Friday, June 29, 2012

The City and the City - China Mieville

This story is very nearly a totally ordinary murder mystery, but the author is China Mieville, so obviously it can't be just straight-up fiction, and yet there is no magic in these twin cities - neither in Beszel or Ul Qoma. It is hard to imagine how this situation came to be, two cities physically overlapping one another, with the inhabitants of each hard at work ignoring the city they don't belong in. At first it seems that there must be some sort of magic involved, but there isn't - just the power of belief.

Tyador Borlu is a cop with a dead body on his hands. He's trying to figure out who she is, why she was killed, and who killed her. In order to do so, he winds up moving between his home city, Beszel, and the city of Ul Qoma which exist in the same physical space, but occupy very different psychological spaces. We see the world through Tyador's eyes, which makes things interesting, especially when he interacts with foreigners who mostly find it impossible to "unsee" the city they are not supposed to be seeing. Clearly the existence of two separate cities is just a trick of the mind, and yet it works - the inhabitants of these cities act as though they live in physically separate places. Each city has its own transit system, a slum in one city can coexist with a very nice neighbourhood in the other, people make international phone calls to the house just up the street. It makes absolutely no sense, and yet this is a communal fiction with a total buy-in from the locals. It helps that breaking these rules and "seeing" the city you aren't supposed to be in is a crime, policed by the mysterious "Breach". Possibly there is magic involved there, but it isn't explicit.

As far as murder mysteries go, there's nothing incredible going on here, but this particular crime and the scene are inextricably intertwined. The setting is fascinating and weird, and Mieville really plays the reader's attempt to immerse themselves in the setting, and accept its bizarre rules as fact, against them when it comes to figuring out the mystery. I really enjoyed this, but I'm not nearly as enthralled as I was by The Scar. Still, I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good mystery and can cope with a very non-standard setting - or equally to anyone who enjoys SF...even though it really isn't SF or fantasy - it just requires the same reading protocols.

No comments:

Post a Comment