Saturday, January 23, 2010

Readings — Cities

edited by Peter Crowther

This is something of an odd collection. The idea seems sound; four fantasy and SF novellas, by four well-known writers (Paul Di Filippo, China Miéville, Michael Moorcock, and Geoff Ryman), on the theme of cities. And certainly the results are never less than interesting. It’s just that the stories don’t really stick to the promised theme.

The first piece, Paul Di Filippo’s “A Year in the Linear City”, is certainly metropolitan enough. It follows a group of bohemians and drug addicts in a vast, perhaps endless, city. Filippo’s satirical, pulpy voice fits well with a story that is, well, pulpy and satiric.

China Miéville’s “The Tain” also works with the theme of cities. More or less. It takes place in a London devastated by a magical apocalypse. But its troubled hero and small group of survivors don’t seem really to have a lot to say to actual urban life. The setting is something that once was a city, in other words, but the environment doesn’t have the cohesive social structure of a real city.

Similarly, Michael Moorcock’s “Firing the Cathedral” is — well, it’s a Jerry Cornelius story. So it works through a kind of dream-logic, with coherence of setting minimal. Nominally it takes place in (a version of) London, but practically, as with Miéville’s piece, it has no real feel for a city’s life.

Geoff Ryman’s “V.A.O.” is a charmingly hard-boiled tale set in a futuristic retirement home. It’s clever, well-written, and seems to have nothing to do with cities at all. It does create the sense of a solidly-constructed world and community, and one based around a science-fictional conceit; but it’s the community of the retirement home, not the community (or communities) of a city.

So the book succeeds in presenting solid, quality fiction; it’s just that the stories don’t have a lot to do with the nominal theme. One wonders what the point was; it feels like something of a missed opportunity. Di Filippo’s story is the only one here that really conveys an urban feel, the only tale to create a living city, with its own personalities and controversies and economies. As I said, odd. Worth reading, though.

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