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Science Fiction & Fantasy Month: The City & The City by China Miéville

March 27, 2011




 When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlú must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other.


Whilst working at the Cheltenham Literature Festival 2010 I got the chance to see China Miéville – an author that, if I’m honest, at the time I didn’t really know much about. However, I think I can safely say that every single bookseller and volunteer there was in awe of him. Not only was he clearly the nicest author there, who took all the time in the world to talk to those who loved his work, but he has a very particular presence about him that just oozes intelligence and talent. Somehow, you just know you are in the presence of someone truly inspirational and whose book you simply have to pick up! Which is exactly what I did. For those of us that were not dedicated science fiction readers, he recommended The City and the City – which merges both the science fiction and crime genres together.

It has taken me months to get the courage to delve into the world Miéville has created within The City and the City – almost afraid that it would not live up to my expectations, that the book would somehow soil my opinion of the man I met just a few months ago.

The City and the City is Miéville’s sixth novel and was published in 2009. It won the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award, the 2010 Hugo Award, and 2010 World Fantasy Award. As I said earlier, this novel mixes the two genres of crime and science fiction together, which if you’re not a huge science fiction reader like myself – it may certainly appeal to you more.

Unfortunately I found myself struggling through the first one hundred pages of this novel. Although superbly written, it did at times lose me with a lot of the descriptions of these two cities – Besźel and Ul Qoma – which somehow share the same geographical space. It is extremely hard to get your head around. Miéville has created a world with its own politics, and its own history. People from Besźel are not allowed to look at those from Ul Qoma or they will be taken by a powerful and mysterious group called Breach. Breach patrol everything in the two cities and the only way you can cross from one city to the other is by legally crossing the border.

Once you almost give in to Miéville’s writing, and delve into this world you stop questioning just how weird it all is. Miéville is a master at drawing you in, making you forget reality and simply accepting everything he is telling you. There was a point where I stopped wondering what the hell was going on, and just went along for the ride, and this is where it truly became gripping.

I could not put it down and finished it within two days. Miéville’s writing is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The plot had enough twists and turns, enough intrigue to keep me reading on and I was extremely sad to say goodbye to the characters he has created. There were definite elements inspired by the likes of George Orwell and Raymond Chandler, but where Orwell’s 1984 failed to hold my interest (and yes I’m probably one of the few who found it dull) Miéville has given me a new-found appreciation for the Science Fiction genre (or Weird Fiction as Miéville apparently likes to call it).

I urge everyone to read this whether you like Science Fiction or not. Miéville has created something unique that will make you question whether Orwell’s 1984 really was that great in comparison.

It almost makes me laugh now to think how worried I was to read this. I wonder how I ever doubted Miéville in the first place, but now I can certainly say for sure that my opinion of him has grown ten times that of what it was before. I look forward to reading more of his work.


What others had to say about The City & The City: 

“As in no previous novel, the author celebrates and enhances the genre he loves and has never rejected. On many levels this novel is a testament to his admirable integrity. Keeping his grip firmly on an idea which would quickly slip from the hands of a less skilled writer, Miéville again proves himself as intelligent as he is original” 

–          The Guardian

“It deserves an audience among those who would run a mile from his other books: it is fantastic in the careless, colloquial sense, too.” 

–          The Spectator

“It sparks thought in a way that more conventional novels would never dare to.” 

–          The Daily Telegraph

China Miéville’s latest novel Embassytown is due for publication on 6th May 2011. I will be reading and reviewing this over the coming month.

Related Websites

China Mieville’s Blog

China Mieville: Pan Macmillan

China Mieville: Books That Made Me


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