Sunday, February 28, 2010
40 Days of Lent: Day Twelve
The City and The City
There is a city, Beszel, and another distinct city, Ul Qoma, that exists in the same space and time, as if one city is superimposed on or interweaven with the other. Residents in each city ignore the other, having learned how to not see or interact with them, even as they walk together, inches apart. It is a serious offence to travel between the two cities without permission. When it happens either intentionally or by accident, it is called “breach” and investigated by a creepy corps of the same name.
When the body of a resident of Ul Qoma turns up in Beszel, there’s nothing inspector Tyador Borlu would like more than to turn it over to Breach. But it is discovered to not be a case of breach, and Borlu, in the best tradition of detective fiction, has to solve a crime by moving in circles he doesn’t understand.
China Mieville’s novel exists within the genres of detective and speculative fiction just as the characters exist in two city-states. There is something appealing about a police procedural taking place in an initially unfamiliar world. With his superimposed cities, Mieville has found a metaphor for what living in urban areas is like, how you move without really seeing the other people around you. It’s also a meditation on how different cultures can exist side by side without understanding each other, whether western capitalist vs. communist or Judeo/Christian vs. Moslem.