2000; 312 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Detective Noir; Dystopian Fantasy. Laurels : 2009 Kitschies Award, 2010 Locus Award, 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award, 2010 World Fantasy Award, 2009 British Science Fiction Award, 2010 Hugo Award (tied). It cleaned up, man. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
Ul Qoma and Beszel are sister cities. In fact, they occupy the same space, just kinda sorta in different dimensions. Their inhabitants can see each other, but to do so is a serious breach of the law. So they’ve all been taught to “unsee” and “unhear”. Kinda. Sorta.
Inspector Tyador Borlu has a problem. A body was dumped in his jurisdiction, Beszel. But she was apparently murdered in Ul Qoma. Did the perpetrators breach? And how does one go about solving the case when half the crime scene is in another dimension?
What’s To Like...
The City & The City will make you work. You get dumped into the story from Detective Borlu’s perspective. He’s lived in Beszel all his life, so he’s used to the double-city and “unseeing”. The reader isn’t, and part of the fun is trying to catch up to Borlu as to how the whole thing works.
At its core, this is a murder-mystery, but it’s a lot more complex than that. There is a fantasy element – there are legends of a third dimension, Orciny, hidden in the shadows of both cities. And there’s a dystopian element – the Breach enforcers who appear out of nowhere when citizens neglect to “unsee” or illegally cross over from one city to the other. Offenders simply disappear.
The City & The City is also a vocabularian’s delight with both real words like encomia, carytids, and tendentious to challenge the reader, and made-up ones, like abhistory. It would feel “forced” if done by most authors; China Miéville makes it flow smoothly.
Kewlest New Word...
Alterity (n.) : The state of being different; “otherness”.
It may or may not have been Beszel, that we built, back then, while others may have been building Ul Qoma on the same bones. Perhaps there was one thing back then that later schismed on the ruins, or perhaps our ancestral Beszel had not yet met and stand-offishly entwined with its neighbour. I am not a student of the Cleavage, but if I were I still would not know. (pg.42 )
It was not a soundless dark. It was not without intrusions. There were presences within it that asked me questions I could not answer, questions I was aware of as urgencies at which I failed. Those voices again and again said to me, Breach. What had touched me sent me not into mindless silence but into a dream arena where I was quarry. (pg. 241)
“(W)hat if we inherited, shit, Ul Qoman sense of timing and Beszel optimism?” (pg. 161)
The City and The City is an ambitious novel, what with multiple genres, complex writing, and deliberately making things confusing at the start for the reader. Indeed, at the end, a number of things are still “hazy”. But China Miéville makes it work. This is not something for lesser writers to try.
This is my fourth China Miéville book, and they’ve all been superb. Assuming he has a long writing career, I predict Miéville will be mentioned in the same sci-fi/fantasy company as Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Heinlein. Yeah, he’s that good. 9 Stars. And if you want something from Miéville a bit lighter and less challenging, may I suggest Un Lun Dun (reviewed here), which is still my favorite book of his.