9 June 2013

Choose Wisely: A Review of The City & The City, China Mieville

Lollygagging my few minutes to myself away, my thoughts are set in the future rather than the task of this post.   Abaddon's Gate is out, available and people are reading it.  People being not me, as I for some reason not only have not read but worse do not a copy of my very own.  At what point in my life did I lose sight of what matters?  Sigh....  
Holy shit balls
And so I sit, wishing I was reviewing THAT book rather than THIS book:   The City and The City .   For a book that has received quite a bit of buzz, The City and The City doesn't deserve such a poor intro.   Weirdly enough, I am not too sure how I would rate this book.  Have you have ever been excited to read something but the timing of it did not sync with your life?  Timing seemed to doom my first few attempts, I never could get into it.  And "getting into it" is the key, because the success of the book requires the reader to accept the codes and laws that dictate this world reality without too much up-front information. 

At it's basest descriptive level, The City and The City is a SF Detective novel.  Chapter One opens to a murder scene with the plot then expanding rapidly around the actions of the police properly identifying the young women and her killer.  The lead character, Inspector Tyador Borlu from the Extreme Crime Squad of the European city-state of Beszel is like most detectives you meet in fiction:  moral with a hint of shady to him.  You know,  a good guy with a past who, while having seen it all is still attempting to keep things right in the world.  Maybe I exaggerate him slightly, being a policeman's daughter, but overall he is likable and complex enough to want to follow from page to page as the intrigue develops and darkens.  This is a job well-done by Mieville;  a good novel is marked by it's character development.   

While the characters are vivid, and the plot multi-layered, the real star is the city, times two.  Inspector Borlu, a Beszel citizen lives in two worlds, or more poignantly, lives in one world while actively ignoring the other.  Beszel shares its geographical space with the city-state of  Ul Qoma.  Sharing is misleading as these two city-states  have an entwined tumultuous past, present and in all probability, future. They exist out of defiance of the other; holding true to their perceived uniqueness, to the extreme of unseeing each other.  Citizens of both are raised to be culturally unaware, taught to un-see, un-smell, un-react to the vibrancy of the other city.  Fascinating concept and it was this that first intrigued me and subsequently forced me to actually sit down and work through the book.   Work it was, but in a good way.  You need to be present in this book, actively aware of each word because the stories of the The City and The City is revealed not by page by page but by word by word.  

So why does my frustration linger? There is nothing inherently wrong with the book, Mievelle is clearly a masterful writer able to pull together unique ideas, to the point of legitimising them in the context of this world reality.  The detective story is as creative as P.D. James has ever penned, so why do I not like it as much as I know I should.  It all comes back to timing; I am sure if I read this during my apocalyptic  world's colliding stage, rather than my fantastical, space opera stage this review would be very different.  As the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said, "You must choose, but choose wisely".