Saturday, July 11, 2020

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders

Tor Books, ISBN 9780765379962, February 2019

The planet of January is tidally locked, one side endless, blazing daylight, and the other endless, frozen night. There are two human cities on January, in the narrow temperate zone. They're cities of very different cultures. 

Xiosphant is rigidly autocratic, with very tight rules governing waking, sleeping, work, the limited amount of leisure time available. The language is complex, with case forms that indicate social rank of speaker and of the person addressed, time of day, and numerous other details.

Argelo superficially appears to be without rules, and in reality is run by several Mafia-like families, and its own complex social conventions. There are no rules about when you can eat, work, or sleep, and the language lacks all the complex case forms, working entirely by word-order.
Sophie and Bianca are students at the Gymnasium in Xiosphant, a very distinguished school of higher education. Bianca is from an upper class family. Sophie is a scholarship student in this very class-conscious society. They are roommates, and very idealistic, and active in underground student political activities. This ultimately leads to Sophie being seized for a very minor crime Bianca committed, and forced out of the city into the night side, where she will freeze to death. Except, instead she meets the Gelet, and survives.

Mouth and Alyssa are members of the Resourceful Couriers, smugglers conducting illegal trade between Argelo and Xiosphant. Mouth is the last survivor of the Citizens, who were nomads traveling between the cities and whatever other patches of habitable places with useful things that they could find. They didn't consider themselves smugglers, but others probably did. They were wiped out in a horrible attack by blue things from the sky, when Mouth had been off gathering something. Alyssa is Jewish, a native of Argelo, and Mouth's sleep partner among the Resourceful Couriers--they watch each other's backs against the dangers of the road.

Sophie's encounter with the Gelet changes her, and when she returns to Xiosphant, she stays away from Bianca and other students, remaining in hiding and working for Hernan in the Illyrian Parlour. This avoidance of Bianca has consequences for both of them, later.

There's political intriguein Argelo, too, and these disparate sets of people come together, not exactly in harmony, and they, their cities, and the Gelet collide in ways both expected and unexpected. The humans and the Gelet can't survive without each other, and it's not clear they'll be able to come together in useful ways.

I'm not nearly doing justice to this excellent, absorbing book. I haven't said a lot about the Gelet because saying what I want to involves spoilers. They're fascinating beings, and it's not really a surprise that first contact didn't go all that well.

Highly recommended.

I received this book as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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