Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reed's Local- The City and the City

The Reed's Local Book Club meets at one of the finest Avondale dive bars. While not an SF/F club by definition, some of its picks have slanted that way, and I joined them for their discussion of China Miéville's The City and the City

If you haven't read "The City and the City" yet, you really should. A procedural murder mystery with some decidedly weird twists, it takes place in two cities that share the same geographical space. Notes and possible spoilers below!

  • We started off talking about mystery novels as junkfood, the way the procedural murder plot really moves things along—even in a world as convoluted as this.
  • We liked the very slow world-building reveals, the way that the cities' nature is kind of a secondary mystery: it's not mysterious to the narrator, but we as readers are trying to figure out how and why this world works at least as much as we're interested in the murder.
  • I talked a bit about my recent work on anti-fantasy and how "The City and the City" is a prime example.
  • We were extremely interested in the idea of Orciny and insiles, and compared them to District 13 from "The Hunger Games".
  • Also obviously interested in Breach and their powers, and compared foreigners breaching to stereotypical Americans causing crime abroad because they don't take local laws seriously. Looking at you, Ryan Lochte.
  • Really cool discussion of unseeing and how it becomes more believable when you think about it in your own life—in elevators, on the train—and we talked about the experience of having family or friends in from out of town who don't know how to unsee people.
  • We liked the light use of familiar cop-show tropes, like the grizzled vet/energetic rookie pairing, and the partner-from-another-culture, antagonists-turned-buddy-cop.
  • Tons of talk about how the separation of the two cities would actually work—the colors, the clothes & styles. Also talked about the two cities as analogies or allegories for caste systems, or actual divided cities like Jerusalem. Noted that Miéville purposefully undercuts this reading, though, and has elsewhere noted his feelings on allegory.
  • Also we really liked that the book admits that "Cleavage makes an unfortunate English pun".
  • Talked a bit about other terminology here, including how crosshatching works and where the term comes from.
  • We were struck by the idea of being surrounded by people you're not allowed to see, and how that is kind of a perpetual haunting.
  • We really liked that in many ways Mahalia solves her own murder, and Ty just has to piece her notes back together.
  • Talked about Bowden's character, compared to shady professorial types in "Veronica Mars". I also noted that the "ethically compromised scholar" is a recurring figure in Miéville—see "Embassytown" and "The Scar", for instance.
  • Comparisons made to uncanny mysteries like Tana French's "The Likeness" and Emma Cline's "The Girls".
A great book, and a fun meeting! Join the Reed's Local Facebook group if you're interested—and also note that they often discuss a book in two parts, which is interesting. Members of Reed's Local are also responsible for the Belmont Book Review, and have some crossover with Bucket Of Blood's horror & science fiction clubs.

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