If You Think Science Fiction Should Make You Ask Yourself Tough Questions...

The City in the Middle of the NightThe City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's tough to review this one without spoilers and still convey the essentials, because the worldbuilding is so unique, so let me give a one-liner first and you can choose to move on if you wish: I give this an unqualified recommendation! Don't wait. Go read it. This is a brilliant story with identifiable characters (even the aliens) and a clever, twisted plot. AND, yeah, the world Anders creates is hostile, alien, and is written so you are immersed at once.

I'll still try to avoid spoilers, but if I fail, all apologies...

Great character-driven story set on a tidally locked planet, January, the target of human colonization, which is also the home of an intelligent civilization of the Genet, who are completely integrated into the forbidding planet's ecosystem. The story focuses on two pov characters, Sophie and Mouth (forever in pursuit of her real name... I especially liked how the *innocent* traveler actions were juxtaposed with the impact on the Genet), who are intertwined through many threads and a supporting cast of friends and betrayers. I'm disappointed the story ended, because I hoped we might return to January to see how they all work out.

It's more than that, though. Sophie's relationships, both with her own kind and the Genet, delve into the nature of friendship, personal sacrifice, and (for a brief crucial moment) rejection of an idealized, conjured perfection. Sophie's loss becomes our loss, her pain ours. Anders makes you feel it, but the writing is clinical. For better or worse, neither Sophie nor Mouth are ones to second guess their conclusions.

Anders's worldbuilding is intricate and convinces, the future history frightens (yet is also hopeful in how the characters respond to adversity), and the alien "persistent mayfly" culture is brilliant in execution. Even before there was writing to make it permanent, humans preserved our culture through storytelling. The Genet keep history alive literally the same way, just to an extreme, because each one experiences everything always. In fact, the book is much about our perceptions of history, because Mouth's tribe also had their version locked in the tower.

It's a very disarming book, and you'll think about it after you read it and ask yourself about your tribe's impact on the world, what your history means (the pluses and minuses), and whether it's worth fighting and killing for...

I swallowed this book whole and after moving on (but have I really? LOL), I realize I'm still famished. More please. ;-)


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