This book has been causing thoughts since I finished it a couple of days ago. About cities, and what we see and don't see. And how those kinds of seeing are conditioned.
And then something happened yesterday that was both funny and a little frightening, illustrating exactly how much I might be missing as I walk down the streets of my city. My husband and I were walking towards the local gaming store, towards the lures of Free RPG Day, talking. I would have thought that I was fully aware of my surroundings, but...apparently not.
Because we somehow missed one of our closest friends walking down the street towards us, waving his arms in the air to attract our attention. It wasn't until we were turning a corner and he yelled out our names that I stopped, backtracked, and merrily said hello. I certainly wasn't trying to not see him, but I literally hadn't noticed someone half a block away, waving his arms in the air, trying to attract my attention.
So if I'm missing that, what else am I missing? What else am I conditioned to miss? How did that happen in the first place?
Seeing and unseeing in Ul Qoma and Beszel may be formally taught, but they do mimic something we do anyway, the people we try not to see, or truly don't see. The way that the surprising can walk right past us without anyone noticing, become the panda in the scene.
So with that experience under my belt, I sit down to write a review of The City and The City
. I meant to write this review yesterday morning, but actually forgot and wrote another instead. It was like my brain was waiting for me to have that experience later in the day before it would let me do it.
Beszel and Ul Qoma occupy the same physical space, but they are two very different cities. One is modern, full of fluorescent lights, in the middle of an economic boom. The other is has a depressed economic situation, and different architecture. Ul Qoma seems to have a Middle Eastern vibe, while Beszel seems more Eastern European. And you live in one. Only one. You are allowed in only one. Crossing over in one of the areas where the cities intersect brings down the shadowy power of Breach, which can make you disappear and never reappear. Breach, however, can be as simple as staring somewhere you shouldn't be staring. You see what is in your city, and you work like hell not to see the other.
And in these cities, overlapping yet separate, a murder occurs, a young America graduate student's body is found in Beszel. But the lead Besz detective, Tyador Borlu, discovers that the woman was killed in Ul Qoma. A case of breach in the crime? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Despite the fact that he should turn this over to Breach, Tyador can't help prodding at it, working away at the edges. He uncovers nests of unificationists, who want the cities reunited and one once more. Nests of ultra-nationalists, for whom their city is the only city that matters.
But the murdered woman was looking into a third city, the stuff of legend, long rumoured to exist in a further space between the spaces of Ul Qoma and Beszel. Orciny. Does it exist? If it does, how has it kept itself secret? What powers would its occupants hold?
This is, at its core, an oldfashioned mystery, and a damned good one, packed full of ideas that spun my brain around and kept me occupied even when I wasn't actively reading it. If not as dense in vocabulary as I was expecting, given Mieville's reputation, it was stuffed with challenging and unsettling notions.
I don't want to say much more, because the mystery is such a good one, twisty and yet, when revealed, perfectly in keeping. But the mental stress of living in such a divided city, and the thoughts about seeing and not seeing, that is what will stay with me the longest.
For what city is not a divided city?
Crossposted to Smorgasbook