Waterstone's Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

Waterstones Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

"This is space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a *final* frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier *to*, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate...)"
- Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

About Us

This is the official blog for the book club held in the book lounge of Waterstones Liverpool One.

The group meet at 6pm on the first Monday of the month to discuss their thoughts and opinions on the books selected. The books range from classic fantasy to brand new science fiction short story collections.

It's a fun and friendly atmosphere and all are welcome: from those who have never read any science fiction or fantasy before, to those who don't read anything else.

The group, and this blog, are administered by Glyn Morgan, the Bookseller responsible for the Science Fiction section of the store and an avid reader of SF who is currently studying for his PhD at the University of Liverpool.

If you would like to comment on any of the books we've read, this month or in the distant past, please feel free to contribute to the comments section of the relevant posts.

Visit this club's little sister: Coffee and Comics

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The City and The City by China Miéville


When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other. The City and The City won the 2010 BSFA award for Best Novel, the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Novel (a record breaking third for Miéville), and tied with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl for the 2010 Hugo award for Best Novel. It has also been nominated for World Fantasy Award and Nebula Awards in the same category.

What Did We Think?

 China Miéville is continuously praised for the strength of his world building. This is showcased in The City and The City in a manner which is in some ways more obvious than in other novels. The reason for this is that what Miéville has written is essentially a straight-forward crime plot set against the background of the amazing and yet seemingly real cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma.

The straight crime plot was where at least one reader fell out with the book, as we discussed there is a case for saying the book is infact neither science fiction nor fantasy, despite accolades from both camps! If you don't like crime fiction it's unlikely that you'll love The City and The City as it conforms to many of the clichés of the genre, especially in terms of characters' relationships: we see both the classic detective-sidekick relationship, and the detective-fish out of water foreign ace detective tropes repeated here, as is the fact that the strongest female character is the murder victim who never actually appears on stage as a character (at least a living one).

Despite this potential flaw all agreed that the novel had a good strong story, interesting characters and strong pacing. The complexities of the world Miéville has created, which I dare not describe in too much depth here for fear or ruining someone else's experience, are enthralling and reading the book can be compared to being a detective in novel as you work out the intricacies of the location. That said, the concept is so complex that some struggled with the first third or so of the novel and it was suggested (although not unanimously agreed) that some form of introductory short story which established the city from the point of view of an outsider would have been beneficial. Whether this would have detracted from, or added to, the experience of reading the novel was a point of contention.

Whether there was a better way of presenting the city or not, it was certainly a heavily detailed setting which many of us wanted to return to. There were interesting discussions about the possibility of the place (hence it not really being science fiction or fantasy), referencing experiments by Quirkology and real world examples of cultural fragmentation within urban areas (something which clearly influenced the novel).

Overall it was a enjoyable, even lovable novel, which whilst challanging was a rewarding read. However, it is still very much a piece of crime fiction and if you're not a fan of Raymond Chandler then you likely won't like this. That said, the setting is engaging enough that it could still win you over.

Votes were as follows: 10, 9, 8, 8, 7, 4


On a personal note: despite ranking this book highly and loving the act of reading it. I wouldn't reccomend it as an introduction to Miéville's fiction, largely for the negative reasons outlined above, if you have the time to tackle such a large book - Perdido Street Station is a superior novel and a massively rewarding read.- Glyn

NEW: Watch a video of China Miéville himself talking about The City and The City here.


  1. For reasons of my own foolishness (totally lost track of the day!) I missed the discussion on this one and was really disappointed as I was looking forward to hearing everyone else's opinion on it. For my self it was absolutely not what I was expecting - and I think that as I was reading it 'expecting' SF meant I had a couple of false leads but that kept it interesting. I think I enjoyed the quality of the writing perhaps a little more than the story itself but that was because all the bits I was really interested were the background to the Cities - How did it get to be that way?! I'll look for more of his books though.

    Did anyone else see a similarity with Iain Banks?

    I'd have given it a 7 I think.


  2. Hey Elanor, sorry you couldn't make it.

    Glad you enjoyed the book on some level, as I say in the footnote to the summary - if you enjoyed the writing more than the plot you simply *have* to find time to read "Perdido Street Station". Can't say I got a Banksian vibe, but then it's my not-so-secret shame that I've not read very much Banks at all - maybe an author we could explore in a future reading?

    I agree the background was fascinating and its one of the frustrating things about Miéville that he draws you into these amazing worlds and never quite answers *all* of your questions about them. But then, thats also one of the reasons I love his writing, it gives you plenty to mull over even after you close the book on the last page.

    Hopefully see you next month!

  3. I, in wonderful hindsight, would like to add although had issues with the story being a detective novel, i did, and do, still find Asimov novels concerning Elijay Baley and the enematic R. Daneel Olivaw excellent science fiction material whilst compling almost to the syntax with the detective genre. i believe that it is the setting which is the problem. i have read many similar ideas concerning two cities one space and it is perhaps with blinkered vision that i expected City the City to follow my own set ideas, what i missed was the 'magic' moment when the new city is visited, no flashing lights or transporter beam for instance, it was just stamp your passport and your in. i know this is a perfect valid use of the two cities - it just does not sit right. as an aside concerning the two cites in the same space, try looking at everything you see when out doing normal things, its amazing what you actually ignore as part of any journey even walking down a street, noticed shops not knew existed and buildings which swear where not there the day before

  4. I'm pleased to note from my current issue of interzone that this book has deservedly picked up the World Fantasy Award for BestNovel 2010