The City & the City by China Miéville, Ran­dom House, 312 pages

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - — Robert Ben­ziker

Besz´el is one strange city. Ac­tu­ally, it’s two strange cities. No, not like Dal­las-FortWorth. It’s more like if Dal­las and FortWorth oc­cu­pied the same area and over­lapped in our per­cep­tions, and we could il­le­gally travel be­tween the two of them at var­i­ous “cross-hatched” sec­tions— so long as we made sure not to ever look at the city we weren’t in, lest we in­cur the wrath of Breach. Such is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the East­ern Euro­pean city of Besz´el and its more mod­ern coun­ter­part, Ul Qoma, as imag­ined by China Miéville. Nat­u­rally, it takes a good deal of ex­po­si­tion to make all this clear, and Miéville sadly uses the unique lo­ca­tion(s) to tell a po­lice pro­ce­dural— a genre that also en­tails lots of ex­po­si­tion. When a body shows up in Besz´el, in­spec­tor Tyador Borlú is as­signed the case. But did the mur­der hap­pen in Besz´el or Ul Qoma? His in­ves­ti­ga­tion takes him through both cities and brings him into con­tact with fac­tions want­ing ei­ther in­de­pen­dence or uni­fi­ca­tion— there are even those who be­lieve there is a third, hid­den, city in­ter­sect­ing the other two. Al­though the novel cross-hatches with Philip K. Dick’s mi­lieu of sci­ence-fic­tion noir, Miéville lacks Dick’s sense of hu­mor. De­spite the imagination on dis­play, the book is a slog, and Miéville misses an op­por­tu­nity to com­ment on the mod­ern­iza­tion of East­ern Europe.

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