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Thessaly #1

The Just City

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One day, in a moment of philosophical puckishness, the time-travelling goddess Pallas Athene decides to put Plato to the test and create the Just City. She locates the City on a Mediterranean island and populates it with over ten thousand children and a few hundred adults from all eras of history . . . along with some handy robots from the far human future.

Meanwhile, Apollo - stunned by the realization that there are things that human beings understand better than he does - has decided to become a mortal child, head to Athene's City and see what all the fuss is about.

Then Socrates arrives, and starts asking troublesome questions.

368 pages, Paperback

First published January 13, 2015

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About the author

Jo Walton

77 books2,880 followers
Jo Walton writes science fiction and fantasy novels and reads a lot and eats great food. It worries her slightly that this is so exactly what she always wanted to do when she grew up. She comes from Wales, but lives in Montreal.

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Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
580 reviews4,062 followers
September 10, 2021
IS THIS LA NOVELA MÁS LOCA DE JO WALTON… (Cuando esta señora acostumbra a hablar de dragones victorianos y frailes dominicos)?
Yo digo sí.
Y también digo que es la historia más maravillosa del mundo para todos los que ya en el instituto flipábamos con la asignatura de filosofía. Si de aquella ya te aburría, mira, ni te acerques a ‘La Ciudad Justa’.
Porque es muchas cosas pero el centro de la novela, sin duda, son esos diálogos éticos, ese tratar de desentrañar el alma humana. Y luego está Atenea en su biblioteca, Apolo siendo mejor humano que dios, Sócrates liándola parda, robots explotados y hasta una dama victoriana de maestra.
Me fascina esta novela porque logra hacernos reflexionar sobre el consentimiento y sobre cómo ser mejores y superarnos a nosotros mismos, habla de amistad, lealtad, amor, se ríe de Platón y trasforma una utopía… en otra cosa.
Está cargada de humor, sí, pero también de momentos tensos y sorprendentes.
Para mi es uno de esos libros con los que me lo he pasado genial y al mismo tiempo me ha dado mucho que pensar, me he implicado tanto que simplemente quería casarme con Apolo y ser la mejor amiga de Sócrates todo el tiempo. Aunque aquí somos hoy y siempre #TeamAtenea

***El final es precipitado. Mucho. A Jo terminar ya no le interesaba, estaba a otras cosas.
*****Inicia una trilogía. SÍ. Pero también es cierto que cada una es una generación nueva…
********Jo Walton nuestra QUEEN.
Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,261 reviews8,752 followers
August 18, 2016
Reviewed by: Rabid Reads

3.5 stars

THE JUST CITY by Jo Walton . . . is one of the strangest books I've read in long time.

The premise is fascinating: the Greek pantheon exists outside of time, meaning the gods can move through it fluidly. They can also snatch humans out of their various centuries and dump them in a time and place of their choosing.

Pallas Athene does exactly this, answering the prayers of intellectuals from as far in the future as the twentieth century and as far in the past as to be contemporaries of the Greek philosophers, and gathered together on the island destined to become known as Atlantis, they begin their experiment: to create Plato's REPUBLIC.

It's told from three alternating perspectives: Maia, a Victorian woman who chaffed under the restrictions of her society, Simmea, an uncommonly bright, but plain in appearance female student, and Pytheas, also know as Apollo, who gave up his godhood to experience humanity . . . born as a human, growing as a human, learning as a human, with only his (intact) memories to separate him from actually being human . . . As obvious a ploy as that was, Apollo-as-human was my favorite part of the story.

But unlike Christ, Apollo didn't become human to save humanity, he became human out of curiosity. He couldn't understand why Daphne would rather become a tree than mate with him, didn't understand why she wouldn't play the "game."

Still unable to comprehend after asking both Artemis and Athene, he decides to become human "to learn about volition and equal significance.” His journey is . . . compelling.

In addition to Cicero, Boethius, and the like who have been on hand, debating laboring to create the perfect environment in which to educate future Philosopher Kings, Sokrates himself is brought to the city to educate the students in Rhetoric. Apollo openly acknowledges that he doesn't know everything, and quite enjoys observing Sokrates as he encounters ideas and technologies (the Just City is powered by electricity and has worker robots that function as "the help"):

It was adorable to see [Sokrates] introduced to the concept of zero. But watching him go after potential artificial intelligence was priceless. That alone would have been worth all the time I spent in the city.

But Apollo's own experience was just as adorable, just as priceless. He's like a poorly socialized home-schooled kid, but he's aware of his deficiencies and has a genuine desire to learn and grow. Watching him make his numerous mistakes only endears him to you.

In contrast, after seeing to the completion of her project's development, Athene poses as a student, retaining her god status, and, likewise, her detachment.

Unsurprisingly, innumerable issues arise, the foremost being:

1. Human nature is inherently flawed.
2. Greek gods are capricious.

To which I can only say . . . we know this.

And that is the root of my main issue with book, b/c as unique a spin as this is on those two subjects, they are subjects that have been addressed more than frequently. Like Apollo says about the experiment itself:

Athene and I certainly didn’t imagine it would really work the way Plato described it. We knew too much about the soul to hope for that. What was interesting was seeing how much of it could work, how much it really would maximize justice, and how it was going to fail. We could learn a lot from that.

And that's certainly true. BUT. A book that is ultimately a fictional experiment--doomed to fail--can teach us, the reader, nothing new. The whole thing is almost Post Modern in its complacent acceptance of horrible things. Like a woman being date-raped, but she says nothing, b/c it could destroy her already tenuous status in male-dominant society. Male-dominant despite the very tenants of Plato's "just city," and despite the equal numbers.

Yes, I get it. No amount of equal opportunity employment propaganda is going to force attitudes to change. Again . . . I already knew that. EVERYONE knows that. SO as much as I enjoyed watching half a dozen characters grow and change in truly profound ways, the "experiment" itself and its inevitable conclusion keep it from being a perfect read.

However, Walton's writing is clever and insightful and dynamic, and it really made me think. This is not fluff. This is a book to read when you want to scratch deeper than the surface.

Part science fiction with time travel and robots who may or may not be developing cognizance, part fantasy with meddlesome Greek gods and their machinations on Atlantis, but both parts an examination of humanity and classical philosophy, THE JUST CITY is the first book by Jo Walton that I've read, but it definitely won't be the last. Recommended with qualifications.

Jessica Signature
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,388 reviews1,468 followers
July 25, 2021
When the god Apollo seeks to understand the workings of the mortal mind and heart, he asks his sister, Athene to help him. She reveals a personal project in which she has gathered together philosophers from across time and space and put them in a settlement called, "The Just City". In this city, set near a volcano that will one day explode and destroy all evidence of Athene's project, a group of men, women and children will try to recreate the hypothetical state described in Plato's "Republic".

Apollo asks to join this group. And our story begins.

The city itself shone in the afternoon light. The pillars, the domes, the arches, all of it lay in the balance of light and shadow. Our souls know harmony and proportion before we are born, so although I had never seen anything like it, my soul resonated at once to the beauty of the city." pgs 35-36

But what is perfect in theory turns out to be not-so-perfect in practice.

Among the thornier problems, the city has shared marriages and children raised by the group, not families. This causes predictable jealousies and secret romances. There's also something strange going on with the robotic workers Athene brought from a future time to help with the mundane tasks of civilization, like raking the roads and planting the vineyards.

"We are in a time before the fall of Troy. And we are on the doomed island of Kallisti, called by some Atlante." Even I had heard of Atlantis." pg 45

Another major issue among the city's inhabitants, caused because they were pulled from different points in history, are the different philosophers' views on gender equality. Consent in the Renaissance doesn't mean the same thing as consent in the Victorian Age.

"You love this city," Pytheas said. That was what we had been debating that day. "I do," I said, spreading out my arms as if I could hug the entire city. "I love it. But Sokrates has made me see that it's only the visible manifestation and earthly approximation of what I really love, the city of the mind." pg 131

Though I enjoyed this book, the pace was what spoiled it for me somewhat. It marches forward towards an inevitable conclusion far too slowly. The debate scenes are interesting, but simply too plodding.

There's also a rape, so please be aware if that is a trigger for you.

Recommended tentatively for readers who love the classics or historical fiction, and can stand a slower-paced read.
Profile Image for Terry .
402 reviews2,148 followers
July 2, 2015
2.5 – 3 stars

I’m not quite sure what it was about this book that didn’t quite gel for me, but while I appreciate the scope of what Walton attempted I wasn’t super impressed by the results. The basic premise is that Apollo and Athene decide to pick an out-of-the-way island in a backwater of the timestream and attempt to build Plato’s Republic in a way that is both free from outside obstructions and which will not unduly affect the course of history. To this end Athene cherry-picks thinkers and philosophers from throughout time who have apparently prayed to her asking to be able to make the Republic real in order to act as the ‘Masters’ of the Republic and the architects of its initial set-up. First nit-pick: I found it a bit strange that she was able to find so many people that fit this criteria, even well into and beyond the modern age. I can see there being thinkers desirous of putting Plato’s theories to the acid test, but that they all also specifically prayed to Athene about it stretched my suspension of disbelief a bit. Both Athene and Apollo then decide to incarnate themselves so they can get a human’s-eye-view of the proceedings though while Apollo takes the hard route of actually laying down his powers and taking up humanity, Athene cheats and simply morphs herself to appear human. In addition to the Masters, Athene also provides the first generation of 10-year-old children to act as the first ‘true’ generation of possible Philosopher-Kings by culling the slave markets of various eras for appropriate candidates.

The story is told via multiple viewpoints, some of them the Masters, others the Children (primarily Simmea a ‘true’ human slave culled from the ancient world and Pytheas, actually the incarnate form of Apollo) and revolves around two main axes: the problems encountered by the Masters in their attempts to make Plato’s Republic more than just a thought experiment & the moral and intellectual quandaries with which they must wrestle as a result; and the growing relationship between Simmea and Pytheas and the ways in which the latter attempts to gain unique insight from his human condition. I think one of my problems was that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly compelling: Simmea seemed to me to be a bit of a Mary Sue…she’s not perfect by any means, but I did get the distinct feeling that Walton identified more than a little bit with her and seemed to stack certain things in her favour; Athene and Apollo seem kind of dim considering they’re gods (more on that anon) and Kebes, who could have been an interesting character given his role of fly in the ointment of Utopia, was presented perhaps not quite as a villain, but certainly in about as unsympathetic a light as could be conceived without making him one. The most interesting character, unsurprisingly, was Sokrates. He is brought late in the game to the Republic by Athene for reasons I don’t fully understand and is perhaps the true fly in the ointment as he fulfills his role of ‘gadfly’ and asks questions that many of the Masters (and certainly Athene) would rather had been left unasked.

Speaking of Athene, neither she nor her brother Apollo come across as very bright, and while Walton makes a point of stressing that these gods are neither omnipotent nor omniscient they seemed a little stupider than I would have expected even a limited deity to be. The afore-mentioned shanghai-ing of Sokrates to the Republic is one obvious example. I mean did Athene really think that Sokrates wouldn’t stir the pot if he was brought to this Platonic Utopia, especially as it was apparently done against his will? What was she hoping to achieve? It was never really made clear to me. An even bigger issue was why would Athene and Apollo have even thought this project was a good idea at all? I must admit that I come to this from the point of view I came to hold after reading the Republic many years ago: namely that I don’t think Plato was in any way drawing a plan for what he really thought was the best of all possible states, but rather that he was ironically pointing out how fruitless the quest for Utopia was. His ‘perfect’ state was so far divorced from anything I thought human nature could achieve, or be comfortable with, that I find it hard to believe a god would have thought he was being serious…of course that’s more an issue with my interpretation of Plato than with any ‘facts’ of the case. Still, it made me wonder how the gods in question could have been surprised, or disappointed, when it all went wrong, as it of course inevitably does.

It was definitely an ambitious project to write a novel that tries to picture what would actually happen were Plato’s Republic to be attempted, but ultimately it didn’t really work for me. There were definitely plenty of thought-provoking issues raised so on that end kudos to Walton, but as a story I just didn’t find the narrative all that compelling.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,630 followers
November 21, 2019
Another GR commenter suggested the Thessaly series and I was enthusiastic to give it a shot. The story is a fantasy about Athena and Apollo creating Plato’s Republic in pre-1600 BC Thira (currently the Greek Cycladic island Santorini). The concept was interesting, but I didn’t bond with many of the characters. There was a feminist bent to the story in its strong female characters, but a rather weak position on rape and, while condoning male-on-male sexuality, a complete absence of female-female sexuality which I found jarring. While not completely drawn in to the story and finding the writing a bit stilted at times, it was nonetheless interesting and I will read the next book, The Philosopher Kings because Jo ended The Just City with a cliff-hanger!

I must admit that in the months since I read this book, I continue to be haunted by all the lost works of art that are referred to, in particular Renaissance masterpieces destroyed in Florence during the reign of Savonarola, the works destroyed in the Alexandria Library fire, the mass destruction during the sack of Rome by Charles V in 1523...

Travel info: I just returned from vacation in Greece and visited Santorini, the island this book was set on. I would advise potential visitors that Oia, while breathtakingly beautiful, is obsessively crowded and has little to do with Greek culture - it is Beverly Hills on a cliff. The Akrotiri ruins however (victim to the earthquake alluded to in the book) are fascinating. To get a full appreciation of the ruins, don’t miss the small but interesting museum in the island capital of Fira (Archeological Museum of Ancient Thira) which has some of the finds and the Thira-dedicated room on the upper floor of the magnificent National Archeological Museum in Athens with even more including wall paintings. (note that I am talking about the museum in lower Fira; the other Archeological Museum in upper Fira is under renovation and currently closed until 2020.)
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,161 reviews1,254 followers
October 4, 2022
This is a truly original book, one that had me deeply engaged and thinking about it quite a bit. When it’s good it’s fabulous, and when it’s bad it’s horrendous, and it’s a thinky book to begin with, so this will be a long review.

The Premise: The Greek gods are real, and exist outside of time but can time-travel at will. As an experiment, Athena decides to grant the prayers of various people throughout the ages who have prayed to her for help in setting up Plato’s ideal Republic. A few hundred adults from various countries and centuries found their colony on Atlantis, and buy 10,000 slave children to populate it. The book covers about eight years in the life of the city, as the children grow up and the differences between ideals and reality become increasingly stark. It’s told in the first person through the voices of three narrators: there’s Apollo, who after the Daphne incident decides he needs to learn more about respect and consent, and accordingly chooses to be born as a mortal child to participate. There’s Maia, formerly known as Ethel, a studious young Victorian lady who wants to escape her age’s limitations and becomes one of the teachers. And there’s Simmea, who’s probably the real protagonist (at least of this book—my sense is that of the trilogy as a whole, it’s Apollo): a young girl from Egypt who is captured and sold as a slave, to become one of the first generation of children raised as philosophers in the city.

The Fabulous

Creativity and fun: This is a wild premise, and I had no idea how it would turn out. Even though much of the book consists of philosophical debates among the characters, I had an absolute blast with it and found it quite gripping. You can tell that Walton also had a blast conceiving it, drawing historical figures from various eras and throwing them together, alongside randos from our own time and our future. There’s a sense in which the book is philosopher fanfiction and I enjoyed Walton’s take on who would want to be involved with this city, and why, and how it might evolve. She’s clearly very well-read, drawing on a multitude of eras and genres to put the book together, without its ever feeling dry. And the powers and limitations of the gods are also fun, along with the tantalizing glimpses of their world, the afterlife, and humanity’s future.

Playing for keeps: Fantasy can feel a bit inconsequential, especially if the timeframe is too compressed. This one starts out as a zany experiment, but as the years pass, the city becomes everyone’s life, babies are born, and at least one death is justified by these ideals, it becomes clear that there is no going back, and the outcome is anything but predictable.

Apollo: This character’s voice is hilarious, and he has an endearing mix of knowledge and cluelessness, power and humanity. I just loved reading from his point-of-view, which is conversational, upbeat and brings much of the book’s humor.

The voices: It’s rare to find a book with multiple narrators where they actually sound like different people. These do.

What a great way to learn about philosophy!: You’ll be conversant on Plato’s Republic without ever having read it! This book is clearly meant as part of a conversation—for readers to continue by arguing with it.

Socrates: Is a character in this book and steals every scene he is in. I had no idea I wanted to read about Socrates grappling with the ethical issues around artificial intelligence, but yes, I definitely want this in my life.

Question everything: Watching the kids learn to do this, and debate with each other over every aspect of their lives, is just catnip, I love it.

Idealism and realism: This is in a lot of ways an exciting, utopian setting: these people are striving to create the ideal society, and they get to do awesome things like running around through time rescuing destroyed art with which to decorate their city—who wouldn’t envy them? The book is in many ways realistic about utopia—it doesn’t quite survive contact with real people, there are a lot of problems—but at same time it’s deeply humanist and ultimately hopeful, in a way that feels true and earned and not just a product of platitudes. This is perhaps best shown by Apollo and Simmea, who fully realize their city has a lot of problems, and at the same time are totally committed to increasing their excellence and working to be their best selves. That doesn’t solve all problems, but it’s worth doing anyway. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a fantasy book that so successfully strikes this balance.

The Middling

Simmea: A standard fantasy protagonist of the idealistic and loyal type. Nothing really wrong with her but nothing exceptional either. It is fun to see how she and the other kids internalize the ideals of the city in ways even their teachers can’t quite access.

Maia: A bit more interesting than Simmea, but doesn’t get a full arc of her own. Having a window into the world of the “masters” improves the book immeasurably, but ultimately she seems here more to provide that than to have her own story.

Cultural differences are trivial: I would have expected a collection of adults from different millennia and different continents, founding a society together, to clash quite a bit more than these do. Even the children, though all drawn from antiquity with ancient Greek as their native language, still hail from different countries and centuries, which has no impact whatsoever. I put this in the “middling” section because I realize this book has the sort of premise from which a hundred authors would write a hundred completely different stories, and it’s easy for a reader to wish it had focused more on some aspect particularly interesting to us. Well, this is mine.

Kebes: This is the kid who never wanted to be in the Just City and spends his whole life angry about it. Part of me thinks he’s a poor representative of the anti-city viewpoint because he would have been angry regardless, but that’s also a trap: his feelings don’t invalidate his points. And his insisting on his own agency while denying Simmea’s is sadly common. In a sense, he’s one of the more realistic characters—except his introduction, which is ludicrous. He picks on Simmea at the slave market as a child, and then immediately turns around and, with a level of self-awareness, articulation and honesty far beyond most adults, explains to her that he was only lashing out in anger because he couldn’t reach the people truly responsible for his plight. I ask you, would such a prodigy of emotional intelligence be likely to behave that way in the first place?

Athena: I loved this character, but Walton shanks her in the end (more on that below).

The Horrendous

Trauma: Walton in general seems quite bad at writing about intense negative experiences—in other books it’s grief that has seemed weirdly absent and mishandled; here it’s trauma. Particularly with the children: anyone torn from their family by age 10 and sold as a slave necessarily has serious trauma, and Simmea’s section begins by describing her horrific experiences in some detail—which go on to affect her not at all (other than a narrow aversion to specific sexual positions, which seems like it should be the tip of the iceberg). Childhood trauma actually changes brain wiring, and while not everyone will react the same way, with 10,000 children this should be extremely evident. In reality, only one of these children (chip-on-his-shoulder Kebes) seems at all affected.

Of course, this is hardly the first fantasy to gloss over trauma, but given that much of the book is about pointing out the difference between Plato’s ideals and the reality of live humans, I’m inclined to hold it to a higher standard than pulp. There’s also a rape scene where the victim’s reactions during and after come across as bizarrely wooden (though in that case the long-term response at least is believable). I did also think the childbirth scene was handled well.

The climactic debate: Is just so awful, I want to dock a whole star for it. (Some spoilers to follow.) This is a debate between intellectual titans: Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who’s spent millennia on learning and study; and Socrates, one of the boldest and most incisive thinkers in history. So, why the hell does it read like the cross-examination of a warily compliant witness? I cannot overstate how horrendous Athena’s debate performance is. She stakes out an untenable position, makes no effort to defend it, and responds almost entirely with yes-or-no answers. Is she intimidated? Why should she be? What’s going on here?

Also, the subject of the debate itself is narratively unsatisfying. Socrates is attacking the hypocrisy of the Just City project, and chooses a never-before-mentioned discrepancy: Plato apparently thought the proper way to found the city was to conquer an existing one and drive out all the adults, but these people haven’t done that and yet claim to hold to Plato’s vision. Well, okay, I guess I’m glad to know that new fact about the Republic, but a climax is generally about tying together elements you’ve already seeded, not introducing new ones. And the book has set up two hypocrisies that should come home to roost. There’s the masters’ decision to reduce the age at which girls are expected to get pregnant from 20 to 16, while claiming to be stuck with the “we must leave imperfect babies to die” directive: of all the places to tweak Plato, you want to add teen pregnancy, and of all the places not to, killing babies? (Some of these people are from the modern era, too!) And of course there’s Athena’s personal hypocrisy: she’s willing to subject the children of the city to mandatory assigned sexual partners and pregnancy, but unwilling to participate herself (and escapes it through means only available to a goddess, though her aversion to participating is not goddess-specific). Why are we talking about this random other discrepancy again?

What I’m Still Pondering

Sexual assault, and consent more broadly: Of the several sex scenes in this book, people will argue which are and aren’t rape, but none involve the enthusiastic consent of both participants (and in one case, of neither!). What’s most interesting to me is the way the book ties this to a broader discussion of consent to the major choices affecting one’s life. It made me reflect on how, in our society, sex is practically the only arena in which we care about children’s consent. This book is perhaps implying that we—as much as Athena and Apollo—could learn to do better. Relatedly, I’m still wondering whether Athena could have found children praying to her to be rescued from their lives, had she wanted to. If they existed, would we consider that valid consent? And meanwhile, the way the masters “rescuing” the children from slavery by buying them in fact stimulates the slave markets and raids reminds me of the way people “rescuing” children through international adoption has the same effect.

At any rate, I had a ton of fun reading this book and pondering it afterwards. It has significant flaws that keep me from giving more than 3.5 stars, but as I’m also eager to move on to the next, I’m rounding up to 4.
Profile Image for Libros Prestados.
426 reviews808 followers
September 21, 2021
Es difícil explicar por qué me ha gustado tanto una novela que en cierto sentido, es más libro filosófico que novela. Tiene trama, pero casi carece de acción, y tiene personajes, pero se nota que existen para dar voz a distintos puntos de vista sobre el tema que se plantea. Y aun así me ha gustado muchísimo.

En cierto sentido tiene similitudes con "La República" de Platón (es normal, al fin y al cabo ese tratado de cómo crear la "ciudad justa" es lo que los personajes usan como guia y lo que da título al libro), por ser esencialmente una serie de personas hablando sobre qué es la justicia o cómo crear la mejor sociedad. Y se nota muchísimo que la autora tenía una copia de la obra de Platón (y varias más) mientras escribía.

Al final todo gira en torno a la libre voluntad y la igualdad. Literalmente. Es la razón por la que el dios Apolo, uno de los personajes, participaen la ciudad justa creada por Atenea. Todo gira en torno a esto en distintos planos: el personal, con especial atención a la determinación sexual, y el social, con la creación, gestión y organización de esa ciudad. Esta parte es la que más me ha interesado, pues Jo Walton explica lo difícil que es organizar un grupo social, incluso si se tuviera una guia. Porque ninguna guia, ninguna ley es absoluta y hay demasiada casuistica que toma parte y un montón de pequeñas decisiones que hay que tomar, y quién las toma y cómo es uno de los pilares de la organización social, de la política.

Como los personajes son, en primer lugar, o filósofos o gente criada para serlo, y tienen por función dar voz a diversos puntos de vista sobre el tema, a algunas personas puede hacérseles un poco irreales o fríos, porque su respuesta a todo, incluso a momentos violentos, es más analítico que emocional. A mí no me ha importado, porque tiene sentido con el tipo de libro que está escribiendo Jo Walton, pero puede que a otra gente le rompa la verosimilitud.

Podría molestarme que Ceres parezca un poco esquemático y su lucha casi una parodia por lo poco que la escritora ahonda en sus motivaciones, pero afortunadamente está Sócrates, que es el contrapeso ideal a los defensores de la ciudad. Y su alguien espera que ciertas acciones tengan consecuencias, no se dan en este libro. Porque el único "pero" que puedo ponerle a la novela es que es la primera parte, y por tanto, no termina el todo. Hay un final abierto. Que supongo se irá cerrando en las secuelas que faltan y que espero leer. Porque de verdad que me ha gustado muchísimo entrar en esta ciudad, que puede que sea justa o puede que no.

Si queréis una frase de venta: es "La República" de Platón con roboces.
Profile Image for Sarah.
683 reviews158 followers
March 18, 2018
This is not my first 5 star review this year. But it is the one I am most excited about. The end of this book moved me to tears because it was so profound and so beautiful and at the end it sort of just smacks you in the face when you realize how very important and relevant it all is.

I picked up The Just City because GoodReads said: hey- you liked Too Like the Lightning, read this! Well- it both is and isn’t like Too Like the Lightning. There is a lot of philosophy involved but I don’t think the plot was even remotely as complex and the philosophy is sort of fed to you rather then engaging you. I don’t mean this as a fault in any way- I’m just saying, it’s different. (This might also have been a difference of reading solo vs reading as a group.)

It starts out sort of slow. By the halfway point I was thinking it was a solid 3 Star book. Then a 4 Star, and it took me all the way to the end to be able to say it’s a 5 Star read. It’s dense. Be patient with it. It’s worth sticking it out.

The premise is this (chapter one spoilers ahead): Apollo is chasing the nymph Daphne and then rather than be raped she prays to Artemis and asks to be turned into a tree. Apollo just can’t believe that anyone would rather be a tree than mate with him so he decides to become a human to find out why. His sister Athene says, well I’m working on a thought experiment, recreating Plato’s Republic. You could go be a human there and figure out why Daphne turned into a tree. So he agrees and the stage is set.

This is largely a character driven novel. All the characters brought something different to the table. Apollo had the knowledge of a god but didn’t understand human struggle. Simmea is a black child from Northern Africa (I know her grandmother is from Libya but the way she phrased it made it seem like she was not) coming to The Just City while she is too young to question the inequalities of the world. Maia is a woman from 19th century England, a world which does not value women who think. And then we have dear Sokrates, who never gets a POV chapter but was always delightful to read.

(I’m going to try and avoid spoilers here but for those of you that don’t want them, I don’t know if I can say what I want to say without revealing some aspects of the book/plot/etc. so read with caution.)

I adored all these characters and their unique perspectives. I enjoyed reading their dialogues with Socrates and felt Walton did an excellent job of giving them dialogue that would have come from people with their backgrounds. The workers (robots Athene brought from the future) were an excellent literary device to propose the questions Walton wanted us to be asking and truly proved for some thought-provoking reading. What is personhood? Who qualifies? How do you make everyone equal in practice?

Though I suppose the Just City (the city in the book not the book) succeeds in many aspects, it fails in many others. The practice of labeling people: iron, bronze, silver or gold for example is extremely indicative of inequality. Golds pursue art and philosophy and mathematics all day while Irons do all the work. So we have a system that is just based on ability I suppose but by making the city just we have also made it a city of inequalities. Do justice and equality contradict each other? Is it fair to divide people, not on the basis of skin color or sex or sexuality, but on systems of ability? Does the man who is poor at math deserve to be relegated to field work all day? Do the women who don’t succeed at art deserve the job of raising children all day? Is this what they want to do? And how do you reconcile a desire for personal happiness with justice and equality? (This speaks more to the aspects of the novel which touch on eugenics and divisions of labor.)

The more I think about it the deeper it all goes. I would like to add that as an added bonus, Jo Walton thanks Ada Palmer in the Acknowledgements section in regards to help she gave with Plato and philosophy so of course I was giddy with excitement to read that section.

I loved this book. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a read with more substance than action. I’m now off to go see if my library has Thessaly #2 available for download.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 150 books37.5k followers
May 24, 2015
I needed a second reading to begin to articulate why I love this book so much. Walton does something different with every story arc, sometimes writing stand-alone novels (Lifelode, Tooth and Claw, Among Others) and sometimes series (Farthing series and her Arthurian-in-another-world series). The Just City is the beginning of a series, coming to an abrupt stopping place after a climactic debate.

One thing I appreciated on this second reading was the book's structure. I seldom notice such things as I am visually oriented and so my reading tends to immerse me inside the world as if watching a movie. I am aware of emotional arcs like comets across the canopy of stars; I retain a memory of the shooting stars instead of the panoply of constellations.

The book begins with Apollo after Daphne is turned into a tree in order to escape his embrace. He wants to know why Daphne would prefer giving up human life to avoid Apollo the shining one, the perfect one, who most people would be delighted to be with. He asks Artemis but she shuts him down, so then he goes to Athene, who in Walton's book is a fascinating combination of perfect warrior--cold and calculating--and dedicated knowledge geek. Probably ace as well. Apollo asks his question, and receives a reply that surprises him because he has never considered his female play partners' volition anymore than he has considered the idea of equal significance. So he thinks maybe he ought to become mortal to learn through experience.

And Athene offers him a chance to be mortal in her new experiment, the Just City.

When I first read this book, I was so caught up with the individual lives and voices of the human characters, who are either brought from across time to be masters, or the ten year old slave kids purchased in order to be brought to the Just City, and raised according to the ideals put forth in Plato's Republic. On this second reading, I found myself delighted by how Walton chose not to bring Plato in as a character. The other characters all read and debate his work endlessly--eventually including Socrates (spelled here Sokrates)--who incidentally absolutely loathes the idea of the city. His opinion of Plato crackles with personality and points of debate as he goes about being a teacher.

So many fascinating characters as the city is established and then the first nine years pass. The kids become teens, and they are organized according to Plato's ideals, the goal always being arete or excellence--one's best self--but underlying the smaller incidents are Apollo's original questions about volition and equal significance.

In this regard not only are the female characters important, but what happens to them, why, and who reacts how. My favorite character of all is Simmea, small and plain who is passionate about the city's ideal, while always wanting to test it. Close behind her are Apollo, here in the form of Pytheas, and Socrates. The debates are wonderful, the subthread about the robots who do all the scut work fascinating in how it parallels the question of the city, slavery, volition, and significance.

Small details such as Athene's Olympian emotional distance, and Socrates's delight in curiosity, Cicero's complexity, ditto Pico della Mirandola, and so on cause the book to shine with ideas, passion, love of art and knowledge. Apollo gets answers to his questions, but his quest is far from done.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books748 followers
April 22, 2020
Don't read this review if you're hoping to join the SFFBC group read without any impressions!

Jo Walton is brilliant, I think I can say that without much need to couch. The start of this book I was GIDDY with anticipation of where this was going. Unfortunately, she seems to have slightly more difficulty with endings of books, and so by the time I got there my enthusiasm had waned somewhat.

CONTENT WARNINGS (a list of topics):

Things to love:

-The thought experiment. This is such a clever thought experiment about a thought experiment containing at least 2 other experiments. I guess it's very experimental, is what I'm saying and extremely clever.

-The conceit. I don't want to say anything, but the characters in the early chapters really delighted me, and the pieces it ties together throughout history are just perfect.

-Sokrates. I really, really loved his portrayal. I get a sense he's high on Walton's list of famous dead people you'd like to grab a beer with.

-The decline. It was SO INTERESTING to watch humans trying to do their best who instead found new ways to do bad things. I loved seeing the seeds of the doom to come.

-The dialogue. In the Platonic sense. The dialogue in the structural sense was fine, but the dialogue with the ideas was subtle, layered, and cutting.

Things I didn't love:

-Bloat. I think there was a bit of bloat that could have been much more effective either removed or put to some more compelling use.

-Abrupt. Many of the scenes felt like they'd been patched in. Especially the early scene with Maia and Ikaros, Septima's tantrum, and the end. I think those were not built nearly as carefully as the rest of the story and that was a shame.

Extremely intelligent and engaging, but I'm not sure as a novel I feel it succeeded. I'd recommend this widely but am not sure I'll continue. 3.5 stars rounded up because I'm a sucker for gods and humans fucking up each other's plans.
Profile Image for Victorian Spirit.
212 reviews718 followers
October 4, 2021
Esta novela ha sido toda una revelación, porque con el cóctel de elementos que ya anuncia la sinopsis (dioses, filósofos, viajeros en el tiempo, robots...), esto podía salir muy bien o muy mal. Encima, yo no soy muy fan de la filosofía así que iba con un poco de miedo. Pero debo decir que Jo Walton ha conseguido, no solo que me encante su novela sino hasta que me pique el gusanillo por saber más de Platón, Sócrates y compañía.
Una de las cosas que más me ha gustado de esta novela es que, al igual que el propio Sócrates, plantea muchas más preguntas de las respuestas que da. Nadie te dice si el experimento de Atenea es un éxito o un fracaso… Jo Walton te lo muestra, te hace partícipe y te toca a ti posicionarte sobre lo que has leído. Y eso me encanta porque te da mucho espacio como lector.
Es una novela fresca, original y muy adictiva, repleta de referencias históricas y artísticas que se disfrutan una barbaridad. Y por encima de todo, me parece una novela muy actual. Los temas que aborda y el enfoque crítico que anima a desarrollar me parecen totalmente pertinentes y recomendables. Como ya ha ocurrido en otros libros de Duermevela, me parece una novela que te entretiene y te forma y que, aunque su público objetivo sea el adulto, creo que cualquier adolescente disfrutaría también mucho con ella.

RESEÑA COMPLETA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdVFV...
Profile Image for Emily.
705 reviews2,045 followers
April 23, 2015
This book tries to do too much and ends up doing nothing. On its surface, it’s complete catnip: time travelers set up the Just City as described by Plato in The Republic, aided by the goddess Athene. There are several POV characters, including the god Apollo in the guise of a teenager, one of the girls brought to grow up in the Just City, and one of the teachers who comes from Victorian England. The book begins with Athene founding the city (“Atlantis” har de har) and moves forward through the next ten years of its existence. Even with the rapid passage of time, it never succeeds in gaining a plot or a directed exploration of what “justice” means.

In fact, the city itself does just fine up until the very end of the book and a cliffhanger ending. There’s a lot of talk about how the Just City actually doesn’t make people happy, but that never bears real fruit:

Athene and I certainly didn’t imagine it would really work the way Plato described it. We knew too much about the soul to hope for that. What was interesting was seeing how much of it could work, how much it really would maximize justice, and how it was going to fail. We could learn a lot from that.

Instead, the book consists of several Socratic dialogues—some with Sokrates himself, who shows up to turn the whole experiment upside down—and conversations about “equal significance” and volition that are as subtle as a sledgehammer. The plot gets convoluted very quickly and ends up with a long section that discusses the sentience of robots (?), instead of focusing on the more interesting problem of actual human beings living in a society that puts excellence above everything else.

Oddly enough, the writing and the world in this book reminded me a lot of Diana Wynne Jones, but with more adult themes (if you can call the on-page rapes of several POV characters “adult themes”). The matter-of-fact narration and the setting reminded me of A Tale of Time City and The Merlin Conspiracy, both of which I would definitely recommend over The Just City. I also liked Apollo’s explanation of the gods and their place in time—that was very DWJ.

The aspect of this book that really resonated with me was the characters’ clear love of art. Jo Walton says she was inspired to write this book after seeing Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, which is one of the most astonishing and beautiful works of art I’ve ever seen. Simmea loves to go to different dining halls to look at the Botticellis and the lost art of centuries past (Phidias’s Athena!). As with the wonderful Among Others, Jo Walton is excellent when evoking the particular magic that art or books can cast on the characters and on the reader.

Other than that, this book really goes nowhere. I’m more likely to read Plato than the sequel.
Profile Image for Iris ☾ (dreamer.reads).
457 reviews912 followers
November 25, 2021

Jo Walton es una escritora británico-canadiense de ciencia ficción y fantasía galardonada con múltiples e importantes premios. En 2015 publicó «La ciudad justa», un relato que mezcla muchas ideas, atrevido y completo en muchos aspectos. No conocía a la autora hasta que vi que la iba a publicar @duermevela, como admiradora total de la mitología me aventuré a darle una oportunidad a esta historia.

Atenea y Apolo, dioses griegos, recogen a 10.000 niños de diversas épocas históricas y los trasladan a una isla con el fin de crear la sociedad ideal que se describe en la República de Platón. Gracias a los supervisores que les enseñarán varias materias y les transmitirán sus conocimientos, estarán más cerca de lograr este reto. Todo cambiará y se desequilibrará la paz con la llegada de Sócrates.

Hallaremos en este escrito muchos personajes, desde una mujer que viene de la época victoriana, pasando por dioses griegos hasta robots. En general he disfrutado de esta mezcla pero quizá hubiera apreciado más desarrollo en varios de los personajes y sobre todo en el funcionamiento de la ciudad, las escasas descripciones no permiten sumergirte totalmente en la ambientación.

El punto fuerte de esta obra es la constante aparición de filosofía, del arte, de la búsqueda absoluta del conocimiento y de alcanzar la excelencia. También trata temas como el abuso sexual, el consentimiento, la libertad y la esclavitud de manera reivindicativa. Debo además hablaros sobre el final, demasiado precipitado para mi gusto y sinceramente, ensombrece bastante el resto de la novela.

Para finalizar solo quería añadir que a pesar de que esta historia me ha gustado por los temas que trata y la sabiduría que transmite, no he conectado con el estilo narrativo, ni con las cosas mencionadas anteriormente. En conclusión es un libro que recomiendo para aquellas personas interesadas en historia y filosofía pero que hubiera logrado disfrutarlo en mayor medida si estuviera mejor desarrollado y con una narración más madura y adulta.
Profile Image for Tudor Ciocarlie.
457 reviews215 followers
January 22, 2015
How can a novel that has as a climax a dialog between Socrates and goddess Athena, be anything but utterly wonderful? I've rarely encountered such a rich, flavored, powerful food for thought.
Profile Image for La gata lectora.
302 reviews272 followers
September 20, 2021
En realidad son 4,5 ⭐️

Atenea lleva a cabo un experimento en una isla con niños en la que se funda una ciudad basada en “La república” de Platón. Esta ciudad pretende alcanzar la justicia y ofrecer a sus ciudadanos la Buena vida. Como toda utopía teórica la cosa se tuerce en la práctica.

En esta novela seremos testigos del surgimiento de la ciudad y de la evolución de los niños hasta la juventud temprana mediante las voces de tres personajes narradores: Simmea (una de las niñas), Maya (una de las patronas) y Apolo (sí, el dios, hermano de Atenea).

Sobre todo la historia se centra en las relaciones humanas, en toda aquella parte natural innata del ser humano que choca con la lógica racional y también incide mucho en el concepto del consentiemiento, tanto en las relaciones amorosas como en relación con la esclavitud y la libertad en la toma de decisiones. También veremos distintos aspectos del funcionamiento de la ciudad que aun partiendo de premisas lógicas nos pondrán los pelos de punta. Las mujeres tienen un gran protagonismo y se muestran distintas formas de vivir la sexualidad.

Me ha gustado muchísimo. Muchísimo. Quizás he echado de menos saber más sobre cómo funciona la ciudad, porque personalmente me gusta muchísimo la filosofía, sobre todo la clásica, y las novelas con muchas descripciones, bien densas. Entiendo que esto echaría para atrás a la mayoría de las personas que se acercasen a él jajaja pero me ha dejado las puertas de la mente abiertas a seguir pensando en ello de una forma más profunda y montarme mis películas.

Sobra decir que la edición de Duermevela es preciosa, con una cubierta divina, un papel de buena calidad, un libro cómodo de leer, con una letra y unos márgenes que facilitan la lectura y con unas pequeñas ilustraciones a principio de capítulo que le dan un toque elegante pero a la vez sencillo.

Estoy muy feliz de haberlo comprado en papel. Yo sigo un estilo de vida minimalista y solo me quedo en mi estantería los libros que realmente me han aportado y que sé que voy a releer más de una vez. Éste se queda.
Profile Image for Carol Rodríguez.
368 reviews24 followers
September 30, 2021
La diosa Atenea decide llevar a cabo un experimento: en la isla de Thera (hoy Santorini), antes de que haga erupción el volcán que la arrasó en la Antigüedad, monta una ciudad para tratar de recrear la "República" de Platón, obra que da directrices para crear la ciudad-estado ideal. Para ello, la diosa reúne a filósofos y eruditos de todas las épocas para que ejerzan de patrones; niños salvados de la esclavitud para que realicen un exhaustivo aprendizaje y engendren a los futuros reyes filósofos; y unas máquinas del siglo XXI que se encargarán de los trabajos de mantenimiento y cosecha más duros.

La base de la que parte el libro es fantástica, porque obviamente hay unos "viajeros del tiempo" ubicados en un espacio bastante improbable, con dioses griegos de por medio, pero rápidamente nos damos cuenta de que en realidad esto es un libro de filosofía. Ahora muchos pensarán "filosofía, qué rollazo", y es cierto que desde mi punto de vista considero que si el tema no te atrae mínimamente, este libro no es para ti. Pero también debo decir que ni siquiera te hace falta haber leído a Platón para seguir este libro y entenderlo, pues la filosofía incluida en esta novela está perfectamente integrada y se va exponiendo de forma muy amena y, en ocasiones, con mucho humor, todo a través de las situaciones que se le van presentando a los personajes. Gracias a esto va surgiendo el debate y se tocan temas como el libre albedrío, la esclavitud, la libertad, la sexualidad, las normas de sociedad, la amistad, el amor y, sobre todo, la búsqueda de esa excelencia que nos convierte en mejores o peores personas. Todo ello conforma una novela más que interesante, sin acción, sin un objetivo concreto, una novela que se salta la ley de inicio/nudo/desenlace, una novela que no es una novela, pero que atrapa, entretiene y, sin lugar a dudas, lleva a la reflexión.

Los personajes son muy potentes y los puntos de vista están narrados por el dios Apolo encarnado; Maya, una joven victoriana amante de las letras y adelantada a su tiempo; y Simmea, una niña salvada de la esclavitud que cree fervientemente en la ciudad justa. A través de ellos iremos conociendo al resto de personajes, tanto ficticios como históricos, todos envueltos sin remedio en este experimento. En especial me ha gustado mucho Sócrates, que fue anterior a Platón, así que todo le pilla por sorpresa y no dejará de cuestionarse las bases de esta supuesta utopía. A través de este personaje, Walton se ríe de Platón y aprovecha para generar mucho debate entre los personajes, que durante toda la novela permanecen más a favor o en contra de la ciudad.

Queda la sensación al terminar de que el final es un tanto precipitado, pero he disfrutado tanto del resto que me da igual. A mí la filosofía me cautivó tarde, ya bien avanzada en la universidad, pero el caso es que me atrapó, así que leer "La ciudad justa" ha sido una gozada. Este es el primer libro de una trilogía y, aunque se puede considerar prácticamente cerrado, hay cosas que continuarán. Me encantaría leer los otros dos aunque no sea estrictamente necesario. La edición que ha hecho Duermevela, además, es excelente, bonita por dentro y por fuera y de muy buena calidad.
Profile Image for Hank.
820 reviews79 followers
April 18, 2020
With apologies to Sarah and Gabi (and others) who loved the book, I really did not and will hide my review under a spoiler tag.

Ordered a story, received a debate, 2 stars, would not order again.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,046 followers
January 13, 2015
An interesting book about an interesting project.

As an experiment investigating human nature, the goddess Athena decides to set up a 'Just City' based on Plato's 'Republic.'
To do this, she zaps every human being who ever prayed to her that they could live in Plato's 'Just City' (there are more than one might guess, from widely varied times and locations), and collects them all in ancient history, on the remote island that's sometimes been known as Atlantis. Their prayers are answered: with the goddess' help, these people will get to create a city based on Plato's writings.

To do this, first, they need to collect citizens. Children purchased from slave markets will do the trick. Athena's brother Apollo, as well as Artemis, think the idea is interesting, so they get in on the action. And Athena likes Socrates, so he gets collected too, even against his will.

What transpires is less a novel, and more of Jo Walton's response to Plato. In many ways (and intentionally) reading this book is similar to reading Plato. Characters exist as mouthpieces for certain points of view, and they agreeably talk about just what the author wants them to. There's very little action, and quite a lot of exploration of various ideas.

Walton's main themes in the book concern free will and volition, the nature of intelligence (including the possibility and ramifications of artificial intelligence), the ethics of power and truth, human nature itself, and whether or not utopia is even possible.

The details of many of the issues brought up in the discussion of many of these issues are very contemporary in feel - more so than the characters' purported backgrounds would seem to indicate. I also got very little sense of many of the characters, except for the few main viewpoint ones, which was a bit of a shame, considering the premise of their widely diverse backgrounds. But again, this isn't a character study - it's a work linking current thinking on women's rights, consent issues, &c. with Plato's writings.

If an extended treatment of these ideas sounds interesting to you: you will love this book. If you expected a sci-fi or fantasy novel: you may be slightly disappointed. I felt that it was worth reading; but doubt that it will touch so many people emotionally the way 'Among Others' did.

Much appreciation to Tor Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.

Profile Image for Jaylia3.
752 reviews132 followers
February 6, 2023
Time travel, robots, Greek gods, Atlantis, and Plato’s Republic. . .

The Just City opens with Apollo deeply perplexed. Why wouldn’t Daphne dally with him? He’s a god! Why would she rather be turned into a tree by Artemis? Athena tries to explain that humans care about making their own choices, but that doesn’t make sense to Apollo’s god-brain way of thinking and he really wants to understand, so when Athena suggests he temporarily take on mortal form and join her philosophical experiment to create the Just City described in Plato’s Republic, Apollo is all in.

It’s a huge project, but fortunately being outside temporal constraints herself Athena has the ability to time travel people and supplies around. After choosing the isolated, ancient island of Atlantis as the setting, Athena retrieves advanced robots from our distant future to act as laborers, brings in thousands of 10-year-olds purchased in bygone Mediterranean slave markets to be educated as per Plato, and whisks away hundreds of idealistic adults (some of them actual historical figures) from just about every human epoch to become instructors and administrators.

The story is told through first person narratives of three characters who, like everyone in the Just City, are working at becoming their ideal selves. Apollo has incarnated as an unnaturally gifted but socially clueless former slave boy seeking to understand the ways of humans. Helping him with that is Simmea, another of the city’s 10,000 children. She started out life sometime between 500 and 1000 AD on her family’s farm in North Africa, but after being captured and then sold into slavery Simmea relishes the unexpected, goddess given opportunity to cultivate her mind, strengthen her body, and create art. The third narrator, Maia was living in Victorian times deeply frustrated by the many restrictions placed on women when she prayed to Athena and was transported through time and space to Atlantis. Now she’s one of the adults teaching the Just City’s children and helping to make decisions about how to bring Plato’s vision to light.

There are problems to work out in the Just City--Plato has some awkward ideas about procreation for instance and sometimes instructors from vastly different historical eras have trouble coming to consensus--but everything is going along fairly smoothly. Then five years into the project Athena imports Socrates to teach the children philosophy, and true to form he starts stirring up trouble by questioning everything, from the Just City’s underlying principles to the treatment of the robots. Socrates quickly became one of my favorite characters--who else would try to turn robots into lovers of wisdom?

It sounds wacky and there is humor, but for me the story was completely gripping. The characters have strong but sometimes clashing emotional investments in Athena’s project and I was completely fascinated by all the machinations that went into their joint attempt to create Plato’s Just City.

I read Plato’s Republic in college, but that was decades ago and I don’t think having studied it is a prerequisite for enjoying this book if it sounds interesting to you. Most of what you need to know is in the story, and you can read a quick summary of The Republic on the internet if you want more. This is my first Jo Walton book, but I will definitely be reading others. She won Hugo and Nebula awards in 2012 for Among Others, so that may be next.
Profile Image for Lisa.
346 reviews544 followers
January 12, 2015
Full Review can be found at TenaciousReader: http://www.tenaciousreader.com/2015/0...

A very thought provoking and insightful book that makes you question the way things are in the world, as well as how they could be (and if that “other way” would really be better or worse).

The Just City is an experiment carried out with by a Goddess. Her goal was to create perfectly balanced society where its citizens are judged solely on their own merits and abilities. There is to be no preferential treatment, people there should want to be their best selves and strive to do right by the city. If everyone lives by this code, then the city should thrive.

Since the masters had all prayed to Athena specifically to join this city, there was not an equal representation of people through out all of time. And there was a greater percentage of men from periods of time where women held less status. And not much representation from the modern age, as Athena is not generally a goddess of choice any more. It is interesting to watch the women masters in this and how they handle being given such responsibility and being valued for their intellect and desire to learn, something rarely seen in their prior lives. But also having to deal with some of the male masters from a much older time period that were not quite as open to equality of the genders. This makes for an interesting dynamic.

Sokrates makes an appearance, though years after the children have been brought there. He is not quite a master, but is definitely not a child. But the questions and insights he brings to the City, while may seem almost silly at times, are absolutely critical.

The book also examines the nature of thinking beings and question what constitutes a person. There are issues of choice. And with a society of so much structure, you can’t help but notice there are some fundamental choices that are taken away. Can a society be “just” when it’s citizen’s lack the freedom to choose? Just a small sampling of the philosophical questions you can’t help but examine while reading.

This was my first book by Jo Walton, but it certainly won’t be my last. This was a very powerful and addictive book. Usually books that I have a hard time putting down are often faster paced, but while this was not “action-packed”, it was fully absorbing. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Dawn F.
502 reviews67 followers
April 8, 2020
Things I loved: Greek gods coming to life among humans! Apollo as a human <3 Sokrates! Looots of debate! And more debate! Greek mythology everywhere!

Things I really, really disliked: So much sexual violence. Rape that I felt was taken too lightly and not dealt with. Lots of gaslighting and coercing. I’ve had my fill of people building a society and telling you what to do and who to have sex with and when to have babies in the name of the greater good with Octavia E. Butler, thankyouverymuch.

So this was a very mixed bag for me. I loved Apollo struggling to learn to be a human and learning, and that both he and Sokrates are highly critical of the eugenics program, but I can’t say I enjoyed reading the process of it as it was so off-putting to me. The last long debate with Sokrates was amazing, though.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Alex Bright.
Author 2 books42 followers
April 26, 2020
That final chapter -- I'm in awe. This entire story was beautifully written, with no clear-cut answers to what is definitely a thought experiment for us all. Walton presents to us the pros and cons of a society (loosely?) based on Plato's The Republic, but doesn't do the thinking for us. I can't wait to see the continuation, as I'm sure the formation of a truly just city (cities?) will only lie at the end of a great deal of conflict, both literal and philosophical, if at all.

Profile Image for Kerry.
519 reviews73 followers
December 19, 2019
Oh man, so good. I could just read Jo Walton and Ursula K. LeGuin forever and ever. Who needs anybody else.

I think a big part of the reason that I like Jo Walton so much is that she and I have similar (seemingly disparate) interests. So she writes stuff that I would write about, maybe, if I were a writer. Or that I like to read about, anyway. Victorian novels! Dragons! Ancient Greece! Time travel! Robots! Alternate timelines! Moon bases! Fairies! Reading other science fiction books! YES PLEASE. Smash them all together; tell me more.

Here's a quote from page 12 (but the story begins on page 11, so really it's page 2.) The narrator at this point is the god Apollo, speaking about his twin sister Artemis, who is being a little bitchy to him:

She hasn't forgiven me for the moon missions being called the Apollo Program when they should have been called after her.

DYING. Oh, I'm sorry, did you just make a feminist quip that involves the Greek gods and the space program on the second freaking page of your book? I'm in, Walton. I am allll in.

[Site note #1: OMG that is so fucking true!! She should be pissed! I had never thought about that before, but that makes total sense. Why DID they call them the Apollo missions? That is dumb. When we visit the sun, THOSE should be called the Apollo missions. Side note #2: in Latin class, my "Latin" name was Leto, the mom of Artemis & Apollo. Doesn't really matter; just though I'd mention it.]

[Side note #1a: Update, 2019-12-19: the mission to send people to stay on the moon (scheduled for 2024) is named Artemis! They finally got it right! I hope she is pleased.]

So anyway, everyone knows that Plato wrote a book about how to create an ideal city. What this book presupposes is . . . what if some people tried to do just that?

Basically it's about living in a city in "classical" times (oh those classical times) and trying to increase your excellence, by reading a lot and exercising naked and learning art etc etc. Oh man and she rescues all of the books from the Library of Alexandria! Like you, I am a book reader, and the thought of the fire at that library is devastating. But Jo Walton saves everything. It's tremendous. You go girl.

Basically I want to live in this city, and debate Sokrates, and become an artist and philosopher. So will you. Also there are gods in it (the Apollo kind) and I like how she presents them: like Homer, not like Gaiman. I like that better. I have always liked reading Greek and Roman myths, and in this book they are real? Which is wonderful to read about.

I dunno, it's just really fun. To be in this place, meeting these people, having these dialogues. It's wonderful. There isn't a lot of action I guess but who the hell cares? Also she says a lot of important stuff about agency and women which is "duh" to feminists, but she is so good at putting things a certain way, you know? Of explaining things to dumb gods who don't understand why all ladies don't want to mate with them. Who need to learn about volition, and equal significance. She says some really beautiful stuff in here. Also about being pregnant, and post-partum depression, and that sounds depressing in itself but it isn't! It's sad but it's real and true. Oh and about slavery -- I may have teared up a little at one point where they take a vote about slavery.

Anyway I loved it. It was right in my wheelhouse. It was in the wheelhouse at the end of my alley. I heart Jo Walton.
Profile Image for Paula.
433 reviews249 followers
September 24, 2021
Jo Walton, Madeline Miller o Juliet Marillier, son autoras de diversas épocas y temáticas que toman mitos, leyendas y momentos históricos y los hacen suyos, los reinterpretan y nos los hacen más interesantes. Son grandes contadoras de historias de una escuela iniciada por Ursula K. LeGuin. Jo Walton no tiene un libro parecido a otro, pero en todos ellos se refleja su arte contando historias, cosa que hace de forma magistral y “La ciudad justa” es un claro ejemplo de ello. Aquí utiliza elementos tanto de la fantasía como de la ciencia ficción para llevarnos a un lugar más allá del tiempo y del espacio.

La ciudad justa es una utopía, un ideal del filósofo griego Platón cuyas características sociales, ideológicas, políticas, espirituales y, sobre todo, filosóficas, se detallan y explican en su obra cumbre “La República”. Y es esta obra la que toma como objeto de estudio la diosa Atenea quien lleva el experimento a la práctica en una isla legendaria que conocemos como la Atlántida. Para ello reúne a eruditos de toda la Historia, a acólitos suyos que eligieron entrar en la ciudad justa y a su propio hermano el dios Apolo, quien lleva a cabo su propio experimento: renacer como ser humano y vivir con las limitaciones y las experiencias propias de los humanos. Apolo elige experimentar consigo mismo, pero Atenea no: la ciudad justa necesita niños que se conviertan en sus primeros ciudadanos y esos niños salen del comercio de esclavos, son comprados con 10 años y “liberados” en la ciudad, donde primero se les educa y luego se les clasifica según sus aptitudes, su inteligencia, su esfuerzo y su capacidad filosófica. Los niños no eligieron estar allí y no pueden salir de allí, no pueden escoger sus parejas libremente sino que les son asignadas aleatoriamente cada x tiempo. La mayoría de ellos es feliz y acepta lo que la ciudad les ofrece, pero la mayoría no son todos. Cinco años más tarde, el filósofo Sócrates aparece en la ciudad para enseñar retórica a los niños. Sócrates tampoco ha elegido estar allí…

Duermevela editorial ha elegido un libro de acogida difícil. Es un gran libro pero no es un libro fácil. En realidad pocos libros de Jo Walton son fáciles, por lo que encierran sus líneas. Mi experiencia con este libro ha sido increíble, pero al tiempo que veía lo mucho que me aportaba, las reflexiones y debates que tuve con este libro han sido tales, que entiendo que para otra persona no sea un libro tan increíble. Es un libro que hace pensar, hace pensar muchísimo, hace que des una y mil vueltas sobre cada idea, cada aspecto de la vida diaria, del pensamiento humano, de las creencias sociales actuales, del bien y la verdad, de las preconcepciones… de temas como el amor, la sensualidad, el sexo consentido, el sexo no consentido, el poder del hombre sobre la mujer, el feminismo, la capacidad de raciocinio de las mujeres, la experiencia vital, la inteligencia emocional, la division de clases, la division intelectual, la inteligencia artificial, el poder de los dioses, la indefensión de los humanos, el libre albedrío, LA LIBERTAD O LA FALTA DE ELLA.

“La ciudad justa”, es un libro intenso, es un tesoro en sí mismo, lo he subrayado, marcado y ya preveo que lo releeré y lo conservaré. Igual que conservo mi libro de lecturas de la historia de la filosofía de bachillerato. No es necesario haberse leído “La República” para entrar en la ciudad justa. Los niños lo tendrán prohibido hasta cumplir los 50. Cuando el libro acaba aún tienen 18… el último párrafo es impresionante.
Profile Image for Liz Janet.
579 reviews383 followers
October 29, 2019
“There will always be some who see excellence and envy it instead of striving to emulate it.”

Thanks to Tor for sending me this advanced-reader-copy in exchange for an honest review.

Ever heard of Plato’s Republic? Did you find it ridiculous? Do you agree/disagree with his plans? Well this is definitely a book to be read if you answered any of this questions, however is not really necessary to have read The Republic before, Jo Walton will explain everything to you.

Athena is my favourite Greek Goddess, so imagine my amusement when I read she would create THE JUST CITY, built after the ideas of Plato, sort of as a social experiment. She takes children from slave markets, adults from various points in time, robots from the future, and even Apollo and herself as mortal; in order to populate this “perfect” society. A few years later, Socrates shows up and starts questioning everything, which just infuriates Athena. “You can’t trust everything that ass Plato wrote,” oh Socrates!

“Know Thyself. It’s good advice. Know yourself. You are worth knowing. Examine your life. The unexamined life is not worth living. Be aware that other people have equal significance. Give them the space to make their own choices, and let their choices count as you want them to let your choices count. Remember that excellence has no stopping point and keep on pursuing it. Make art that can last and that says something nobody else can say. Live the best life you can, and become the best self you can. You cannot know which of your actions is the lever that will move worlds. Not even Necessity knows all ends. Know yourself.”

This book also dealt with very influential/important themes, such as gender roles and discrimination, rape and victim blaming/shaming, misogyny, whether an utopia can exist, and probably more things I was not able to catch. It leads you to question choice, and how choices make the person, and in that, how can a society survive if the choices have already been picked, rather than done.

The story is told from the perspective of various characters. We have Simmea and Maia, one a child and the other a young Victorian woman, both are consumed with the idea of the city, even after something quite tragic occurs, they do not question much a while afterwards. Pythias (Apollo) was great as well, I could only imagine what he was going to do or say, he lack the knowledge of people through the eyes of people, but was well versed in how gods see the mortals, and it was refreshing to see how he adapts his thinking. And Kebes, who many might have hated, yet the points he brought to the story were very important, he was the “choice” guy that does not go with the flow of the other students.

Perhaps one of the greatest things in this novel was the representations of the Greek gods and goddesses. It did justice to the gods of ancient times, it did not romanticize them, it made them true to some of the most well known myths. I think this was most demonstrated in the debate between Socrates and Pallas Athene, as we see what a god might do when cornered, even the goddess of knowledge.

“Nothing mortal can last. At best it can leave legends that can bear fruit in later ages.” This is a quote from this, and I see this book as a mortal that will become a legend, as it bears fruits to her other books in this series.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,921 reviews386 followers
April 6, 2015
My second book this year in which the Greek gods play main roles as characters (the first being Kraken Bake by Karen Dudley).

Unfortunately, for me, I preferred the playful Kraken Bake to The Just City. Now I’ll confess at this point that I probably have read some Plato during my university education, but I don’t remember it at all. It made no impression on me. So I am not the target audience for this novel.

I do like the idea that the god Apollo decides to become human in order to learn things that mortals grok better than he does. And I can appreciate the messages of choice and consent which Walton emphasizes during the course of the book. I was amused when Socrates gets dragged into the whole situation and how much of a shit disturber he turns out to be. One person’s Utopia is another’s Dystopia. Who needs to consent to do what, and who gets to make the rules? Is biology destiny, as the women once again get stuck with the child care? What counts as intelligence—can machines become intelligent? How will we recognize when they do?

With apologies to Jo Walton (whose books Among Others and My Real Children were amazing), I just found this book overly serious and the messages really, really obvious. Serious issues were discussed very seriously. And, being based on Platonic dialog, there were copious discussions of things. I prefer a little more action and light-heartedness.
Profile Image for Jessica.
527 reviews42 followers
August 9, 2017

That being said, I really can't wait for this to come out so I can see what other people think of it. The basic idea is that what if, throughout thousands of years, some of the people who read Plato's Republic prayed to Athena to live there, and what if that wish was granted? How does the idea of the perfect Just City actually work with imperfect people? The story is told by a freed slave, a bluestocking from the 1800s, and Apollo. The combination of earnest dedication to debate and Socratic dialog and the unavoidable messiness of humanity was fascinating and I'm really hoping there's a sequel. I'd recommend it to readers who wanted something thought-provoking and wouldn't hesitate to suggest to non-fantasy readers.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
May 26, 2015
Originally borrowed a review copy from Robert, then got approved for it on Netgalley, and then finally bought it, because I felt awful. It is not Jo Walton’s fault as a writer in any way; the book is fascinating, I just couldn’t sit still for it. I still don’t know why. I didn’t connect with it in the same way as I have some of Jo’s other books, but then I haven’t necessarily taken ages to read them because of that. There’s even stuff I love here: tons of classical references, as fun to spot as the books in Among Others; the awe and admiration of art; the role of the female characters and the ways they contribute to the city; loves that are not of the body but of the mind, and an understanding of different kinds of love…

The plot itself extends the thought experiment of Plato’s Republic. He came up with this thought experiment, and now the characters of the book actually try to live it; the book explores the ways they compromise on that, and the new light that sheds on the original ideas. (And Jo’s exploration is itself a thought experiment, in a way… oh, the meta.) The whole thing is, in a way, another Socratic dialogue: every character asks questions of the others, and together they try to make the Just City. Compromising the ideals leads to compromised results, and I think it’s up to the reader to figure out to what extent that is justified, to what extent the experiment is successful, to what extent a more positive result would even be possible.

It’s pretty optimistic about the human race, really. The children raised in that environment think in a way which is much more ‘just’ than if they had been raised outside it, that’s clear. I’d love to think that’s possible, and I don’t know if it is. And is it because they have been raised in an environment lacking in poverty and most injustice (negative influences), or because of the education they receive and the order of their lives (positive influences)?

If you finish this without a ton more questions, I’d be surprised. And Socrates would be very, very displeased (and so, I think, would Jo Walton).

On a character-and-plot level, I love the evolution of Apollo/Pytheas. I love his relationship with Simmea, the way that they work on agape, and the ways they fall short of that with other people around them. I’ve always thought agape a beautiful idea, and the way it’s explored here is interesting — mostly with Simmea and Pytheas, but with many other characters too. The way that they love each other and want to increase each other’s excellence, and how solidly and unshakeably they both believe that is beautiful.

There’s so much else I could say about this book, and so much else I’d like to say and can’t word. Suffice it to summarise with: it’s an interesting book, one which raises a lot of questions, which still has characters you can love and cherish as well. I recommend it.

Originally posted here.
Profile Image for Audrey.
1,073 reviews165 followers
August 3, 2020
I’m still not sure what genre to put this in. It has elements of sci fi and fantasy but feels more like historical fiction.

The Just City is an experiment started by the goddess Athena. She founds a city based on Plato’s Republic and brings in people from different time periods (who have all expressed interest in building such a city) and robots (who do the grunt work). Then they buy slave children to raise in the city.

This is sort of how I imagine the robots.

Maia is a “master” taken from the 1800s. She loves the equality of women in Plato’s ideas but finds that the reality of human nature is far from the ideals.

Simmea is one of the children brought to the city. She thrives and thirsts for knowledge and loves the city.

Kebes is one of the other children. He resents being a slave and resents being brought to the city against his will. He values freedom above all else.

Apollo is in disguise as one of the children. He has taken a mortal journey to better understand mortals and concepts like free will.

Socrates shows up after a few years and starts to stir things up.

The POV switches between Maia and Simmea with an occasional Apollo POV.

There’s not a whole lot of action in the story; it’s mostly philosophizing and character interactions. This is normally a turn-off for me, yet I was never bored and kept wondering what would happen next. The characters were all interesting, and the writing was beautifully simple. I have not read any Plato, but I don’t think it mattered much.

My main criticism is that Walton seems to have no idea of what pregnancy and labor entail beyond what’s in the movies. For instance, the girls only have morning sickness in the morning. The author actually believes this? And then, when the girls go into labor, they skip the first stages of labor and begin in transitional labor. She assumes labor pain is all vaginal when in reality it’s the back and tailbone that are the most painful. And then she ignores the importance of colostrum to infants. How hard would it have been to talk to a few real women who have actually given birth? Just saying.

But overall I found it interesting and filled with interesting ideas. It goes beyond the pseuo-philosophy Deep Thoughts you get in a lot of books, particularly YA.

I received a free copy from Tor’s book of the month club.

Do the kids die?
No strong language | Explicit sexual content, including abuse/rape | Mild violence
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