Top critical review
The City and The City Book Review
on December 14, 2011
The City and The City is an interesting novel. I am not quite sure how it is being defined as Science Fiction/Fantasy. Science Fiction and Fantasy is rapidly changing. Back when science fiction was the new hot thing it was all based on the fear of the unknown and the Gods. In the 1960s Science Fiction changed to what lied beyond the Earth, what existed in space. Did aliens really exist? Then it moved to a fear of technology and where it fit in. Would technology eventually take over?
The City and The City has moved completely away from this. It is a futuristic novel that takes place in a new country in Europe but it lacks a lot of things that have defined science fiction and fantasy for centuries. It does not have the mystical creatures from fantasy nor the futuristic devices that exist in the Science Fiction of old.
The City and The City has two settings, which are the two cities Beszel and Ul Qoma. The thing about these two cities is if you live in one you cannot enter the other nor see what is going on in the other city. If you do this you are committing Breach, which is the act of entering the other city without warrant or seeing something that belongs to the other city. It is sometimes hard to not commit Breach because there are areas that are called crosshatched that is they belong to both cities. If you are in a crosshatched area you still cannot acknowledge anything from the other city.
The story starts off in the city of Beszel with a dead body found underneath a mattress in a skate park. The dead lady in question was studying in Ul Qoma and was a firm believer in Orciny, the third city that was said to lie between Beszel and Ul Qoma. Everyone in Ul Qoma and Beszel consider Orciny a myth. Whether or not it truly exists is determined in the book. Since the dead lady was found in Beszel and from Ul Qoma it was originally thought that the case would be handed over to Breach, the institution that handles all cases of someone committing the crime of breach.
As they wait for Breach to determine whether or not they are going to take the case the investigation continues as they begin to uncover the identity of the dead lady. They uncover that her true name is Mahalia Geary and that she is a student from America that attends Graduate school in Ul Qoma and that she is working at an archaeology dig in Ul Qoma. They also discover that Mahalia attended a conference in Beszel when she first moved to Ul Qoma and that while at the conference she pissed a lot of people of because of her belief in Orciny.
After Breach turns down the case the head inspector of the case is sent over to Ul Qoma with the needed papers to aid the murder investigation there because that is where the murder actually happened. We find out the murder happened in Ul Qoma after a video of the van transporting the body is seen legally crossing the Beszel/Ul Qoma line twice, once to enter Ul Qoma and once to exit Ul Qoma.
While in Ul Qoma the inspector and his Ul Qoman counterpart interview all of Mahalia's friends and teachers to try to uncover more. After the interviewing process two of the interviewees go missing. Whether or not they are dead is to be found out.
In the final part of the book the inspector ends up working for Breach to figure out what really happened. The true killer is discovered and the reason behind it is quite intriguing and leaves no questions unanswered.
Overall this was a really intriguing book whether or not it was a great science fiction book I am unsure. Sure it took place in the future but it seems to lack a lot of what I would deem science fiction/fantasy. How it won a science fiction award I am unsure? Science Fiction is moving to a grey area. What truly defines science fiction these days? Science Fiction could easily splinter into several different types just as fiction split up into several different sub categories such as science fiction and mystery. Personally, I see science fiction as anything that involves futuristic devices, mystical creatures, or space travel and I hope it does not break up into several subcategories. The City and The City involves none of the things that I view as science fiction, which makes me question how it won the World Fantasy Award in 2010.
It was an excellent book. It had a great plot line and kept me entertained throughout. Science Fiction as we know it appears to be changing. It is moving away from plots like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord of The Rings to novels that take place in a different time with no heroes. In City and the City one could argue that Inspector Borlu, the main character, was the hero but, in all reality he had several people helping him and he did nothing heroic in fact he got punished for what he ended up doing. You could argue that the Unificationists were the true heroes because they were trying to reunite the two cities and make the country better by eliminating things such as Breach. Others may say that Breach is the true hero for eventually solving the crime and preventing crimes like this from happening.
Stars 3 out of 5