Science Fiction books are something that I read as a teenager and moved away from, despite the realisation that they were often the books that pushed at the boundaries of knowledge and ideas - looking forward rather than back. I like books that explore ideas and China Mieville's name has been on my radar for some time, previous novels have been packaged as science fiction and have been called the new weird, but they remained in the science fiction/fantasy section but with the publication of 'The City and The City' it is perhaps time to take Mieville's novels and put them firmly in the modern literature section. This does not mean that we are being given reality as we know it reflected back to us, we are being given a reality which has been stretched thin and wrapped around a murder mystery!
The cities of the title are Beszel and Ul Qoma, they are located somewhere towards the Balkans in an otherwise identical world. Each city has it's own characteristics, food, fashion, colours and administrative systems. The point of departure from the conventional is that the two cities occupy the same physical space. The citizens of each city live their lives around the citizens of the other city having learnt to 'unsee' from an early age, the penalties for 'seeing' or Breach, being severe.
The book is narrated from the point of view of Inspector Borlu of the Beszian Extreme Crime Squad, a woman's body is found in a run down area of the city of Beszel and it soon becomes clear to Borlu that the murder involves the illegal passage between the two cities or Breach. The murdered woman is involved in an archaeological dig in Ul Qoma which is recovering mysterious artifacts, as the investigation progresses it becomes clear that the murdered woman had become convinced that there is a third city, Orciny, which exists in the spaces between Beszel and Ul Qoma unseen by the occupants of both cities and which wields power greater than that of Breach. As Borlu pursues his investigation he travels to Ul Qoma and both he and his Ul Qomaan counterpart slowly begin to believe that Orciny may be real. China Mieville has created a novel that deals with our modern busy crowded urban lives. We all 'unsee' things we don't want to see from the beggar in the street to that big chap coming towards us on a dark night. He has taken this idea and stretched it to create this engrossing murder mystery which offers us a view of how we deal with the chaos of life lived in the city.