2009 Fantasy Other Prizes Science Fiction

The City & The City – China Miéville


Winner of the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award, Short listed for 2010 Hugo Award

Last year I read Perdido Street Station and although I wasn’t a massive fan of his epic science fiction novel I was impressed enough to give Miéville a second try. I am really pleased that I did – The City & The City is one of the most original books I have ever read!

The City & The City begins like a typical police procedural crime novel, with the discovery of a dead body on waste ground. The book initially appears to be set in an Eastern European country, but we slowly realise that all is not as it first seems – it is set in a place where two cities co-exist. People in one city have to deliberately “unsee” the buildings and people from the other. There are special places where it is possible to step from one city into the other, but this is illegal and “breaching” these boundaries causes severe punishment. It can be hard to get your head around these metaphysical rules, but I loved trying!

It was true. A political irony. Those most dedicated to the perforation of the boundary between Beszel and Ul Qoma had to observe it most carefully. If I or one of my friends were to have a moments failure of unseeing (and who did not do that? who failed to fail to see, sometimes?), so long as it was not flaunted or indulged in, we should not be in danger. If I were to glance a second or two on some attractive passerby in Ul Qoma, if I were to silently enjoy the skyline of the two cities together, be irritated by the noise of an Ul Qoman train, I would not be taken. 

The descriptions of the cities were so vivid that I could picture them, despite the complexity of the physical world. It tested my spatial awareness, but it added a whole new dimension to the typical crime novel.

The book worked perfectly – it was fast paced, intelligent and gripping. I think it might be a bit bizarre for some, but if you are after something a bit different I encourage you to give it a try.

Highly recommended.

Everyone seems to love this book!

…this is one of the most powerful SFF books I have ever read. Floor to Ceiling Books

One thing that really impressed me about Miéville’s writing was the amount of emotional empathy he creates….  The Boston Bibliophile

I was dazzled by Miéville’s skill in creating such a realistic world… Ms. Bookish

Are you tempted to try something out of the ordinary?

Have you read anything written by China Miéville?

46 replies on “The City & The City – China Miéville”

Can’t say I am a big SF fan, but this does sound interesting. And tempting. I’m going to have to start a new TBR list on a roll of loo paper! The list of recommendations I’m collecting from people’s blogs is growing and growing. 🙂

Violet, I haven’t read much SF either, but I think it is all about finding books at the literary end of the spectrum – something I haven’t quite worked out yet.

I know exactly how you’re feeling about the TBR list – mine went from about 5 books (pre-blogging) to about 500 in the first year! Enjoy!

I am SO game to try something unique. Too many books all smush together these days, failing to stand out. Now of course, some books are attempting to be too clever for their own good, and it fails, but I will take your word on this one.

Sandy, I know what you mean about books trying to be clever (The Rehearsal is my most recent example) but I think a really talented author can manage to pull it off. I never thought Miéville was trying too hard – he just seems to be a very gifted writer who can make the impossible seem possible. I hope that you enjoy it!

I recently read Un Lun Dun by China Mieville,which is aimed at the young adult market and I thought it was brilliant. It had two cities kind of co existing in that with London and Un Lun Dun where all the old and ruined things from London go. I would definitely recommend reading it. I shall add this one to my list.

China Miéville is an author I’ve never read, but whom I’d really like to try. His writings sound bizarre and provocative, and definitely not your run-of-the-mill fiction. I’m going to see if I can find a copy of this on my next library trip!

Steph, I look forward to seeing what you make of this one. It is very different, so it could go either way. I’ve got my fingers crossed that you’ll enjoy it!

So glad you enjoyed this one, Jackie! So far, I haven’t read another Miéville yet, but definitely will be doing so. Perdido Street Station sounds like a good possibility for me, although it does sound a bit on the dark side, which isn’t quite up my alley. But Miéville’s writing is just so beautiful, I might be willing to read something darker just to experience his magic again!

Belle, I wouldn’t say that Perdido Street Station is any darker than TC&TC. I look forward to seeing what you make of his other books so hope you get round to one soon. 🙂

I’m not that big on SF and I haven’t heard of Miéville before. The book does sound very bizarre, but I would be willing to give it a try because you recommend it so warmly. I like the premises of the book which you’ve described. I shall see if my library has this book available. Thanks for bringing someone new to my attention.

Susi, It will be really interesting to see what someone not keen on SF thinks of this book. You might find it a bit too weird, but I’m hoping the writing quality will be good enough to compensate for that.

I just read this too (my overly long review which is not nearly as satisfactory as your excellent pithy review is up for tomorrow). I really liked it, but I think Mieville is definitely not for everyone! (I have not yet read Un Lun Dun but I think that one, like The City & The City, may have a wider audience than his usual fare.) I really like the combination of Mieville’s bizarre alternate realities combined with a “normal” police mystery. I can’t even imagine what goes on in that guy’s head! :–)

rhapsodyinbooks, Thanks for the kind words. I look forward to reading your review tomorrow – I’m sure it will be fantastic 🙂

I would love to know what goes on inside his head – I imagine the ideas he rejects are far better than those that most fantasy writers can think of in a lifetime.

Hmm, not sure if this would be my cup of tea (I’m having a bit of a SF break after The Dispossessed) but you’ve picked a winner before for me with FFAlgernon so I guess I should be open minded!

Novel Insights, This is very different from FFA and I wouldn’t jump to recommend this to you as it is hard to get your head around some aspects of it, but I would love to know your thoughts on it, so do let me know if you decide to pick it up!

The Book Whisperer, I have been told that Kraken is similar to Perdido, but not quite as good. I will be interested to see what you make of it, but I’m not going to be rushing out for Kraken.

i ve been want to read this ,but got bit stick in mudish about only doing translations at mo ,sure i ll get too it at some point did have it hands last library visit and put it back on shelf ,stu

Stujallen, It is good to know that you were attracted to this in the library, but I do like your books in translation….perhaps you could squeeze this in later in the year? 🙂

i just read this book recently, though i have yet to write my review for it. i did enjoy it and agree that it was one of the most unique books i’ve ever read, but, i felt like it was written so dispassionately that it was very difficult to relate in any way.

i liked Mieville’s writing, but the characters were so distant that it was a little less engaging that i’d hoped. however, i’ll probably pick up Un Lun Dun or Perdido one of these days.

Lisa, I agree with what you say – I found the characters a bit distant too. I think the lack of emotion in the book was the only reason I didn’t award 5 stars. Perhaps if I read more SF this book wouldn’t impress me so much? I look forward to reading your review.

I must be one of the people Mieville is not for. I tried this one and Perdido Station and did not get very far. I love the idea behind The City and The City though. So maybe I’ll give it another go sometime.

I think it would make a fun movie.

I haven’t read any Mieville, but I’ve only heard great things about this one. I’m glad to see you loved it, and I look forward to reading it this summer once I’ve finished the Orange shortlist!

I’ve recently read a couple of sci-fi books (not my normal genre, I assure you) and have been both pleasantly surprised/amazed and disgusted, depending on the book. I don’t want to ignore the genre, so I’m sticking with those books that everyone seems to absolutely love. This one seems to fall into that category, so I’m off to order it. thanx!

Michele, I find science fiction very hit/miss too. I think I’m slowly working out which ones I’ll enjoy, so hopefully I’ll find more hits than misses in the future.

I can’t believe I missed this review of yours! So it’s a good thing you did you Best of 2010 post:) I really loved this book too but it’s only my first book by Mieville so looking forward to reading the others (I have Kraken which many didn’t like as much as The City & The City). For me the best thing about the book was the two cities in one place. Amazing how he made it work.

[…] Miéville doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining how the two cities came to be or about how the logistics of shared physical space happened in the past — you just have to sort of accept the premise and move on from there. But once you do that, the book opens up into all these crazy possibilities that you can just sit back and ponder. It was a very, very good book. For some people who agree with me, check out reviews from Rebecca at The Book Lady’s Blog and Jackie at Farm Lane Books. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *