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Showing 1-10 of 151 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 364 reviews
on January 28, 2016
I first found out about this book after listening to a lecture hosted by Keith Mitnick (Taubman College). He introduced the topic by discussing the general theme of this book and the idea of "seeing and unseeing" as a means of understanding space as well as neighboring architectural forms from different eras or topologies. Just from his description of the book's premise, I knew I wanted to read it.

To start, this book is BONKERS. But in the best way possible. Admittedly, I found the beginning to be tough to get through simply because Mieville's writing is something I wasn't used to reading; at times it feels very sporadic and seems to "jump around" a lot without much exposition, but after a while I realized that I actually enjoy it that way, things seem more "fast-paced" which fits well with the story itself. It gets really interesting once he starts to describe "Breach" and the way the characters "unsee" the neighboring city. [MILD SPOILER] these details don't get "explained" until some chapters into the book, but I felt that this helped set the tone earlier on by making the character's actions that more intriguing; I kept reading because I wanted to better understand their strange behaviors and "see" the picture that Mieville was creating.

I love the concept (I haven't seen or read other stories like it), and the characters are believable and entertaining. If anyone has other suggestions for books like this please let me know, but in the meantime I would recommend this to anyone interested in more speculative fiction.
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on September 2, 2015
A city unlike any other. A brilliant idea and a fantastic, unforgettable setting (no wonder it got Hugo award!). Highly imaginative, vivid, rich urban world of city-state(s) complete with their own imagery and languages, which bring to mind metaphorical associations with some real-life divided cities that unsee each other (think Jerusalem, Berlin of Cold War, Paris and its banlieu etc). The story and the human characters are only a vehicle to introduce the real superstars of the book - Besz and Ul Quoma, the city & the city. And this is the only misgiving I have about the book: the story line is simply not very interesting, the characters are a bit mechanical and utterly forgettable (perhaps with the exception of the girl who is dead already on the first page), the mystery murder not very mysterious, the action not very suspenseful, the efforts to create a sense of foreboding and fear does not make you hold your breath. But the cities shine through on every page - and perhaps that was the purpose. I usually skip through the parts that describe the nature and the environment to get to the story and interaction among characters. In this book, I found myself skipping through the story and dialogue to get to Besz and UI Quoma unseeing and unhear either and neither. All in all, this one will stay with me, Mr. China.
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on August 20, 2016
I waited a few months after reading it to write a review as at first the ending felt a bit mundane for a Mieville novel. But as i reflected on the pervading theme of seeing and especially UNSEEING in this complex city-scape, I realized that the the deeper mystery I was hoping for in the novel was in fact in plain site.
This is not as filled with wonders as Perdido St. Station or the Iron Council and the language and imagery is terse by comparison. But as I reflect upon the fundamental message of unseeing in a dense, diverse city, this work gets kudos for opening the eyes. When we walking in a city we know, or one we hardly know there places and especially people we unsee perhaps unconsciously as much as we focus on what we do see. This is also true of amusement parks, where we unsee those that keep it clean and running.
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on July 6, 2014
If it were just the brilliant, warped sci-fi world in which two cities live on one shared space, with its citizens unseeing and unhearing their neighbours as foreigners, that would be enough to make it a great book. But more than that, it's a nuts and bolts whodunnit page-turner complete with good cops, bad cops, buddy cops and a conspiracy afoot that kept me turning pages. Oh, and it's got symbolics coming out the wazoo, if you are so inclined, but that's never overplayed.

The book's all about building a believable alternate world, and this it does brilliantly.

Apologies if I'm gushing (sure, all the cool kids already knew China Mieville was great...) so in the interests of finding some false balance, let me find a few faults. Tough, but if it were me, I'd have pushed the inspector's relationship with his female constable to see where that might go, and I'da thrown in a bit more humour, but hey, I'm just looking for nits to pick. This is great stuff. Loved it.
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on June 14, 2016
This is (apparently) my first read of w book by mr mieville. It is also apparently atypical to his style. But I am blown away by it. The world he has created is so perfect, even though it is almost absurd at its core. A few times I asked myself "but why is it like this? Why do people live this way?" But mostly I was engrossed in the puzzle piece he has created. This is a rare book of alternate reality that I have recommended to my wife, who hates all things surreal.
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on January 10, 2015
The main takeaway from this review is The City & The City is a great entree to Mieville for those who may not be familiar with his work, as it is a little more accessible than much of it. China Mieville is one of those rare authors whose prose is as literary as the most artistic of authors and whose ideas rival the best speculative fiction authors. Here, Mieville dives into police procedural (apparently as a gift to his mother, a fan of the genre) and succeeds. While the resolution of all the loose threads was not as satisfying as I hoped, it did not detract from a well written book. I enjoyed chasing the mystery of the story as much as I enjoyed the "weird fiction" world building. The idea of this one is fascinating.
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on March 7, 2013
If you haven't read The City & The City, just stop reading this and go read it. It is really hard to discuss the book without spoiling anything since even major concepts are only gradually revealed to the reader, so be warned I'm going to drop a bunch of spoilers.

Miéville's cities of Beszél (which incidentally means 'to speak' in Hungarian) and UI Quoma are fantastically created. They are reminiscent of East and West Berlin, but instead of a high concrete walls and guard towers, the walls between Miéville's two city-countries are seemingly purely psychological, built on a deep and pervasive fear of 'Breach'. Citizens of both cities learn to 'unsee', 'unsmell', and 'unhear' everything about the other city: it's traffic, people, buildings, and more.

The idea of two countries being in the same place but separated in the minds of their citizens is a barrier for the reader's suspension of disbelief, but it's a problem that is skillfully attacked by Miéville. He describes a number of challenges the two cities need to deal with such as 'foreign' traffic and emergency vehicles, traffic accidents involving 'foreign' vehicles, children who are inexperienced at 'unseeing', tourists, immigration, trade, and differing economic status of the two countries. His description of UI Qomatown in Beszél is a good example of how much thought he has put into this world:

"The scents of Beszél UI Qomatown are a confusion. The instinct is to unsmell them, to think of them as drift across the boundaries as disrespectful as rain ("Rain and woodsmoke live in both cities," the proverb has it.)...Very occasionally a young UI Qoman who does not know the area of their city that UI Qomatown crosshatches will blunder up to ask directions of an ethnically UI Qoman Beszél-dweller, thinking them his or her compatriots. The mistake is quickly detected - there is nothing like being ostentatiously unseen to alarm - and Breach are normally merciful."

To explore the interactions between the two co-located countries, Miéville uses a murder investigation that necessitates international cooperation between Beszél's Inspector Tyador Borlú and UI Qoma's Senior Detective Quissim Dhatt. We only really get to know the main protagonist Borlú, other characters remain quite undeveloped, and the dialogue is fairly sparse and intense.

As noir crime fiction I felt it was fairly weak, and the very neat resolution to the whodunnit has prompted criticism from some readers, but they miss the point. The crime and its investigation was really an excuse to have some, otherwise very rare, international collaboration between the two cities. I was interested in the murder but I was fascinated by the larger questions it inspired: Who/what/where is 'Breach'? Was 'The Cleavage', when the two cities were created, a joining or a splitting (cleave can imply either)? Is the mental barrier between the cities purely psychological, or is there an element of magic/fantasy/sci-fi i.e. is there a biological or technological reason why the citizens of the cities can 'unsee' their foreign counterparts? Is Orciny real, a synonym for Breach, or something else entirely?

Of these questions we only really get some resolution about Breach and Orciny. Breach is invisible, pervasive, extremely secretive and seems to possess limitless power when there is a 'breach': a failure to observe the city boundaries, which could be as simple as looking directly at a building in the other country.

"I had seen Breach before, in a brief moment. Who hadn't? I had seen it take control. The great majority of breaches are acute and immediate. Breach intervenes...Trust to Breach, we grow up hearing, unsee and don't mention the UI Qoman pickpockets or muggers at work even if you notice, which you shouldn't, from where you stand in Beszél, because breach is a worse transgression than theirs."

After all of his experiences of travelling to UI Qoma and entering Breach I expected Borlú to question whether keeping the split between the cities was actually a good idea, whether Breach was morally in the right or just a brutal enforcement of a ridiculous and pointless segregation, or even just to voice some self doubt about becoming part of that enforcement. But he never does. I'm still not sure how I feel about that: to some extent it seems in keeping with his character, he shows no sympathy for the unificationists, and perhaps there is even some fantasy/sci-fi explanation (government brain modifications?) for this deficiency, but it is at odds with his willingness to break the rules to protect Yolanda Rodriguez.

Nonetheless, an intriguing concept well executed.

4.5 stars.

Read more of my reviews at g-readinglist.blogspot.com
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on January 4, 2014
Mieville has written many award-winning books, and there is no disputing his writing ability or his imaginative reach. This book is a bit different from some of his others, being a police procedural, but it has its share of "wierd," as did his earlier books. The detective (protagonist) eventually solves his mystery ( an assigned and complicated case) though it leads to unexpected outcomes for him personally.

However, the book never really addresses the deeper mystery of the two contiguous and even overlapping cities. There is the obvious point of the book, that all of us see only what we focus on or what we have been trained to see (or "notsee"), rather than seeing everything that is actually there to see. Also, we all learn that there are boundaries, and some of those boundaries are dangerous to cross. So the cities work as allegory, but not so much as believable cities with a history and a reason for being the way that they are presented in the novel.

Mieville's work has been described by others as dark and depressive, and this book is no exception. This is one of those books I would just as soon never have read, in spite of its originality and craftmanship. It is ultimately off-putting. I do not remember the book with any pleasure. Still, I recognize that my opinion probably reflects more on me than on the author. Each reader will have to make his/her own evaluation.
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on June 6, 2012
I start reading City in the City and it isn't really understandable. On one level, it's a noir thriller, a murder mystery and as that, it is excellent. Sort of Gorky Park. But it's in an imaginary world, or maybe two imaginary worlds that co-exist, and it has a "language" that is a jargon we have to just hang with. So I think, what inspired this? I'm on maybe page 50 at this point.

So I imagine myself as the writer and I want to write a story about what it would take for the Muslims and the Jews in Jerusalem to co-exist. Or in the West Bank - really anywhere there are two "peoples" who hate each other and keep killing each other. How could I create a world where they co-exist?

Mieville created that world.

He created two societies that live together in the same town on the same streets or on different streets, in the same buildings or different buildings, but sometime in the distant past, seemed to have made an agreement to not acknowledge the existence of the other city.

So from childhood, children are trained to "unsee" anyone or anything not of their city. The dress is different, the walk is different, the architecture is different (which is really a fascinating struggle to capture), yet it would be like me being across the street from you but pretending strongly enough that I eventually would not see you and you would not see me.

And to make things more complex, there is a penalty. If a citizen of either city should break this "rule" and "see" a person in the other city, a secret police sort of group, called Breach, appears from the shadows with invincible power and grabs you and you disappear. (Another type of unseen.) So this is how we keep the peace? We pretend we don't see each other, we put blinders on ourselves and we give unlimited authority to some "nether" organization to enforce our pretense.

It is really scary if you start to follow all the strands of how this interplays with our "real" world and our "real" politics, yet alone the way we "unsee" anyone who is really poor, or maimed, or crippled or homeless. Humans already have a tendency to unsee. Mieville has just take it to the most damning level.

Other reviews have postulated it is more like string theory and they are in alternative universes but really, whatever.

I also found myself trying to make my own sense out of the names of the cities. Is U1 Coma mean - I'm in a coma? Is Beszel - really This Be Jail? Now none of that is true, of course. Just my rumination. But how often does a book ensnare and puzzle you to such a degree that you sit down and try to come up with why the plot even exists and what the indecipherable words mean?

I think it a masterpeice of creativity. Really ingenious. And there is, along with this sci fi wonderful craziness, a great mystery and a detective that you come to care a great deal about. In other words, we have plot and character development. Voila. A great novel.
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on May 15, 2012
A five-star system isn't granular enough for me to avoid giving this novel the top rating. And that's wrong. This isn't, quite, on the level of _Kim_ or _The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ or _The Curse of Chalion_ to name three of a very few I like better than this book.

This book contains elements of noir detective fiction and police procedural. The novel's _voice_ is that of a detective and one dedicated to solving cases and very good at his job. It also contains elements of fantasy and, in the author's own words, "anti-fantasy." Fantasy expectations are often frustrated. It could even be argued that the book is alternate history and, of couse, the words "magical realism" will be uttered by someone. However, the central conceit is what makes the book urban/urban fantasy.

This is the first Mieville I have ever read and I understand that the spare prose style is not his usual way of doing things. Well, I like a veriety of prose styles and I am sure his more baroque work will suit me too.

What happens to the detective/protagonist in the end is predictable but in a satisfying way. Many of the other characters are decently realized, although all we see of them is what the protagonist sees, or unsees.
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