The City and The City

Well, that’s China’s new book read, and very fine it is too. I’m now expecting to see a whole bunch of reviews arguing over whether it is actually a science fiction or fantasy book at all. Obviously it is a mystery novel. People will get themselves all mixed up over the presence or absence of fantastical elements. And that will be magnificently ironic because the book is all about our obsession with categorization.

The City & The City is set in a city occupied by people of two different cultures. So determined are they to keep to their own ethnic identities that they train themselves from birth to see only people of their own culture, and buildings that are in “their” city. They even have laws specifying what color clothing people in each “city” may wear. While the book is obviously about multiculturalism, the same argument can be extended to issues such as gender, and even to fandom. I am sure that there are people who attend Worldcon convinced that it is only for science fiction fans, people who have trained themselves not to see fans of any other genre at the convention. And I know this is true because every time a “fantasy” book gets nominated for the Best Novel Hugo someone complains that this is wrong because the Hugos are “only” for science fiction.

Ah well, maybe China will manage to get a few more people to think. I hope so. And obsession with categories is a dangerous thing.