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Middlegame: 10/11/19


Middlegame by Seanan McGuire is a complex urban fantasy book with elements of time travel that uses the road narrative spectrum to build on similar themes to those present in her YA series, Wayward Children, but for an adult audience.

McGuire draws a wide range of fantasy and an understanding or familiarity of them will aide in the understanding and enjoyment of Middlegame. Some of these titles include: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1899),The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (1957), The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009), and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (2016).

For its aspects of time travel or temporal loops, if you will, it's a good companion read to All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (2017), Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking (2017), The Ghost Road by Charis Cotter (2018), Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen (2019), and This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (2019).

Imagine if you will that someone like Mary Shelley was an alchemist, capable of creating artificial life much like Victor Frankenstein. Imagine if this ability was also the key to harnessing the very fabric of the universe. To pass along the recipe for how to travel through time and space, she writes children's fantasy, describing the process metaphorically.

A hundred years after she creates her last being, that being is carrying on her work. He believes children are in fact the key to the universe, called The Doctrine. He's dividing up the inherent skills into different sets of manufactured twins who are then split apart to see if despite all the roadblocks placed in front of them, they are able to manifest their powers.

Roger and Dodger are two of these twins. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and she in Palo Alto, California. He loves words and language. She lives for math. On a particular day when Roger can't get through his times table homework, he hears Dodger's voice in his head, telling him all the answers.

What unfolds in the next four hundred pages is what puts the book in the road narrative spectrum. Now while Roger and Dodger are artificially created, they are genetic siblings (even if they don't know that for most of the book). Throughout, though, they insist that they are siblings, even before they have confirmation. Thus I'm counting them as sibling travelers (CC).

While their stated goal is to reach the "Impossible City" via the "Improbable Road." That hints that the destination would be utopia (FF) and the road would be a magical Blue Highway (33). But this isn't the case, despite stated goals.

Instead, the destination is uhoria (CC). Part of manifesting power is the ability to reset time. On numerous occasions, the siblings lose at their goal of gaining freedom from the people who made them, and as they are dying, reset time to try again. We know this through short chapter breaks interspersed with the longer narrative.

Finally there is the route to uhoria — or more precisely, to understanding and remembering all the previous times they've reset time in order to survive. The route to manifesting as the Doctrine, and to freedom, is via both the tkaronto and the cornfield (FF). The tkaronto is in the show down at the edge of the San Francisco Bay, while the cornfield is a walk through a literal cornfield to find a hideout.

Thus Middlegame is the tale of sibling travelers going to uhoria via the cornfield (CCCCFF).

Five stars

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