Skip to main content

Occasional Media Consumption: The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders

In an introduction to a book once, Neil Gaiman may have written it -- I'm not sure because my google-fu is failing me right now, but that's not the important part -- where the essayist points out that while yes, Moby-Dick is about man's inhumanity and also the relationships that we have with one another and what happens to us in extremis but, most importantly, it is also a book about a whale. The point being made was, of course, that truly excellent books are about something, but they are also about something. And that's the thing I keep coming back to again and again having read Charlie Jane Anders' The City in the Middle of the Night. There is a lot of things that this book is about, but it's also a book about first contact on an alien world. And if it didn't work on that fundamental level, it wouldn't work at all.

I'm not going to spoil anything, because I'm not an asshole, but I will say this: the tone and voice and flow of this novel is completely different from Anders' first novel, All the Birds in the Sky, and yet it is also clearly and exceptionally written by the same author. While Birds skirted the edges of fantastical and satirical, eventually resting on the continuum somewhere near Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency in terms of tone, City is much more grounded in the real. It's clear the author spent a lot of time thinking and researching this world, not because it's all laid out, but indeed because it's almost never laid out for you. This novel is a master-class in the Heinlein-esque property of "The door dilated."

The other thing that I can't get over is how brilliant and messy and human all the characters are. They're generous and selfish and silly and dumb and cowardly and brave... and then there's all the characters who aren't the main character... The tone of the world and the characters and how they move through the world they inhabit remind me of nothing so much as Kameron Hurley's work, especially her Bel Dame Apocrypha series. These are characters that you love, and also want to gently, lovingly bop on the side of the head, possibly with a frying pan.

Some stories are so frenetic that you end your reading panting, like you've just run a marathon. Some stories are languid, letting you take time to stretch out and really dive into the world and the characters. And some stories, like this one, maintain that interval-style pacing, where just when you think you can't go any faster, it stops for a moment to take a breath, let you get your legs, and then immediately takes off again. It's impressive and astounding and I want to read it again.

Like the very best Neal Stephenson works, City is by itself complete. There's no need for a sequel; everyone you know and have met is where they need to be, doing what they need to do, being exactly themselves, as they've showed you since the beginning of the book. But also like the best of Stephenson, City doesn't end with a neat denouement. Instead, it leaves that as an exercise for the reader; it recognizes that sometimes, the story is best served by stopping. It's tricky to get right, but Anders sticks the landing with aplomb.

There is a lot of great SF and Fantasy being written right now; nevermind the "golden age", the authors of today are a crowded field of brilliant works that blow previous generations away with their craft, their insight, and their brilliance. But it would not surprise me if in 10 years City has become a favourite read/reread for not just me, but for many SF fans.

I encourage you to pick it up and see for yourself.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What I Did This Weekend, And Why It Mattered

A while ago some friends of mine pointed out to me online that they were involved in a kickstarter that was live, so I went to check it out. And it was a kickstarter for a gaming convention in the Bay Area in October, and a whole bunch of people that I cared a bunch about were going to be involved and wanted it to succeed. And I was a bit flush that month, so I said 'fuck it' and I backed the kickstarter and that got me a ticket to BigBadCon 2018.

And so I had a ticket, and I made reservations, and bought a plane ticket, and everything was looking up. And then I broke my foot. And now I was mobility-limited. And then my mom died. And I had to go out of town and deal with all of that basically the week before the con, which included taking a bunch of unpaid time off from work. And I thought really seriously about not going, but then I was like: no, there are cool people there that you haven't seen in literal-years. And you've already spent the money. So I said 'fuck…

JoCoCruise: Remembering the Feeling

We drove up to Seattle, because there are no direct flights from Portland to Fort Lauderdale, but there are from Seattle to FLL. Here's the tricky bit: the nonstop Alaska flight from SEA to FLL is a redeye. It arrives at 6AM local time in Florida. Programming note: this was not a great idea.


I'm just too old to do redeyes; I can't sleep and I can't go without sleep and this makes me very, very cranky. Our next trip out to Fort Lauderdale will have to be done differently, for sure. The flight had several mechanical difficulties which resulted in us not taking off for more than two hours, including 90 minutes sitting on the tarmac at the gate while they double-checked everything to make sure things weren't going to break. That was actually fine with me; the longer we waited to take off, the later we landed. (I have a whole bit in my talk about Support about five nines and moving parts and the 737 so I'll spare you the repeat and let you watch it yourself here.) M…

So Here's The Thing: Far Cry 5

I have never really been a big player of the Far Cry series. First-person shooters aren't really my bag, unless they're the wrapper for a really cool story or RPG-alike game that I really want to play. The closest I came to really getting into FPS are games like the new Fallout series, or some parts of Mass Effect, but given that those are mostly over-the-shoulder games, I was never really the audience for the FC franchise.

This was especially true given the troublesome politics of the FC series games: the protagonist was some rando silent white dude avatar with a gun fetish and a remit to kill as many brown people as possible. This is also, btw, why I don't play games like Call of Duty or SpecOps or those other sorts of FPS games. So when Far Cry 5 was first announced and it was going to be set in rural Montana and the big bad was going to be a religious cult figure, and more than that the player would have the option to play as a woman of colour, suddenly they had my inte…