Erik's Reviews > The City & the City

The City & the City by China Miéville
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Aug 22, 2011

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bookshelves: detailed-review

I finished The City & The City in one of those midnight reading sprees that serve to both damage my eyesight and make the book eminently more enjoyable. I was impressed. That was a real doozy, I said to myself.

The premise is intriguing. The primary conceit is that there are two cities, physically layered on top of each other, yet with separate social, legal, and political structures. Both cities agree, in effect, to ignore the other. Anyone who fails to do is at the mercy of the dreaded Breach, a secretive mysterious all-powerful (?) organization. Mieville spends a WHOLE lot of words trying to make this work, trying to make it believable, and he does a superficially passable job. Certainly it was very fun to try and figure out the exact mechanics of these cities. Is the separation something technological? Spiritual? Or simply psychological?

The story is interesting: A woman is murdered in one city and then dumped in the other. And we follow Inspector Tyador Burlu (of Beszel, the poorer of the two city-states) as he attempts to solve it. There's some conspiracy, danger, casual sex (?) !

So what could go wrong?

Well... after I finished my great rush to the end, as I lied there, nearly napping, pondering this quaint and curious volume, I realized, all at once, that it was nonsense. Pure poppycock. Mieville made a good run at it but the whole shebang is a fragile glass vase, unable to withstand the slightest scrutiny or common sense. I am a Scruntinizer. It is what I do. And so, hidden by this spoiler tag, let me tell you why this book lies shattered at my feet (and completely without flowers, ho hum):

(view spoiler)

So yeah it was a fun read. I admit that.

But it's really not meant to be a fun read in the sense that, say, Michael Crichton wrote fun reads. The City & The City is more like an abstract deep-concept exploration, an ideas book that uses exaggeration to highlight the boundaries that separate us.

Unfortunately the idea just doesn't work. It's not that it isn't well developed, it's just a fail from the start. Sorta like, watch me jump off this mountain cliff. I can do a perfect triple-spin-axle-twist on the way down, but I still get pulverized to a pulp when I hit the ground. It's just a bad idea, no matter what you do.

So I guess that's how I would described this book: it's a bad idea that is written well.
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Reading Progress

August 22, 2011 – Started Reading
August 22, 2011 – Shelved
November 21, 2011 – Shelved as: detailed-review
November 21, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Aaron completely agree. don't think it deserved its Hugo.

Jason This review is laugh-out-loud funny. Very well-put. And, you know, dammit, you're absolutely right about every one of your criticisms of the logic of the book. I can't argue against a single one of your points. And yet - I feel like saying, shame on you for ruining Christmas! I loved this book. But you're right! But I loved this book. But you're right! this the double-think that Orwell spoke of...

Erik Jason wrote: "This review is laugh-out-loud funny. Very well-put. And, you know, dammit, you're absolutely right about every one of your criticisms of the logic of the book. I can't argue against a single one of..."

One of the great joys of life is believing in something you know doesn't make sense. ...or is that one of the great tragedies? O DAMN.

But no really whatever. Real love is about loving a person's (or a book's) flaws, not its strengths. If I came across the absolutely 'perfect' book, without flaw, I wouldn't give it more than four stars. Because I know some damn AI robot machine probably wrote it. And if sci-fi has taught me anything, it's that the road to robot revolution is paved with five star reviews.

Jason Hahaha! Indeed.

Richard Wait, you rail against this one because it's implausible, but completely ignore the same for The Road?

Erik I've given free passes to other implausible stories before, but I wouldn't consider The Road to be among them.

Are you suggesting that The Road is equally (or more) implausible than The City & The City?

Jason And besides, implausibility could be fatal to one work of art, and yet be perfectly acceptable in another. Each work has its own requirements. Implausibility, for example, is clearly a problem, for many people, in Batman Vs Superman, but not a problem at all in, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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