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

Titan Books, 2019 , 485 p. Published in Interzone 282, May-Jun 2019.

 The City in the Middle of the Night cover

We start with a “Translator’s Note” telling us terms have been rendered into Peak English. This both frames the narrative and explains the use of “archaic Earth terms” for alien creatures and the recognisability of characters’ names.

The story itself takes place on January, a planet tide-locked to its star. Its human occupants, who still regard the arrangements on the Mother Ship that brought them there as significant, inhabit the narrow band between scorching Day and freezing Night (wherein monsters lurk.) The ship’s technology that at first sustained them has long been failing though and there are signs the environment is beginning to collapse – corrosive alkaline rain, sudden tornados. The novel’s events are situated mainly in Xiosphant – a repressive rules-based city, “nothing in this city is ever supposed to change” – and Argelo, which is much looser in organization and attitudes (“the city that never sleeps,”) with some scenes in the wildernesses between. Within the book’s seven parts alternate chapters see events from the first person, present tense viewpoint of Sophie, a would-be revolutionary in Xiosphant, and the third person, past tense perspective of Mouth, who thinks she is the last survivor of a society of Travellers known as the Citizens and is lately a member of a band of smugglers calling themselves the Resourceful Couriers, so knows the ways between the cities.

Sophie takes the blame for a theft by Bianca, her friend for whom it is obvious to the reader (though not spelled out in the narrative till near the end) she has deep feelings. As punishment, Xiosphant’s Police Force ejects Sophie from the city into the night to die. A strange encounter with a creature known to January’s humans as a crocodile (though its physical characteristics are very different from that Earth animal) saves her. During this she is somehow enabled to see the creature’s memories, including one of a complex city situated somewhere out in the night.

Mouth is exercised by the destruction of the Citizens, which she witnessed from a distance, especially since it was before they could bestow a name on her. Her attempt to secure their book of customs from Xiosphant’s Palace coincides with the failure of the revolutionaries’ take-over. She, Sophie, Bianca and others have to flee across the Sea of Murder to reach Argelo. This involves curiously cursory action scenes accompanied by extended, and hence unconvincing, dialogue. Sophie’s connection to the crocodiles (whom she names the Gelet) helps save most of them and she receives a bracelet which thereafter keeps drawing her to the night and the Gelet.

The contrast between life in Xiosphant and Argelo is marked but Mouth learns more of her background from a former Citizen, Barnabas, who left the group after achieving enlightenment, “‘The point of religion is to keep trying to reach someplace, the last thing you want is for someone to feel like they’ve reached it.’”

As far as the Science-Fictional meat of all this goes Sophie and Mouth eventually do arrive at the city in the middle of the night – but not until almost four-fifths of the way through the book. In the city they learn of the importance of the Gelet to January’s bio-friendliness – not just from transmitted memories but from a recording left by one of January’s earliest humans, “‘These natives seem to regard geoengineering and bioengineering as two branches of the same discipline.’” A tidal-locked planet would require an air-conditioning system to circulate hot air from the near side to the far side to avoid weather instability and atmospheric disruption. “‘These creatures seem to have created something better, using networked chains of flora and fauna.’” Also revealed is the crucial role the useful substance, known to the Citizens as nightfire since it glowed in the dark, played in stabilising the planet’s biosphere and in the Citizens’ demise. The Gelet’s interest in Sophie is to use her as a bridge between civilisations. She willingly accepts the sacrifice required.

A thought that speaks perhaps to the twenty-first century reader’s awareness is, “‘Progress requires us to curate the past, to remove from history things that aren’t ‘constructive.’ I don’t know if our power to forget makes humans stronger, more self-destructive, or maybe both.’”

The novel starts off intriguingly but it becomes clearer as we go on that the author’s interest is not so much in her imagined world, or her plot, as in the societies and interactions she is depicting – good stuff, but lacking something in urgency. And the book doesn’t so much end as just stop. Perhaps, at a touch under 500 pages, Anders decided she had delighted us long enough.

The following did not appear in the published review:
The sentence, “Here’s what Mouth learned about Sasha from eavesdropping,” ought to have been removed by a decent editing process.

Pedant’s corner:- Written in USian. Otherwise; “something makes me stop and examine closer” (examine more closely,) “I notice someone who seems out of place … They turn their head” (‘someone’ is singular, therefore not ‘they’, in this case ‘she turns her head’,) “now a few s cattered memories” (a few scattered memories,) “a group of students … argue about” (a group argues.) “‘He’s been making a fortune speculating on sour cherries’” (‘speculating in’ something might lead to a fortune, ‘speculating on’ it is just wool-gathering,) “a group of musicians hunch” (a group hunches.) “‘We lay there’” (We lie there; elsewhere Anders shows she does know the difference between lay and lie,) “open maw” (it’s not a mouth!) “their heads almost exploded” (used once, this phrase for an eye-opening experience appears fresh and striking; used again, not so much,) “‘I don’t even know if any Gelet ever want to meet me again’” (if any Gelet ever wants to meet me.) A chapter begins, “Ignore the buzzing from my right wrist, and I take Bianca’s wrist,” (‘I ignore’ makes more sense. This typo probably occurred because the first word of a chapter is always in a much larger font size than the others,) envelopes (envelops,) cul-de-sacs (culs-de-sac,) “which stunk just as much as she’d expected” (stank.)

More Art Nouveau in Helsinki

Art Nouveau Building, Helsinki

More Art Nouveau, Helsinki

Art Nouveau Street:-

Art Nouveau Street, Helsinki

Not Art Nouveau, but a nice twin-spired church:-

A Helsinki Church

More Art Deco, Helsinki

Yellow building photographed from coach stop. South Korean embassy/consulate to left here:-

Art Deco Building Helsinki

Espressso House. Shot as coach passed by on the way back to the ship:-

Art Deco/Moderne Building, Helsinki

More Art Deco Style, Helsinki

Deco detail on building, Maranello Women. (A hairdresser’s?) Snatched as coach passed by:-

More Art Deco, Helsinki

Senate Square, Helsinki

There is some impressive architecture in Senate Square, Helsinki.

University building on corner with Unioninkatu and Alesanterinkatu:-

Art Nouveau Architecture, Helsinki

Unioninkatu frontage:-

Building, Senate Square, Helsinki

Senate Square is dominated by Helsinki Cathedral:-

Cathedral, Helsinki

Cathedral, Helsinki

Helsinki Cathedral from Senate Square

Lamppost by statue of Alexander II:-

Lamppost, Senate Square, Helsinki

BSFA Awards for 2019

It seems the BSFA Awards were announced on 17/5/20. (I found out the novel winner via a mention on Ian Sales’s blog and I subsequently checked the full list on the Wiki page for the Awards.)

They were announced via live streaming and the video is on You Tube.

The winners were:-

Novel: Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Short Fiction: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Artwork: cover of Wourism and Other Stories (Luna Press) by Chris “Fangorn” Baker
Non-Fiction: The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein by Farah Mendlesohn

I voted for only one of these.

Art Nouveau Buildings, Helsinki

These buildings flanked Esplanadi:-

Helsinki, Art Nouveau Building

Ground floor detail:-

Detail Art Nouveau Building, Helsinki

Upper floors:-

Art Nouveau Style, Helsinki

Upper Floors, Art Nouveau Building, Helsinki

A bit further along:-

Art Nouveau Building, Helsinki

I can’t remember which street this was on:-

Helsinki, Art Nouveau

On the corner of Bulevardi and Errotajankatu is the rather pleasing Rake:

Rake, Helsinki

Bookshelf Travelling For Insane Times

The good lady is taking part in a meme, which originated with Reader in the Wilderness in the USA.

It’s not quite in the spirit of the meme but I thought I would give you a glimpse of some of my bookshelves over the next few weekends. (Monday counts for this.)

So these are the top two shelves of the bookcase where I keep those works of Scottish Fiction I have already read. (Unread books are kept elsewhere.) The bookcase was bought from IKEA and fitted well in our old house which had high ceilings. When we moved to Son of the Rock Acres we wondered where it could go. Not downstairs, not enough clearance. Upstairs though, the ceilings are three inches higher! The removal men were great at manœuvring it into place with so little margin for error. It now sits on the top corridor just outside my study. (You can’t always see the books so clearly, there’s usually more stuff placed in front of them. A few history books are still perched above some in the bottom row.)

Scottish Books 1

Scottish Books 2

Edited to add:- The meme was set up to include recommendations for reading. Well, on that note Lewis Grassic Gibbon is always worth it, most especially Sunset Song in the A Scots Quair trilogy. So too are Alasdair Gray, Iain Banks, Anne Donovan, Margaret Elphinstone, Andrew Crumey, Andrew Greig, James Robertson.

Eateries, Esplanadi, Helsinki

A quirky little kiosk, labelled 1893, Kesamokki. Kesamokki means Summer House:-

A Kiosk In Esplanadi, Helsinki

A restaurant:-

A Restaurant Esplanadi, Helsinki

We looked at the menu. Pricy. Also one of the dishes featured carrot foam. What?

This rather differently styled building seemed to be part of the same establishment:-

Esplanadi, Helsinki, Restaurant

Art Deco, Esplanadi, Helsinki

Esplanadi is a small green area in the middle of Helsinki city centre. It had some Art Deco.

Espan Lava. (I have no idea what that means.) The building certainly has horizontals and verticals, though:-

Art Deco/Moderne, Helsinki Ciy Centre

An Art Deco Kiosk, Helsinki. What seems to be the Canadian Embassy is over the road:-

An Art Deco Kiosk, Helsinki

Close-up from reverse:-

Helsinki, Art Deco Kiosk Close-up

Teatern, Helsinki. Art Deco style. Horizontals, verticals, flag pole. I assumed Teatern meant Theatre. It does:-

Teatern, Helsinki

Stockman, a shop a bit up from Esplanadi, has elements of At Deco but probably post-dates it:-

Stockman, Helsinki

Birth of a Planet

From The Daily Galaxy for 20/5/20.

The kink in bright yellow may be where a planet is forming. That we as a species can observe such things is mind-boggling.

Birth of a Planet

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