minute of a movie whether you’ll like the movie or not. Or maybe she just said that. In any case, thanks to her provocative idea, I am now unable to begin movies or read books without wondering if it will prove true–again. This is relevant because my friend, Robert Case, wrote a book. And I helped him edit it. We’re both very excited about it, and I told him I’d publish a bit of it, as a teaser of sorts, on here. He told me I could pick whatever section I wanted to. I’m going with the first minute of the book. Enjoy! Then click the link I provide below (and here) and buy it. My honest review will be tomorrow’s post.
Oh, and I guess for this to work, you need to have some idea of what you’re getting into to. So, as if a movie teaser, picture these images flash across the screen: a rocky beach landscape that can be nowhere other than Ancient Greece; an unfairly wronged man finding hope in a bird’s effortless flight against a cerulean sky; a young orphan boy answering, “Icarus,” when asked his name; a strong captain sailing a ship that’s carrying an unlikely pair across the Mediterranean; a tribal king leaning back on his over-sized throne with authority after having just pronounced a passionate, yet never uncontrolled, decree; willing courtesans listlessly walking by, hinting at nights filled with passionate love-making; the man concluding a fatherly wisdom spiel with a look which says, “Don’t you know I love you?”; the young man Icarus leaving on a walk-a-bout that he just might not return from; a back-lit image of the man standing on a cliff wearing giant clearly hand-made wings that somehow possess a they-just-might-work quality to them; the man wearing wings falling off a cliff out of sight then rising up as background music enhances his extraordinary success; then the words “Icarus and the Wing Builder” accompanied by a deep percussive sound and an authoritative voice saying, “Read it this weekend on your favorite couch.”
Okay, that should do it–now read!
Long ago, on a verdant island in the middle of an azure sea now called the Mediterranean, a man named Daedalus designed and built wings. Naturally, inevitably, he had to test them.
On that momentous sun-ﬁlled day he stood on a ledge of earth and stone beneath a cloudless sky, long cumbersome wings of his own design draped across his arms, shoulders, and back. The wind was steady and strong and blowing directly into his bearded face. It was a perfect day for ﬂight. But he stood on the ledge of earth for a long while, anxious and uncertain, staring out at the distant gray fusion of water and sky.
The harness and wings carried an unnatural bulk and he constantly shifted his weight to compensate and keep his balance. If he slipped now or was knocked oﬀ his feet, the fall onto the rocks and dirt would likely damage the wings. He had labored too long, journeyed too far for that. So he leaned forward with bent knees, opposing the wind’s power and keeping his weight over his feet.
Far below and before him, as far as he could see, sparkling waves reﬂected the sun’s warmth and light. The majesty of the seascape called out its siren song, clear and serene. High on this remote perch he could not help but feel it. The attraction was irresistible, enticing him into the sky. As he stood on the shared boundary between the sea, sky, and land, it pulled on him as if his ears were at the center of his heart. But once again he was able to shake his head and look away, shifting his weight and keeping kept both feet ﬁrmly on the ground.
How long do I stand here, waiting?
In silence, Daedalus turned his gaze back toward the sea, compelled to feel the power of the sky just one more time; that place where the wind caught under the wings and the uplift began. He rotated his shoulders and held the wings fast. The steady breeze blew across the outstretched wings, its energy ﬂowing through them into the muscles of his shoulders and back. It teased and taunted him, assuring him that now was the best of times–possibly the only time there would ever be–for making this essential leap of faith.
He leaned forward once again and braced against the force, testing the limits of his fragile equilibrium. Once more he opted for the safety of the rocky ledge. But this time, and before he could look back down to the earth beneath his sandaled feet, a burst of windblown sand struck his face and chest. Instantly he closed his eyes and shifted one foot back for balance, squaring his shoulders into the gust, the wings fully extended.
The wind did not relent. It tore across the surface of the wings. Uplift gripped at his shoulders and spine. And now, instead of struggling for balance the wingbuilder pushed hard against the earth, up and away from the rocky ledge. Heart pounding, he dove into the sky. At the apogee of the leap he hung suspended, balanced between time and the jagged rocks of the shoreline below. Gravity, it seemed, had released its hold. Filling his lungs with an intake of breath, he willed his chest forward into an awkward glide, arms and wings outstretched, reaching for the currents of air. Daedalus soared.
The moment was sublime, the splendor of ﬂight on wings of his own design. The sky responded, greeting him with a mighty thermal, lifting him into its invisible spiral and carrying him into the cerulean heights far above the island. Sweat streaking down his face, he banked away like a great soaring bird. It was a dream realized. He felt so alive, his heart singing with joy, so loud and so strong. He never wanted it to end.
Okay, so it was more like three minutes. Sue me. If you like what you read, or you are simply up for something a little off the beaten path, purchase the book from Amazon by clicking here: Icarus and the Wing Builder