Parksy's Reviews > The City & the City

The City & the City by China Miéville
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U_50x66
's review
Jul 07, 13

bookshelves: sci-fi-fantasy, award-winning
Recommended to Parksy by: Tony
Read from June 16 to July 07, 2013 — I own a copy

Just finished this book and glad I did. This isn't a book I likely would have picked up and bought for myself as it is classified as sci-fi/fantasy, a genre I don't actively seek out as much any more. That being said, it tied for the Hugo Award with Bacigalupi's Wind-up Girl - a book I loved!

And despite this being classified as a sci-fi/fantasy it really is a crime novel or police procedural, plain and simple. It does have the twist of being set in a a futuristic world of a divided city - where the cities are separated like East and West Berlin, but not distinctly by an obvious wall, but rather are intertwined and somewhat magically separated by "unseeing" and "crosshatched areas" and an ominous magical police force called "Breach"... The two separate cities actually share a lot of the same geographical space, but are considered distinctly different and any interactions or cross-over between the cities - even seeing others from the other city - is punishable by BREACH!

Overall I really enjoyed the flow and the world of a divided city. Adding a police procedural and a whodunit type flair was rather novel as well. You have to be patient with the development of the world, but it is definitely worth the read.


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Some Selected Quotes: NOTE LIKELY SOME SPOILERS BELOW

I turned to the railway lines a few metres by my window and waited until, as I knew it would eventually, a late train came. I looked into its rapidly passing, illuminated windows, and into the eyes of the few passengers, a very few of whom even saw me back, and were startled. But they were gone fast, over the conjoined sets of roofs: it was a brief crime, and not their faults. They probably did not feel guilty for long. They probably did not remember that stare. I always wanted to live where I could watch foreign trains.

Despite careful cultural differentiation, in the shape of their grammars and the relations of their phonemes (if not the base sounds themselves), the languages are closely related—they share a common ancestor, after all. It feels almost seditious to say so. Still.

It may or may not have been Besźel, 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 Besźel had not yet met and standoffishly entwined with its neighbour. I am not a student of the Cleavage, but if I were I still would not know.

As if that were not mystery enough and as if two crosshatched countries were insufficient, bards invented that third, the pretend-existing Orciny.

Those most dedicated to the perforation of the boundary between Besźel and Ul Qoma had to observe it most carefully. If I or one of my friends were to have a moment’s failure of unseeing (and who did not do that? who failed to fail to see, sometimes?), so long as it was not flaunted or indulged in, we should not be in danger. If I were to glance a second or two on some attractive passerby in Ul Qoma, if I were to silently enjoy the skyline of the two cities together, be irritated by the noise of an Ul Qoman train, I would not be taken.

The Oversight Committee meets in the giant, baroque, concrete-patched coliseum in the centre of Besźel Old Town, and of Ul Qoma Old Town. It is one of very few places that has the same name in both cities—Copula Hall.

A few steps across the road, what could have merely been a breaking of the rules we had set him, but he had blundered out of a crosshatching and into an alter area, a yard that existed only in Ul Qoma; and Breach, who must have watched him all the time, had come for him. I hoped they hadn’t hurt him too badly. If they had I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be any doctor back home who would be able to identify the agent of his injury.

COPULA HALL HAD OVER CENTURIES SPREAD, a patchwork of architecture defined by the Oversight Committee in its various historic incarnations. It sat across a considerable chunk of land in both cities. Its inside was complicated—corridors might start mostly total, Besźel or Ul Qoma, become progressively crosshatched along their length, with rooms in one or other city along them, and numbers also of those strange rooms and areas that were in neither or both cities, that were in Copula Hall only, and of which the Oversight Committee and its bodies were the only government. Legended diagrams of the buildings inside were pretty but daunting meshes of colours.

There were folktales of renegades who breach and avoid Breach to live between the cities, not exiles but insiles, evading justice and retribution by consummate ignorability. Pahlaniuk’s novel Diary of an Insile had been illegal in Besźel (and, I was sure, in Ul Qoma), but like most people I had skimmed a pirated edition.

He sketched maps on the table with his fingertips. “Bol Ye’an crosshatches here, here, and the park it’s in here and here. And yeah, over at the edges in this direction, it even creeps into Besźel total. So when this lot get drunk or whatever, don’t they egg each other on to go stand in a crosshatch bit of the park? And then, who knows if they don’t, maybe standing still there, without a single word, without even moving, cross over into Besźel, then back again? You don’t have to take a step to do that, not if you’re in a crosshatch. All here.” Tapped his forehead. “No one can prove shit. Then maybe next time when they’re doing that they reach down, grab a souvenir, straighten back up into Ul Qoma with a rock from Besźel or something. If that’s where they were when they picked it up, that’s where it’s from, right? Who knows? Who could prove it?

What lived like Orciny would live, if one indulged Yolanda’s and Mahalia’s ideas? Something so small, so powerful, lodged in the crevices of another organism. Willing to kill. A parasite. A tick-city, quite ruthless.


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Reading Progress

06/16/2013 marked as: currently-reading
07/07/2013 marked as: read

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