Exactly seven years ago tomorrow, I wrote a free-form poem called Iron Town. The basic idea and image of the poem was of an industrial nightmare, a city of rust and decay and pollution where haggard workers toiled day in and day out without purpose or joy. In a word, bleak. During this period, it was contrasted by the City of Crystal, a metropolitan dream filled with glass towers and blue skies. But Iron Town was the end result of that particular story. Around the same time, I also wrote a short story, as part of a series of connected stories, that touched upon the fall of the City of Crystal as it collapsed into Iron Town, the City of Rust. As in the story, it was the image of Iron Town, and what it stood for, that stuck with me.
Not long after this I began an attempt to write a story about Iron Town, taking the name of the city as the name of the story. It carried on the industrial nightmare theme, taking on the idea that Iron Town was beginning to die as all the available resources in the area were rapidly running out. The story centered around a young factory worker, who dreams of leaving his dangerous job, and Iron Town, behind. But the catch is that no one ever leaves Iron Town. This story never went beyond three pages and a simple idea. In the shuffle of other stories, it was eventually lost and forgotten.
Four years passed as I worked on other things, mainly The Martian Empire Trilogy. Having finished that trilogy, I started working on some short stories. One of those stories was called The Blasted Lands, which will appear in my short-story collection, Fragments of Mind. The bulk of the action in the story takes place in Iron Town, which rests amid a vast desert land. This time, however, the city was no longer an industrial nightmare, but rather a city of strange monsters and horrible curses; bloat, avarice, and excess abounded there. Far more fitting a fantasy story than something resembling modern day. But the basic idea was the same. Dark, depressing, and dangerous.
After writing a number of short stories, I began work on a new novel, which I called The Jester and the Thief. In the story, a young, exiled prince escapes from a prison in Iron Town with the aid of a crazy old man. Iron Town, however, despite appearing early on, faded away after the first few chapters. In looking back at the finished story, I lamented that it had gone too far afield from the original idea, which was to focus on Iron Town and its bizarre peculiarities. In the end, I put the story aside. However, the basic concept, characters, and world remained.
Several novels later, I began working on a new novel, borrowing liberally from The Jester and the Thief. I called it Between Sand and Sky. I kept the exiled prince, the crazy old man, the beautiful but strange princess, and the assassin. I kept Iron Town. I kept the great desert waste where the city itself was located. I kept the story of the prince searching for the men responsible for his exile. But a lot of things changed. Rather than an escape from Iron Town, Between Sand and Sky was a search for Iron Town. By this time, the more fantastical elements of Iron Town had fallen away, leaving me with something that was much more realistic and, in a way, much more sinister.
More recently, as in just a few months ago, I laid the foundation for a new novel called City of Crystal, City of Rust. As of this moment, there’s really nothing more than a vague idea and an opening paragraph. The thought I have with this is to either retell or write a sequel to The Blasted Lands, focusing on the story of The Traveler and his dealings with the aptly-named City of Rust.
In writing this post, it became even more clear to me that Iron Town and what it stands for is the most enduring theme in my writing. But why? I think its because Iron Town, in all its many appearances, always represents one very simple concept: the sum total of the worst of humanity. People who are absorbed in their own pursuits without a care for anyone else, the turning of a blind eye to the suffering of others, rampant disease and poverty, torture and slavery, and the terrible irony of urban isolation. All the characters who enter Iron Town have to somehow survive its many horrors, but are often changed by their experience regardless.