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  1. #1
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    The City & The City by China Mieville

    Surely there are a few SFFWorlders apart from myself who have read this already? Mieville nuts like myself?

    I'm torn in my opinions of this book. I couldn't put it down. I would've read it in one sitting if family members hadn't arrived at my house. But, ultimately, I found it unsatisfying. I have a common problem with crime genre novels, in that they become too generic - the tropes/themes/elements common to the genre stand out too much to me, and I can't focus on the execution. I have a feeling someone not as well versed in fantasy as my fellow board members would experience this when dipping their toe into fantasy.
    At any rate, between my discomfort with the genre conventions and a lack of belief in the premise of the novel (the dual cities in one space), this novel didn't quite click with me. As I mentioned above, it was extremely readable in the way that I find most crime dramas (a race to find whodunnit! Crikey, it goes right to the top!!!!!!!), but ultimately I found it lacked the depth I'd previously enjoyed in novels such as The Scar.
    This novel has been billed as the onie that is most likely to be his breakout, however I can't see non-genre fans (either crime or fantasy) being able to accept the dual-city premise enough to move on with the novel.

    Thoughts? Comments? Arguments?

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Eventine View Post
    Surely there are a few SFFWorlders apart from myself who have read this already? Mieville nuts like myself?

    I'm torn in my opinions of this book. I couldn't put it down. I would've read it in one sitting if family members hadn't arrived at my house. But, ultimately, I found it unsatisfying. I have a common problem with crime genre novels, in that they become too generic - the tropes/themes/elements common to the genre stand out too much to me, and I can't focus on the execution. I have a feeling someone not as well versed in fantasy as my fellow board members would experience this when dipping their toe into fantasy.
    At any rate, between my discomfort with the genre conventions and a lack of belief in the premise of the novel (the dual cities in one space), this novel didn't quite click with me. As I mentioned above, it was extremely readable in the way that I find most crime dramas (a race to find whodunnit! Crikey, it goes right to the top!!!!!!!), but ultimately I found it lacked the depth I'd previously enjoyed in novels such as The Scar.
    This novel has been billed as the onie that is most likely to be his breakout, however I can't see non-genre fans (either crime or fantasy) being able to accept the dual-city premise enough to move on with the novel.

    Thoughts? Comments? Arguments?
    No argument or even thought -- just bought it with the hope to get to it before June is over -- but you might like to read Gary Wolfe's review in the April Locus. I think he'd disagree with your assessment. His review was what tipped me over into buying it.

    Randy M.

  3. #3
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    I put my thoughts in the reading in thread as well as did a full rv on FBC, but my summation was "great style, empty book"

    To my surprise I found that Mieville managed to make me believe in the dual-city despite how utter preposterous its premise is considering the rest: million people scale Emperor's New Clothes is a bit too much to suspend disbelief, but I did, and this testifies to his great skills as a writer

    However the novel let me down badly in the second part because I generally dislike profoundly crime novels and City/City just did not transcend the crime genre, becoming a by the numbers tale with the usual.

    Someone told me to think of City/City as not a Mieville, but I would not have opened it based on its premise if it were not by Mieville, so that to me was beside the point.

    Overall a 3 star novel and an instantly forgetable one

    Regarding breakout, I still do not get what that means - Dan Brown success? It aint' going to happen since Mieville is just too good a writer; break into the mystery genre? Mieville has just too much imagination to satisfy the ossified convention of that...

  4. #4
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Well, I liked it.

    I thought that China was trying to produce a book that was leaner and tighter than previous books. The tale's good but coming from a background of crime novels: John Le Carre and Raymond Chandler amongst others, where lean prose is part of the style. Consequently it didn't phase me, personally.

    Though his latest could be perceived as something that isn’t particularly fantastical (it is subtle) it clearly reflects an author’s evolution that I suspect will lead at least some of those poor souls out there that don’t read the genre to find that – gasp – they’ve read a fantasy novel.
    China has never created the genre barriers himself, they've tended to be made for him. If this is a 'breakout' novel, then bully for him.

    The amazing thing is how China manages to make the reader believe such a preposterous situation could work/exist. That, for me, worked.

    I also thought the ending was a lot stronger than many New-Weird-type books, though perhaps not what many will want. In a genre littered with style over substance (so sayeth Mith) this one I thought, at the end, was stronger.

    So, overall I liked it.

    suciul: I'm amazed that you liked any of it, if you don't like Crime novels.

    Mark
    Mark

  5. #5
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    Mark read and reviewed it recently, and I just got a signed copy over the weekend when I met Mr. Miťville so I haven't yet read it. Soon, though. Soon.

  6. #6
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    LOL. Looks like we posted at the same time, Rob.

    Mark
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit View Post


    suciul: I'm amazed that you liked any of it, if you don't like Crime novels.

    Mark
    I loved the first part - the mystery of the woman, the un-seeing; as I mentioned I just was amazed how China Mieville made me believe in our world complete with Power Rangers, Harry Potter and the Internet (just to give some examples from the novel) plus the two dual cities; rationally I thought, this cannot be, enough one ruthless conqueror, get two razed cities, what's that thousand of years of history, preposterous, but when reading I just believed it. So that's literary prestidigitation...

    The second part was the letdown and that is where your quote above stands true for me.

  8. #8
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    I'm about 100 pages in. I have to admit, I was very close to applying my 25% rule (I give a book 25% of its length to grab me, if it doesn't I move on) when the story suddenly really picked up (from about about page 70). Looking forward to getting some more reading done later this evening.

  9. #9
    My review from yetistomper.blogspot.com

    China Mieville has written some weirdly wonderful stories. His latest offering, The City & The City, is no exeception. In his first few works, Mieville established a reputation for creating astounding cities almost beyond description; emphasis on the word ďalmost.Ē Mieville has now taken his talent for urban worldbuilding and raised the bar, weaving a murder mystery in, over, and through the cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma. Without getting into the particulars (which is half the fun of the story), it is clear the two cities are closely intertwined in ways that are not fully understood by even the denizens of the two cities themselves.

    When Detective Tyador Borlu discovers the lifeless body of a young woman in Beszel, he refuses to let it go. His quest for answers eventually leads him across borders and boundaries he never planned to cross: some physical and some something else entirely. Soon it is not one but two mysteries that drive this story forward; why was this young woman murdered and what does her murder suggest about The Cities?

    While less overtly fantastical than some of his other novels, The City and The City captured my imagination pretty much from the get go. It started off a little heavy as Mieville tries to relate the rules of the world heís writing in quickly and succinctly, at times resorting to the dreaded info-dump. However, as soon as I finally felt like I understood the rules of the story, Mieville started breaking them. Just trying to wrap my mind around the potential solutions became increasingly difficult as the twin mysteries began to intertwine. As the clues surfaced, I began to doubt everything I thought I knew about these strange exotic cities. The twists kept coming until the very end and I was impressed with Mievilleís ability to make me fluctuate between potential answers without ever feeling manipulated. Some mysteries lay it on too thick and characters act in irrational ways, solely for the sake of throwing the reader off the trail. In interviews, Mieville describes his feelings toward the whodunnit genre and what he believes is its intrinsic flaw: that the questions are always more interesting than the answers the author provides. If this is true, then he has managed to combine his attempt at noir with his penchant for the fantastic into something that rises above perceived genre trappings.

    While strong, the mysterious plot and the imaginative world Mieville has concocted often dominate the story to the point where the characters seem less important than the settings and situations they find themselves in. While I am glad he didnít resort to such tropes as the alcoholic divorced cop who only lives for the thrill of the case, the characters didnít have much back story of their own. This seemed strange and off putting at first, the more I considered the missing characterization the more I was glad Mieville didnít try and force a specific vision of Borlu or any of the other characters on us. By visualizing my own character concepts, I really got into the story itself and imagined myself walking side by side with Borlu down the city streets. Without realizing it, I had gotten lost in The City and The City and I was glad I did.

  10. #10
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    A few weeks ago I was driving home from the airport late on a Sunday night and was surprised to hear Chine Mieville on the radio - I hadn't even realised h'ed been in Australia. While he mostly talks about Lovecraft, he does some brief disussion of The City & The City towards the end. The podcast of the program can be found here:
    http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/triplej/...2009_08_23.mp3
    ...I'm not sure how far in Mieville is though.

  11. #11
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    I was mixed on this book.

    While I really liked the setting and the concepts surrounding it (the un-seeing, Breach, and so on), the characters and plot were lacking. As a crime-story, it was typical outside of the setting. I may be jaded here because I've read a lot of crime/mystery/hardboiled novels, but it was pretty fill in the blanks for the style. This is not to imply it was done poorly, just that it offered nothing new and wasn't memorable, and I've personally read many that were much better done and more creative in delivery and style. And the characters fell into that same trap for me. Everyone was functional but forgettable, and barely seemed to exist outside of their role in the novel. You know what they do, but not who they are.

    And that's really the thing with detective novels -- the characters and plot are what make them stand out. While this book had the advantage of an interesting setting, the two major hooks were mediocre. The book was enjoyable enough to read, though. It was by no means a chore, and at times it was real solid and kept me turning pages. But the only real reason I recommend it is because the setting is a cool idea.

  12. #12
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    I have had this on my shelf since May and I meant to read it when I got it. Worked out well. Will have to pick it up sometime soon...

  13. #13
    If I may quote myself from my August comments (http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showt...ndy#post539647):

    [Mieville's premise is laid] out explicitly and well from early on. Holding the premise together is a police procedural plot, complete with a harried inspector trying to act in good faith to find and punish whoever murdered the young woman, a visiting American student, even as he has to cross the border between. This approach grounds the story, providing the detail that keeps the premise from becoming too abstract, while giving the narrator, Inspector Borlu, the motive for looking deeper and deeper into the murder.
    The police procedural plot gives Mieville an anchor for the semblance of reality, as a means for focusing on the day-to-day actualities of such a strange arrangement, and as an excuse for a protagonist who needs to think about and take into account the behaviors of his countrymen and the countrymen of that other city, while simultaneously feeling the same social and legal pressure to conform. While I agree the characters didn't develop much past a certain point, I did think Borlu was a sufficient stand-in for Maigret (Georges Simenon, who I haven't read enough by) or Martin Beck (Wahloo and Sjowall, who I mean to reread), and I thought Mieville did a fine job of pointing out the differences in the cities and how those were reflected by the attitudes and actions of his characters. (Some of what I say here was also pointed out in a review by Gary Wolfe -- giving credit where it's due; or blame if you disagree with me.)

    The main thing, though, I think, is the contrast between Beszel and Ul Quoma (sp?). Mieville walks a tightrope here, and could easily have fallen into allegory, with the former standing in for old Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, with it's faded glories and sense of blue-collar acceptance of despair at the loss of its industry and economic hopes, and the latter resembling some of the wealthier Middle Eastern cities that lean toward secularism. But he manages to avoid that and gives each a mostly human face without effacing the politics and society that explains some of the attitudes and characteristics of his characters.

    I don't read a lot of police procedurals, but I did think this was a good blend of s.f./fantasy with that form and that Mieville used the form intelligently.

    Randy M.
    Last edited by Randy M.; September 4th, 2009 at 11:43 AM. Reason: Trying to make what I said make sense

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