association-list a veritable mint for dunning-kruggerands

9 - The City & The City, by China Miéville

It seems like I’ve read a couple of books between Lamentation in late March and this one in late June, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they are. I’ll update later out of order if I remember.

I don’t want to tell anyone not to read this book, because I think that it’s worthy, that it is a novel written with serious intent by an able writer, that it tries to do something that stretches both the genre and the skills of the author. Unfortunately I don’t think that it worked. It’s Miéville’s best-written book, but in a way that evens out the excesses of prior works. As such, you avoid the awkwardnesses of prior works, but also you lose out on the sheer impact of invention and strangeness that awkwardness occasionally lent to his earlier works. The biggest problem, I suppose, is that the central conceit ultimately falls down in the end. No reason is given and no mechanism for the power of Breach is ever explained. While I am usually all for this sort of thing and think that one of the main failings of fantasy as a genre is that it over-explains and over-systematizes, we have a strange problem here. Breach is too much shown to be real to be a metaphor for the mechanisms of urban separation given shadowy flesh, and too powerful to simply be taken at fantastical face value. There are a few hints here and there that there is something else going on there, but then almost end up looking like continuity mistakes, artifacts of a draft where Breach was a fantastical mechanism accidentally left in during the transformation to a draft where Breach is a eidolon of separation. This ambiguity of strategy makes it feel like Breach, which ultimately is the spine of the separation of the City and the City, which is in turn the heart of the book, feel unfinished.

Again, I urge you to read it. It has many lovely moments and is a good, solid read. Even with the problematic ending, it’s an attempt to stretch the genre further, and we should laud its ambition rather than scorn its failures.

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