The City the City is a procedural policier in a dystopian setting -- two conflicting cities sharing the same geographical space, separated by culture,The City the City is a procedural policier in a dystopian setting -- two conflicting cities sharing the same geographical space, separated by culture, bureaucracy, and technology, with a touch of fantastic. Overall, China Mieville gives the reader an exploratory duopolis that turns at times into a trio- and even quadropolis, innovative devices related to the setting, excellent narrative technique, frequent plot twists, and the meta-level of the fantastic for re-reading pleasures to come. I am glad to have discovered this masterpiece!
The plot, in general Tyador Borlu is a city of Beszel's detective, assigned to a complicated murder case. Solving it will take Borlu into the opposite city of Ul Qoma, then across to the police of the duopolis, Breach, and to the borders of the obscure city of Orciny. Through many twists and turns, Inspector Borlu will poke the case and find the borders of the geopolitically accepted in an immensely complicated setup.
The setting, in general The start indicates a near-Balkanic duopolis, in which the cities Besz and Ul Qoma are not only arch-enemies and retrograde corners of the civilized world, but also sharing the same space in a tedious geopolitical agreement. Whoever lives in one city has to strictly limit vision, hearing, and analysis to the reality of that city, completely ignoring or, if that is not possible, unseeing, unhearing, and unlearning glimpses from the other city. A dangerous dance learned from early childhood, the repetition of which prevents seeing the other, or breaching. The consequences of a breach are dire, including possible death, and are enforced by the secret police of Breach, location unknown. A less nefarious 1984 that turns out to be acceptable for many of its citizens. Inventive! Also useful for the plot!! Delicious!!! (The fantastic undertones also reminded of Haruki Murakami. A fresh Murakami, so with a change of scenery from cats, Greece, young adults, and desperation.)
How is the writing? The writing excels in complex sentences and the rare (middle-)English word, but is very rewarding. The reduced language of the police, typical in procedural policiers (and Hollywood thrillers), is compensated by the rich texture of the other passages, from descriptions to the dialogue of the academics. The neologisms Mieville invents should form the topic of a detailed study, but to me reach an excellent level that reminds of Umberto Eco's tetrapiloctomy in Foucault's Pendulum. The writing is often humorous, especially in the first third of the book, perhaps compensating by design the (more technical) description of the legal and political aspects of the city and the city. How about the Schrödinger pedestrian, the traveler in the shared zone between the two cities, not seen by anyone for fear of seeing something of the other city, and thus breaching?
The imagery developed around the shared and non-shared topology is very creative and interesting:
pass through Copula Hall [n.b., the frontier-building] and she or he might leave Besźel, and at the end of the hall come back to exactly (corporeally) where they had just been, but in another country, a tourist, a marvelling visitor
--Mieville, China (2009-05-09). The City & The City (p. 86). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
How is the world constructed? China Mieville knows stuff and it shows. Mieville is topically, geographically, and politically inspired. The toponimics are carefully constructed, the Besz names with a strong Austro-Hungarian descent and the Ul Qoma names closer to Albanian. Just when the reader can agree with the Hungarian/Albanian world, a new, Greek/Slav/world-wide influence inserts itself naturally into the story. Jews and Turkic Muslims share a bazaar and especially the coffee tables. Americans and others are tourists and scholars. Kurds and others play the role of immigrants. It's the Blakans, recognizably so, but it's also a completely new world by a brilliant world constructor. Mieville then fills this lively world with jobs and objects he understands, from archaeology to academia, from police to technology, from architecture to bureaucracy. The potential of the world is exploited to the full extend allowed by the page limit, but remains barely put to work in this novel.
How are the characters? Borlu is a powerful character, well within its skin as a smart and educated Inspector, even when modern and middle-English, and unusual academic prowess allow him to push the story in ways that one would never suspect Dick Tracy of being able to. The other characters are more than stick figures, despite receiving much less attention. I really liked Borlu and, with the frequent and violent plot twists, felt strongly for his inability to get hold of the murder case in which he is involved (and his cursing). His sacrificial decision to breach makes Borlu a worthy hero.
Ok, ok, is there anything that's not perfect? The Hollywoodian pre-ending. Not wanting to spoil the fun of the real ending, I'll stop here, but let me assure the reader there's a real, likable ending in this book. There is also the issue of no power check for Breach, unless Orciny is real. Is it?
(I guess one could talk endlessly about the double, triple, multiple meaning.) ...more
TODO: +++ 5-star because of amount of ground-breaking ideas, relative to moment of creation (2003-2004), initial release (2006, self-pub), and mainstreTODO: +++ 5-star because of amount of ground-breaking ideas, relative to moment of creation (2003-2004), initial release (2006, self-pub), and mainstream publication (2008-9)*. This is for the hackers what the Neuromancer was for the virtual reality geeks; hint: a generation manifesto. Overall, brilliant! +++ The plot is powerful and innovative - mad scientist... Scratch that... Mad computer scientist creates software monster (the Daemon) while on deathbed. The Daemon activates upon death of said scientist, aims to change the world as we know it, in the name of strengthening our survival chances as human race. Daemon uses hacking as tool of dominance. Ok, so the plot is not new, except for compsci and hacking. +++ excellent description of hacking process and tools +++ excellent understanding of what tech is capable of doing. Snowden told all of us the same, but a decade later (first reveals in 2013). +++ excellent action scenes, full of pace and gore. Of course I didn't like them, but they are page-turners even in this case. *wink* + good, interesting characters --- For me, the real question is the assumption of Daemon's uniqueness. In thia book, only one person in the world is capable of realizing what a Daemon can do, and uses own and organization money to build one. This goes contrary to how tech and INTSEC operate: when tech enables a control system, every major government and company is scrambling to design and implement their own version. Unfortunately, the book focuses on an unopposed Daemon for months, then on the weak defense offered by the cliched US agencies. Would have been much nicer to have a realistic confrontation, more like advanced Daemon vs regular Daemons. --- Perhaps the human drama is needed to make the book sellable, but I hardly see a reason for all the scenes focusing on individuals and claiming importance, while the true protagonist is a global virtual beast who probably relies on tens of individuals doing any one action it needs accomplished. All the personal drama is moving, but logically pointless. -- some of the scenes are so cliched, to the point of making the reader want to scream! Why a bike chase, in a techno-thriller where billions of transactions can be closed while the bike is crossing 100m?! Etc.
Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest continues the Millennium trilogy, following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who PlaStieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest continues the Millennium trilogy, following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. There's not much to say about this third installment. Same characters, partially good writing, a lot of coffee references. (It looks like the characters take caffeine pit-stops, in the same way cars would be refueled but much more often; this is a definite plus.) We also get incredibly happy coincidences, incompetent internal police services, and completely unbelievable accounts of the juridical system. We also get a resolution on all the problems raised in the first two installments of the series, perhaps with the exception of the sister-to-sister relationship regarding one of the main characters. The story is partially served by the interesting comments on the relationship citizen-state, and partially on the woman's role in the modern society. Overall, not a valuable use of this reviewer's reading time....more
Stieg Larsson's The Girl who Played with Fire continues the Millennium trilogy, started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The book has again the cStieg Larsson's The Girl who Played with Fire continues the Millennium trilogy, started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The book has again the common traits of spy/murder thrillers. We see again Salander (the girl) and Blomkvist (the journalist) entangled in an international story of espionage. We get again solid writing and the occasional story twist. We even get some believable characters and sub-plots. However, the story becomes more of a tele-novella. It's the Russians the main characters are fighting against. One of the characters finds out about and fights against long-lost family. The heroes take part in fast and furious love stories, fast and furious chases, and fast and furious coffee consumption. In fact, for this reviewer the only thing that saves this second installment of the Millennium trilogy is the interesting presence of coffee in the lives of virtually every story protagonist. To conclude: still a good read, but too cliched and overall an abuse of the attachment to the characters wonderfully built in the first part of the Millennium trilogy. ...more
[Disclaimer: I am not a big fan of mystery/thriller/crime novels. I also don't usually watch movies on this topic.] [Second disclaimer: I opened this[Disclaimer: I am not a big fan of mystery/thriller/crime novels. I also don't usually watch movies on this topic.] [Second disclaimer: I opened this book mostly because I've been flashed so many times with ads about it that I wanted to check. I don't regret it.]
Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a typical thriller: the main character solves the all-important mystery with the help of associates found while investigating. However, both the writing and the story are good, which makes the book impossible to put down. How does The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo do it? First, the complexity of what could seem in the beginning a trivial approach. The main character is actually a double figure (the journalist Mikael "Micke"/"Carl"/"Kalle" Blomkvist and "the girl" Lisbeth Salander). And the all-important mystery is actually a triple count (the W. investigation, the H. investigation, and the girl's own issues). And the associates are mainly the main characters, which find each other. Second, the introduction of modern themes into the story; we read about the power of the state in rapport with its citizens, the importance of privacy, the rights of minorities (women, gay and lesbian), old and new-age sexuality (out-of-marriage relationships and bondage, among others). Third, the placement, (mostly) a contemporary European society. Fourth, the quality of the thriller itself; the characters are believable, the story grows in complexity as you read, the attention to detail is evident, the cracks/quips enlighten the writing, etc. On the negative side, foreshadowing and a healthy dose of cliches diminish the thrill of reading. Overall, a surprisingly good and novel read.
Background: I've re-read The Quiet American to get in touch again with the Greenesque touch before starting The End of the Affair. The Quiet AmericanBackground: I've re-read The Quiet American to get in touch again with the Greenesque touch before starting The End of the Affair. The Quiet American is as difficult to categorize as it was easy to read. Apparently, the book is about Mr. Fowler, the morally corrupt British reporter who will recount us the story, and Pyle, the American under-cover agent that everyone knows to be an under-cover agent; the two are involved in the French-Vietnamese war and in the personal war of getting the same Vietnamese girl. In its elusive depth, this book includes three story lines, the mystery of Pyle's murder, the psychological insights on Mr. Fowler, and the reportage on a war that involves the civilians. Each of these story lines is delicately built and presented; a description of each story line is beyond the purpose of this review. For me, the main appeal of Graham Greene comes not from his undeniably wonderful phrasing ("The hurt is in the act of possession: we are too small in mind and body to possess another person without pride or to be possessed without humiliation."), good humor ("I never like giving information to the police. It saves them trouble."), and skillful misenscene. Instead, it is his articulation of the characters that draws me: Mr. Greene thinks and speaks like Fowler, and Pyle, and several other characters, in this writ alone. On the negative side, perhaps each story line would have deserved more text in this book, or even a separate book. To conclude, a very enjoyable read, perhaps a bit too short for the three stories within....more
The Ruined Map is a tough call. As a labyrinthine mystery book, the book presents the job of a private detective looking for a woman's lost husband; hThe Ruined Map is a tough call. As a labyrinthine mystery book, the book presents the job of a private detective looking for a woman's lost husband; here, Kobo Abe demonstrates his ability to write well yet another genre of books. As a carrier of the internal anguish of the modern man, this same book becomes often impenetrable; here, the author has failed to make his language fully comprehensible. To conclude, an interesting but difficult read. ...more