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The City in the Middle of the Night: 05/03/19

The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders is a delightful dense and complex science fiction novel. It's set on a planet with a rotation around the sun that is the same as its revolution, meaning the areas of day and night are fixed. Cities and cultures have adapted, though they may not be the most welcoming.

Though the world and world building is complex, Anders makes things more approachable by using simple English terms for complex ideas. The fun here is in reading the descriptions that lead to a mental picture that doesn't match the usual one.

The narrative is told from two points of view. The first is that of a student, Sophie, who is expelled from school and nearly executed for what should be a minor infraction. The second point of view is that of Mouth's, the sole survivor of a pioneering family, now living as a smuggler.

Sophie and Mouth's stories are personal ones. They have small parts in a much larger story, one of revolution. To me, this book reads like a pared down Dune but told from points of view of two of the supporting characters. And in place of Paul, there is a young woman.

I'm not going to go into the details of the revolution because I want you to read this novel. Instead, I'm going to point out how this book fits into the road narrative spectrum.

Like the co-protagonists of An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, Sophie and Mouth share roles as Scarecrow and Minotaur (99). Sophie, a product of the labyrinthine city feels trapped by it and is persecuted by it. She is therefore the Minotaur. Mouth, while having suffered greater personal losses, is free of the city and has come to provide help (for a fee). She is therefore the Scarecrow.

The destination is the city (00). It is also where most of the action takes place, though both do leave it and come back. The city is the be all and end all of this novel. In the spectrum, the city is the most obvious (and in some genres, the safest) destination. In this novel, not so much. The city is as dangerous as the wilderness, just differently so. It is oppressive. It is restrictive.

As bad as it is, though, is it a dystopia? Does it count as a utopia (no place) for the sake of the road narrative spectrum? I argue no, because from the points of view of Sophie and Mouth, the city, as terrible as it is, is mundane. It is a mappable, knowable place within the confines of their worldview.

Most of the travels these two protagonists take are through Sophie's city. While the city is circular, something they both mention, and while the Minotaur is associated with the labyrinth, the city and the planet are both too dangerous to be considered an easy path, or a transformative one. Therefore, the path is that of the maze (CC).

Put all together The City in the Middle of the Night is the tale of a scarecrow and a minotaur navigating the dangers of the maze to bring revolution to the city.

Four stars

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