02 November 2022

Two Novels, Two Cities, Two Sleeps

 I don't usually review books here (which is what I say every time I do) but I recently read two strange and excellent novels I want to tell you about.  Are they mysteries?  Well, let's say that the authors use the tropes of our genre for their own purposes.

China Mieville.  The City & the City. (2009) I heard about this book at Chicon, the World Science Fiction Convention, at a panel about great SF mysteries. 

We all know that two things cannot exist in the same time and space.  Don't try telling that to Inspector Tyador Borlú who is a police officer in the  East European city-state of Besźel.  It occupies the same territory as  Ul Qoma. From an early age the residents of both places are taught to "unsee" the people, vehicles, and even buildings of the "foreign" city they share space with.

In every other way the world of this book resembles our own.

Borlú's troubles begin when a young woman is found murdered on a Besź street.  She turns out to be a Canadian archaeology student who has been working on a dig in Ul Qoma and has no business being in his city, alive or dead.

The investigation into her death reveals shocking facts and even more mysteries.  Inevitably Borlú must travel to the "foreign" city that occupies the same land as his...

The  thing I like best about this book is a single word.  The hypothetical prehistoric event that caused the two cities to co-exist is called the "cleaving."  Of course, "to cleave" is to split. It is also to stick together.  If I was Mieville after I dreamed that up I would have stopped for a glass of champagne.

Robert Harris.  The Second Sleep.  (2019) 
In England the year is 1468.  Christopher Fairfax is a young priest on his first assignment: to say the funeral rites for a rural clergyman.  But arriving in the tiny village Father Fairfax makes two shocking discoveries: the older priest may have been a heretic, and he may not have died of natural causes.

Ho ho, I hear you say.  A medieval mystery.  Got it.

To which I must reply: You don't got nothin'. Harris is working in much different materials here.

If I were  a real reviewer I would have to decide now what type of spoilers to include, but I'm not one so all I will say is this: Harris has thought long and hard about his subject and anyone who reads this book will likely do the same.

I recommend them both to the adventurous reader.  

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