Better known for New Weird fantasies (Perdido Street Station, etc.), bestseller Miéville offers an outstanding take on police procedurals with this barely speculative novel. Twin southern European cities Beszel and Ul Qoma coexist in the same physical location, separated by their citizens' determination to see only one city at a time. Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad roams through the intertwined but separate cultures as he investigates the murder of Mahalia Geary, who believed that a third city, Orciny, hides in the blind spots between Beszel and Ul Qoma. As Mahalia's friends disappear and revolution brews, Tyador is forced to consider the idea that someone in unseen Orciny is manipulating the other cities. Through this exaggerated metaphor of segregation, Miéville skillfully examines the illusions people embrace to preserve their preferred social realities. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Miéville (Un Lun Dun; Perdido Street Station) tells vivid stories in the borderlands of literary fantasy, science fiction, and horror, and here he adds noir crime to the mix. Fittingly, his tale is set in the borderlands, creating a mysterious pair of cities somewhere on Europe's eastern edge. Beszel and Ul Qoma share the same ground, but their citizens are not allowed to react to one another, learning to "unsee" the other city and its inhabitants from a young age. Enforcing this division is a mysterious power called Breach. When an archaeology student is found dead, Inspector Tyador BorlAº gets caught up in a case that forces him to navigate precariously between the cities, perhaps into the sinister worlds that straddle them. It's a fascinating premise. Unfortunately, the cities, protagonist, and case remain stubbornly in the haze. For all genre fiction collections because Miéville is a trailblazer with a dedicated following, but this work is more an existential thought piece than a reading pleasure. [Library marketing.]
School Library Journal
A blend of near-future science fiction and police procedural, this novel is a successful example of the hybrid genre so popular of late. In a contemporary time period, two fantastical cities somewhere between Europe and Asia exist, not adjacent to one another, but by literally occupying the same area. Forbidden to acknowledge the existence of one another-a discipline imposed by the shadowy and terrifying entity known as Breach-residents in both cities have honed the ability to "unsee" people, places, and events existing in the other realm. This ticklish balance ruptures when Inspector Tyador BorlAº of the Extreme Crime Squad must investigate the murder of a foreign archaeological student. Long after the book's satisfying conclusion, astute readers will have much to ponder, such as the facility with which Authority can manipulate and repress a population and the attendant ills that life in such a society inevitably generate. Add in the novel's highly effective cover art and the result is a book that may appeal as much to a young, new-to-MiA©ville audience as it will to his loyal fans.-Dori DeSpain, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Fantasy veteran Mieville (Iron Council, 2004, etc.) adds a murder mystery to the mix in his tale of two fiercely independent East European cities coexisting in the same physical location, the denizens of one willfully imperceptible to the other. The idea's not new-Jack Vance sketched something similar 60 years ago-but Mieville stretches it until it twangs. Citizens of Beszel are trained from birth to ignore, or "unsee," the city and inhabitants of Ul Qoma (and vice versa), even when trains from both cities run along the same set of tracks, and houses of different cities stand alongside one another. To step from one city to the other, or even to attempt to perceive the counterpart city, is a criminal act that immediately invokes Breach, the terrifying, implacable, ever-watching forces that patrol the shadowy borders. Summoned to a patch of waste ground where a murdered female has been dumped from a van, Beszel's Detective Inspector Tyador Borlu learns the victim was a resident of Ul Qoma. Clearly, the Oversight Committee must invoke Breach, thus relieving Borlu of all further responsibility. Except that a videotape shows the van arriving legally in Beszel from Ul Qoma via the official border crossing point. Therefore, no breach, so Borlu must venture personally into Ul Qoma to pursue an investigation that grows steadily more difficult and alarming. Grimy, gritty reality occasionally spills over into unintelligible hypercomplexity, but this spectacularly, intricately paranoid yarn is worth the effort.
The City & the City is a stand-alone tale, set outside the cosmos for which Miéville has received the most acclaim, his Bas-Lag universe. This earlier series illustrated -- and in fact pretty much defined -- the type of fiction known as "New Weird."
Noted for its sense of radical estrangement and in-your-face bizarreness, the New Weird always faces a couple of hurdles in its conquest of the reader. First, too much oddity begins, paradoxically, to pall and seem stale. When all is fantastic, nothing is. Secondly, each bit of outrageousness demands to be topped, resulting in fiction that gets progressively louder and louder, within each book and from book to book inside the genre.
Interstitial fiction, however, salts naturalism and verisimilitude with a calculated and unpredictable leavening of the unreal, producing a continually oscillating mix of homey and alien that is more subtle and insidious. (But which also risks seeming wan and twee at its worst.)
Luckily for the reader, Miéville's previous experience with the rigorous and exacting brutalism of the New Weird allows him to keep a steady hand on his interstital tiller, so that he steers an undeviating course between the comfortingly familiar and the upsettingly strange.
The City & the City starts out as a Ruritanian police procedural (cue Avram Davidson's The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy). Somewhere in Middle Europe lies the city-state of Besźel -- naturally not to be found on any map in your conventional atlas, although Besźel slots neatly into contemporary global affairs. Van Morrison made a tour not long ago, after all, and Canada and the USA send foreign aid and investors.
In these vividly echt-Mitteleuropan streets, we encounter our narrator and protagonist, Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. His current case: the murder of an unidentified young woman, with the help of his assistant, the spunky and occasionally abrasive and foul-mouthed Lizbyet Corwi. (Curiously enough, the affectionately thorny relationship between the two cops recalls that between Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, in Brian Bendis's Powers graphic novels, another interstitial outing.) Borlú 's investigation faces the standard hurdles: uncooperative witnesses; false leads; pigheaded bureaucrats and unsympathetic superiors; dangerous perps; nutcases and flakes; the Inspector's own conflicted emotions. As police procedurals go, Miéville's venture is competent and engaging, but unexceptional.
But gradually, through subtle contextual allusions -- avoiding entirely the dreaded authorial info-dump -- the essential fantastical nature of the venue begins to assume coherent, startling and dominating shape.
Besźel is overlaid in enigmatic, never-fully-explicated fashion by a sister-state, Ul Qoma, which possesses a distinctly different cultural and political setup. At some point millennia ago, the two states were one. But then came the inexplicable Cleavage, a climacteric both physical and mental. Ever since, the citizens of each "overlapping magisterium" (to contort Stephen Jay Gould's famous phrase about the separation of science and religion) are prohibited from interacting on a daily basis, even in the slightest fashion. From earliest youth, individuals in Besźel are taught to "unsee" any parallel structures and events and people in Ul Qoma. The citizens of Ul Qoma do likewise. Any accidental or deliberate interaction between the two realms is deemed "breach," and is punished severely by the near-omnipotent agency of that same name.
And as Borlú gets deeper into his investigation, which involves officially sanctioned travel to Ul Qoma, he finds that the woman's death threatens the entire ontological and epistemological underpinnings of the ancient system, and also risks bringing Breach down upon his head. Central to the mystery is an apocryphal third city, Orciny, which mythically lives in the interstices between Besźel and Ul Qoam.
Once the whole apparatus is made sufficiently comprehensible (although surprises continue to erupt right up till the end), Miéville juggles both the police procedural aspects and the fantastical aspects of his hybrid narrative with a deft vigor. Borlú's consciousness, steeped in this odd tradition of irritably tolerated self-hypnosis and self-deception, becomes as intimately familiar to the reader as his own, and serves as our passport to this strange realm. At the same time, the quotidian details of Borlú's work and life serve as a mimetic anchor to the reader.
In evoking this alien yet human mentality through sheer immersion, Miéville follows in the footsteps of such science-fictional greats as Robert Silverberg (A Time of Changes); Gene Wolfe (The Book of the New Sun); Samuel Delany (the Return to Nevèrÿ on quartet); and Jeffrey Ford (the Well-Built City trilogy).
His deliberate employment of the twinned cities as a multivalent allegory for almost any polarity the reader cares to name -- East & West; Muslim & Christian; religion & science; socialism & capitalism; feeling & logic; tradition & modernity -- resonates with such metaphysically surreal and satirical authors as William Burroughs, Zoran Živković and Rupert Thomson, specifically the latter's Divided Kingdom. And Miéville's Phildickian messing with perceptions adds yet another layer to the cake.
To compact all this harmoniously into a single book, eschewing purity of any one genre, is the ambitious gameplan of interstitial fiction in general. Given Miéville's role as a bold and inspirational bellwether in the field, his tacit endorsement of this mode, championed by Delia Sherman et al, is an intriguing move in both his personal career and the development of the field.
But note the harsh lessons for would-be authors of such genre-crossing books conveyed by the subtext. Borlú experiences lack of support and comprehension from everyone around him, battles those who would deny his synthesis or his very right to propose such a merger, and in effect is completely broken down and deracinated before achieving his final transformation.
Whew! That's a heavy cross for any interstial aspirant to carry. But Miéville makes it all look as easy -- and as dangerous -- as committing breach. --Paul DiFilippo
Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul DiFilippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award -- all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle.
From the Publisher
“Daring and disturbing . . . Miéville illuminates fundamental and unsettling questions about culture, governance and the shadowy differences that keep us apart.”—Walter Mosley, author of Devil in a Blue Dress
"Lots of books dabble in several genres but few manage to weld them together as seamlessly and as originally as The City and The City. In a tale set in a series of cities vertiginously layered in the same space, Miéville offers the detective novel re-envisioned through the prism of the fantastic. The result is a stunning piece of artistry that has both all the satisfactions of a good mystery and all the delight and wonder of the best fantasy.”—Brian Evenson, author of Last Days
“If Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler's love child were raised by Franz Kafka, the writing that emerged might resemble China Mieville's new novel, The City & the City." —Los Angeles Times
“China Mieville has made his name via award-winning, genre-bending titles such as King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council. Now, in The City & the City, he sets out to bend yet another genre, that of the police procedural, and he succeeds brilliantly…. [An] extraordinary, wholly engaging read.” — St. Petersburg Times
“An eye-opening genre-buster. The names of Kafka and Orwell tend to be invoked too easily for anything a bit out of the ordinary, but in this case they are worthy comparisons.” — The Times, London
“Evoking such writers as Franz Kafka and Mikhail Bulgakov, Mr. Miéville asks readers to make conceptual leaps and not to simply take flights of fancy.”—Wall Street Journal
“An outstanding take on police procedurals…. Through this exaggerated metaphor of segregation, Miéville skillfully examines the illusions people embrace to preserve their preferred social realities.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review
“An excellent police procedural and a fascinating urban fantasy, this is essential reading for all mystery and fantasy fans.”—Booklist, starred review
“This spectacularly, intricately paranoid yarn is worth the effort.” — Kirkus, starred review
Read an Excerpt
I could not see the street or much of the estate. We were enclosed by dirt-coloured blocks, from windows out of which leaned vested men and women with morning hair and mugs of drink, eating breakfast and watching us. This open ground between the buildings had once been sculpted. It pitched like a golf course—a child’s mimicking of geography. Maybe they had been going to wood it and put in a pond. There was a copse but the saplings were dead.
The grass was weedy, threaded with paths footwalked between rubbish, rutted by wheel tracks. There were police at various tasks. I wasn’t the first detective there—I saw Bardo Naustin and a couple of others— but I was the most senior. I followed the sergeant to where most of my colleagues clustered, between a low derelict tower and a skateboard park ringed by big drum-shaped trash bins. Just beyond it we could hear the docks. A bunch of kids sat on a wall before standing officers. The gulls coiled over the gathering.
“Inspector.” I nodded at whomever that was. Someone offered a coffee but I shook my head and looked at the woman I had come to see.
She lay near the skate ramps. Nothing is still like the dead are still. The wind moves their hair, as it moved hers, and they don’t respond at all. She was in an ugly pose, with legs crooked as if about to get up, her arms in a strange bend. Her face was to the ground.
A young woman, brown hair pulled into pigtails poking up like plants. She was almost naked, and it was sad to see her skin smooth that cold morning, unbroken by gooseflesh. She wore only laddered stockings, one high heel on. Seeing me look for it, a sergeant waved at me from a way off, from where she guarded the dropped shoe.
It was a couple of hours since the body had been discovered. I looked her over. I held my breath and bent down toward the dirt, to look at her face, but I could only see one open eye.
“Not here yet, Inspector…”
“Someone call him, tell him to get a move on.” I smacked my watch. I was in charge of what we called the mise-en-crime. No one would move her until Shukman the patho had come, but there were other things to do. I checked sightlines. We were out of the way and the garbage containers obscured us, but I could feel attention on us like insects, from all over the estate. We milled.
There was a wet mattress on its edge between two of the bins, by a spread of rusting iron pieces interwoven with discarded chains. “That was on her.” The constable who spoke was Lizbyet Corwi, a smart young woman I’d worked with a couple of times. “Couldn’t exactly say she was well hidden, but it sort of made her look like a pile of rubbish, I guess.” I could see a rough rectangle of darker earth surrounding the dead woman—the remains of the ?mattress-?sheltered dew. Naustin was squatting by it, staring at the earth.
“The kids who found her tipped it half off,” Corwi said.
“How did they find her?”
Corwi pointed at the earth, at little scuffs of animal paws.
“Stopped her getting mauled. Ran like hell when they saw what it was, made the call. Our lot, when they arrived?.?.?.?” She glanced at two patrolmen I ?didn’t know.
“They moved it?”
She nodded. “See if she was still alive, they said.”
“What are their names?”
“Shushkil and Briamiv.”
“And these are the finders?” I nodded at the guarded kids. There were two girls, two guys. Midteens, cold, looking down.
“Early morning pick-you-up?”
“That’s dedication, hm?” she said. “Maybe they’re up for junkies of the month or some shit. They got here a bit before seven. The skate pit’s organised that way, apparently. It’s only been built a couple of years, used to be nothing, but the locals’ve got their shift patterns down. Midnight to nine a.m., chewers only; nine to eleven, local gang plans the day; eleven to midnight, skateboards and rollerblades.”
“One of the boys has a little shiv, but really little. Couldn’t mug a milkrat with it—it’s a toy. And a chew each. That’s it.” She shrugged. “The dope wasn’t on them; we found it by the wall, but”— shrug—“they were the only ones around.”
She motioned over one of our colleagues and opened the bag he carried. Little bundles of resin-slathered grass. Feld is its street name—a tough crossbreed of Catha edulis spiked with tobacco and caffeine and stronger stuff, and fibreglass threads or similar to abrade the gums and get it into the blood. Its name is a trilingual pun: it’s khat where it’s grown, and the animal called “cat” in En- glish is feld in our own language. I sniffed it and it was pretty low-grade stuff. I walked over to where the four teenagers shivered in their puffy jackets.
“’Sup, policeman?” said one boy in a Bes-accented approximation of hip-hop English. He looked up and met my eye, but he was pale. Neither he nor any of his companions looked well. From where they sat they could not have seen the dead woman, but they did not even look in her direction.
They must have known we’d find the feld, and that we’d know it was theirs. They could have said nothing, just run.
“I’m Inspector Borlú,” I said. “Extreme Crime Squad.”
I did not say I’m Tyador. A difficult age to question, this—too old for first names, euphemisms and toys, not yet old enough to be straightforward opponents in interviews, when at least the rules were clear. “What’s your name?” The boy hesitated, considered using whatever slang handle he’d granted himself, did not.
“You found her?” He nodded, and his friends nodded after him. “Tell me.”
“We come here because, ’cause, and…” Vilyem waited, but I said nothing about his drugs. He looked down. “And we seen something under that mattress and we pulled it off.”
“There was some…” His friends looked up as Vilyem hesitated, obviously superstitious.
“Wolves?” I said. They glanced at each other.
“Yeah man, some scabby little pack was nosing around there and…”
“So we thought it…”
“How long after you got here?” I said.
Vilyem shrugged. “Don’t know. Couple hours?”
“Anyone else around?”
“Saw some guys over there a while back.”
“Dealers?” A shrug.
“And there was a van came up on the grass and come over here and went off again after a bit. We ?didn’t speak to no one.”
“When was the van?”
“It was still dark.” That was one of the girls.
“Okay. Vilyem, you guys, we’re going to get you some breakfast, something to drink, if you want.” I motioned to their guards. “Have we spoken to the parents?” I asked.
“On their way, boss; except hers”—pointing to one of the girls—“we can’t reach.”
“So keep trying. Get them to the centre now.”
The four teens looked at each other. “This is bullshit, man,” the boy who was not Vilyem said, uncertainly. He knew that according to some politics he should oppose my instruction, but he wanted to go with my subordinate. Black tea and bread and paperwork, the boredom and striplights, all so much not like the peeling back of that wet heavy, cumbersome mattress, in the yard, in the dark.
Stepen Shukman and his assistant Hamd Hamzinic had arrived. I looked at my watch. Shukman ignored me. When he bent to the body he wheezed. He certified death. He made observations that Hamzinic wrote down.
“Time?” I said.
“Twelve hours-ish,” Shukman said. He pressed down on one of the woman’s limbs. She rocked. In rigor, and unstable on the ground as she was, she probably assumed the position of her death lying on other contours. “She ?wasn’t killed here.” I had heard it said many times he was good at his job but had seen no evidence that he was anything but competent.
“Done?” he said to one of the scene techs. She took two more shots from different angles and nodded. Shukman rolled the woman over with Hamzinic’s help. She seemed to fight him with her cramped motionlessness. Turned, she was absurd, like someone playing at dead insect, her limbs crooked, rocking on her spine.
She looked up at us from below a fluttering fringe. Her face was set in a startled strain: she was endlessly surprised by herself. She was young. She was heavily made up, and it was smeared across a badly battered face. It was impossible to say what she looked like, what face those who knew her would see if they heard her name. We might know better later, when she relaxed into her death. Blood marked her front, dark as dirt. Flash flash of cameras.
“Well, hello cause of death,” Shukman said to the wounds in her chest.
On her left cheek, curving under the jaw, a long red split. She had been cut half the length of her face.
The wound was smooth for several centimetres, tracking precisely along her flesh like the sweep of a paintbrush. Where it went below her jaw, under the overhang of her mouth, it jagged ugly and ended or began with a deep torn hole in the soft tissue behind her bone. She looked unseeingly at me.
“Take some without the flash, too,” I said.
Like several others I looked away while Shukman murmured—it felt prurient to watch. Uniformed mise-en-crime technical investigators, mectecs in our slang, searched in an expanding circle. They overturned rubbish and foraged among the grooves where vehicles had driven. They lay down reference marks, and photographed.
“Alright then.” Shukman rose. “Let’s get her out of here.” A couple of the men hauled her onto a stretcher.
“Jesus Christ,” I said, “cover her.” Someone found a blanket I don’t know from where, and they started again towards Shukman’s vehicle.
“I’ll get going this afternoon,” he said. “Will I see you?” I wagged my head noncommittally. I walked towards Corwi.
“Naustin,” I called, when I was positioned so that Corwi would be at the edge of our conversation. She glanced up and came slightly closer.
“Inspector,” said Naustin.
“Go through it.”
He sipped his coffee and looked at me nervously.
“Hooker?” he said. “First impressions, Inspector. This area,
beat-?up, naked? And…” He pointed at his face, her exaggerated makeup. “Hooker.”
“Fight with a client?”
“Yeah but…If it was just the body wounds, you know, you’d, then you’re looking at, maybe she won’t do what he wants, whatever. He lashes out. But this.” He touched his cheek again uneasily. “That’s different.”
He shrugged. “Maybe. He cuts her, kills her, dumps her. Cocky bastard too, doesn’t give a shit that we’re going to find her.”
“Cocky or stupid.”
“Or cocky and stupid.”
“So a cocky, stupid sadist,” I said. He raised his eyes, Maybe.
“Alright,” I said. “Could be. Do the rounds of the local girls. Ask a uniform who knows the area. Ask if they’ve had trouble with anyone recently. Let’s get a photo circulated, put a name to Fulana Detail.” I used the generic name for woman-unknown. “First off I want you to question Barichi and his mates, there. Be nice, Bardo, they ?didn’t have to call this in. I mean that. And get Yaszek in with you.” Ramira Yaszek was an excellent questioner. “Call me this afternoon?” When he was out of earshot I said to Corwi, “A few years ago we’d not have had half as many guys on the murder of a working girl.”
“We’ve come a long way,” she said. She wasn’t much older than the dead woman.
“I doubt Naustin’s delighted to be on streetwalker duty, but you’ll notice he’s not complaining,” I said.
“We’ve come a long way,” she said.
“So?” I raised an eyebrow. Glanced in Naustin’s direction. I waited. I remembered Corwi’s work on the Shulban disappearance, a case considerably more Byzantine than it had initially appeared.
“It’s just, I guess, you know, we should keep in mind other possibilities,” she said.
“Her makeup,” she said. “It’s all, you know, earths and browns. It’s been put on thick, but it’s not—” She vamp-pouted. “And did you notice her hair?” I had. “Not dyed. Take a drive with me up GunterStrász, around by the arena, any of the girls’ hangouts. Two-thirds blonde, I reckon. And the rest are black or bloodred or some shit. And…” She fingered the air as if it were hair. “It’s dirty, but it’s a lot better than mine.” She ran her hand through her own split ends.
For many of the streetwalkers in Bes´zel, especially in areas like this, food and clothes for their kids came first; feld or crack for themselves; food for themselves; then sundries, in which list conditioner would come low. I glanced at the rest of the officers, at Naustin gathering himself to go.
“Okay,” I said. “Do you know this area?”
“Well,” she said, “it’s a bit off the track, you know? This is hardly even Bes´zel, really. My beat’s Lestov. They called a few of us in when they got the bell. But I did a tour here a couple years ago—I know it a bit.”
Lestov itself was already almost a suburb, six or so k out of the city centre, and we were south of that, over the Yovic Bridge on a bit of land between Bulkya Sound and, nearly, the mouth where the river joined the sea. Technically an island, though so close and conjoined to the mainland by ruins of industry you would never think of it as such, Kordvenna was estates, warehouses, low-rent bodegas scribble-linked by endless graffiti. It was far enough from Bes ´zel’s heart that it was easy to forget, unlike more inner-city slums.
“How long were you here?” I said.
“Six months, standard. What you’d expect: street theft, high kids smacking shit out of each other, drugs, hooking.”
“Two or three in my time. Drugs stuff. Mostly stops short of that, though: the gangs are pretty smart at punishing each other without bringing in ECS.”
“Someone’s fucked up then.”
“Yeah. Or doesn’t care.”
“Okay,” I said. “I want you on this. What are you doing at the moment?”
“Nothing that can’t wait.”
“I want you to relocate for a bit. Got any contacts here still?” She pursed her lips. “Track them down if you can; if not, have a word with some of the local guys, see who their singers are. I want you on the ground. Listen out, go round the estate—what’s this place called again?”
From the Hardcover edition.