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