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

Posted: March 7, 2019 in Book Reviews, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , ,

(The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders. Tor, 2019, $26.99, 366 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

(Warning: mild spoilers follow.)

I wanted and expected to like this book, due to its author. A couple of years ago I read in an anthology one of her short stories, which I thought was both inventive and funny. More importantly, I admired her work editing the io9 sci-fi site; while she was editor there was always something worth reading: news about upcoming sci-fi novels, well written pieces on science by the likes of Annalee Newitz and George Dvorsky, plus occasional insightful social commentary.

Of course, most of the material on the site was awful, junk on superheroes and manga and the like, but there was enough meat to make the site worth perusing frequently. Now that Anders has left, the site features 100% dreck.

So, I had fairly high expectations when I opened this book, among them that Anders would have a lot to say politically and socially, that the story would be well crafted, and that there would be at least some humor in it.

Those expectations crashed and burned. This is one of the most ineptly written novels I’ve ever read. Contrary to expectations, Anders has nothing to say politically or socially. Nothing. And as far as craft? OMG.

She had a very promising social/political set-up (rigidly authoritarian city vs. a totally “free” city), and she totally wasted that opportunity. Instead of exploring the ways a free society could be organized (anywhere from anarcho-capitalist to anarcho-communist), she chose to do no exploration whatsoever, just (badly) describing it as boss-run. It would be hard to come up with a more meager description of an alternative economic/political system.

Beyond that, the action sequences are poorly written, often difficult to follow and awkward. At one point, during a pirate attack, two of the protagonists take two-thirds of a page for a heart-to-heart melodramatic talk about their feelings.

Even beyond that, Anders does nothing to bring her supposed horrors to life. Nothing. For instance, the homicidal “bison,” who play a key role, have mono-filament mouths and are big. And that’s it. No description beyond that.

As well, there are altogether too many coincidences and unexplained events.

Add to that that the two alternating p.o.v. characters, Sophie and “Mouth,” are entirely duochromatic (Sophie — hopelessly naive and romantic — and “Mouth” — hopeless, longing, and angry.) That’s it.

There’s also a weird lesbian tension throughout the book that’s never resolved and in the end is quite irritating. Who cares? But please stop hinting around and just fucking do it. Please.

As well, the physical world is ineptly described. At one point, a “typhoon” passes in moments, and a “sea” is supposedly “fished out,” apparently by fisherfolk in small boats.

You get the idea. It seems as if Anders just slapped this book down on the page, didn’t bother to revise the first draft, and Tor didn’t bother to edit it.

Very much not recommended.

 

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