RogerBW's Blog

The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders 06 March 2020

2019 SF. On a tidally-locked colony world that's slowly decaying, a few people will make a difference. But not necessarily in a good way.

I love this book for many reasons. But the thing I think I love most is the way that the people, more thoroughly than in anything else I've read for a while, are complicated people: they do good things without being heroes, they do bad things without being villains, they make and break promises, they pick sides based on insufficient information then have to live with their choices.

And there are interestingly alien aliens.

And there's a delve into the practicalities of living on a tidally locked world where the sun never moves in the sky, and humanity is confined to a narrow strip of more-or-less habitable land.

And there's practical politics and the theory of revolution.

"Everybody who's anybody will be there, and it's our chance to start getting an introduction to the right people," Bianca says in Argelan.

"I don't care about the right people," I breathe. "I'm just so happy to be here with you." I keep remembering how she said she would burn the world for me, and I'm so ready to set at least a few small fires—together.

For most authors a book with this much in it would be overcrowded, but Anders makes it work. Perhaps the story cuts off a little early, and no sequel is planned (though apparently there is to be a short story describing what happens next for some of the characters); but one can at least see by the end how things might work from here, how maybe this time they'll be able to overcome the cycle of revolution and decay.

"One time Natalie didn't look in the right place for the insignia and she accidentally robbed a guy with the Unifier crest. We had to stay underground for what felt like our whole lives. Oooh, there's my favorite building that we were paid to set on fire. Don't worry, nobody was inside at the time. You can still see the scorchmarks. Beautiful stripe shapes."

This seems to be a very polarising book, and it's certainly one that makes the reader work hard: there's no handy three-act "this is the problem, this is how we fail to deal with it, this is how we succeed" structure. But it still managed to satisfy me, and I'm usually quite vocal about wanting a conventional story shape.

Highly recommended.

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