Sunday, June 13, 2010
The City & The City
By China Mieville (pronounced me-AH-vil).
Mieville tends to write about cities... weird cities and their even stranger inhabitants. By his standards, Beszel and Ul Qoma are pretty normal cities located somewhere on the south-eastern edges of Europe. What is unique is that these two independent city/nations largely occupy the same bit of turf and in many places overlap and yet remain invisible to each other.
Through an act of psychological will, the citizens of each city "unsee" the other city and its citizens and each remains strictly within its own boundaries. It is possible to go to the other city, if you have a passport and use the proper gate, but of course, once there, you must unsee your own city.
The story is a police procedural told from the perspective of Inspector Tyador Borlu of Beszel's Extreme Crime Squad. He's investigating the murder of a young woman and must, no surprise here, cross over to Ul Qoma to solve it.
In Mieville's skillful hands, this central conceit of unseeing your neighbor allows the book to function as a kind of meditation on how we all embrace the illusions of our preferred social realities.