Trouble Thinking

March 11, 2011

Terrible SF/Fantasy Book Covers!

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 12:24 pm

Man, ComicsAlliance reminded me of this thing too.

So, as a kid, I read this entire gigantic collection of old Sci-Fi my dad had gathered from 1950-1980 or so. I started off by picking books based on what cover art looked coolest. Sometimes, it was difficult to pick between the sweet robots and space battles.
Other times, this happened:

Yeah.

 

I’m not entirely certain what the process for picking cover art is, really. I mean, obviously it’s not as though the author actually lays it out. I presume some publishing-house PR lackey picks a theme, contacts an artist…

But holy SHIT do they have some weird ideas about what will appeal to science fiction fans. I mean, that book up there? It’s a short story collection. The anthology name is taken from one story about an adorable grandma-bot.

At no point do any recursive muscle-men centaur appear.

Guess what this book is about:

Giant naked circus clone? British telekenitic monster-man throwing?

It’s about a planet where everyone who has ever lived is sent mysteriously and revived along the shores of a massive river. It’s actually pretty good! It stars Mark Twain and a Sir Francis Burton and it has fights and steamboats. It’s a great, weird, fun adventure story. At not a single point does a massive naked man get poked in the kidneys by Professor Two-Coats.

This one basically gets it spot on, though:

I mean, obviously.

So! Intrigued by these truly atrocious examples of marketing gone really, really poorly? Go check out the Terrible Book Covers site at goodshowsir.co.uk! I mean, you can tell it’s class just from the name.

February 18, 2011

DreamKeepers Volumes 1 and 2: A Review

Filed under: Books, Comics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — callmegeo @ 4:34 am

Well, well, well, look who’s running the show now. I’m sorry to say that Durandal came up a little late in making payments on his “don’t break my computer” insurance. It’s a shame  just how fragile our modern technology can be…

While my esteemed colleague is busy contemplating the merits of not being a wise guy, the duty falls upon me to keep you entertained with insightful commentary. This week, I bring you a review of a graphic novel series called DreamKeepers.

The artwork in DreamKeepers has a surprising amount of depth and polish

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Geo, you’re an engineer. Engineers are social outcasts so crippled by their overwhelming genius, that they could not possibly provide any sort of legitimate commentary on a work which requires a real soul and human emotions to appreciate.” And, in truth, that’s a fair point. However, if I am to ever learn to know what it is like to feel love, I must attempt to communicate with you, the reader, through a critical examination of modern graphic novel media. It says so in the rules.

So, let us begin.

I stumbled upon DreamKeepers entirely by accident, by clicking on the wrong ad banner whilst browsing one of my favorite webcomics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. It turns out it was a very fortuitous event, as rather than being led to some internet flash game promising “intense space battles”, I instead found myself on a site advertising some form of fantasy-ish setting graphic novel series with anthropomorphic animal characters.

Now, normally I see fantasy and go ‘meh’, and I see a character with a tail and go ‘meh’ some more. I normally confine my attention to things involving a lot more lasers and spaceships and human or robot characters. But, being an inquisitive young lad, I poked around the DreamKeepers site a bit, just to see what was going on.

What really made me stop and take notice of DreamKeepers was a sextet of articles written by the one of the creators, explaining the state of the modern day comics industry, why comics are marginalized as a medium, and what he plans to do to change all that. I certainly can’t do the articles justice by summarizing them myself, so I’ll simply say that if you go to the DreamKeepers site, you should give them a read. It really opened my eyes to a world I frankly know very little about, and it was also a very entertaining read that managed to present facts in a fun way that made me actually care.

Unlike my friend and colleague Durandal, I my greatest aspiration in life is not to make love to both Batman and Iron Man simultaneously. I’ve never bought a traditional comic book in my two and a half decades of existence. I *do* have Watchmen the graphic novel, and a very small collection of manga, but that wraps up about anything I read that has also pictures in addition to words. So, when I say that DreamKeepers interested me enough to buy both volumes that very night, you understand the context of my experience.

Reading what the DreamKeepers author was attempting to do with his work, and understanding his road map for success made me sit up and take notice. This isn’t some teenager sketching catgirls to satisfy his secret sexual fetishes (as far as I know), this is a man with a head for business, a passion for his work, and the determination to take the difficult first steps towards creating something that never existed before, like starting his own publishing company. Entrepreneurship always gets my motor running, so I forked over the $4 to buy digital versions of both DreamKeepers volumes published so far, and dared DreamKeepers to impress me… As it turns out, it did.

Super quick synopsis: The story is set in a fictional dreamworld which ostensibly parallels our own reality. The characters in this world (called Dream Keepers) have no awareness of our own world, yet their reality is the the line of defense between our real world, and the so-called Nightmares which seek to gain influence over us. After several hundred years of relative peace between the last war between the Dream Keepers and Nightmares, the dreamworld society has become disarmed and complacent, setting the stage for the story as the Nightmares plot a new uprising.

The main protagonists of DreamKeepers are Mace, an orphan, and Lilith and Namah, the legitimate and illegitimate daughters respectively of the world’s primary political figure. The three of them quickly find themselves drawn into events far larger in scope than they realize, and the conclusion of Volume 2 promises that the events depicted so far are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s in store for future installments of this franchise. If you want to learn more, you should pick up a copy of the story yourself, so instead of prattling on about background information, I will proceed with a topic by topic breakdown of the series.

Setting: I suppose the best way to describe the environment of DreamKeepers is as a fantasy-hybrid setting. A fantasy foundation with an anachronistic smattering of more modern day and sci-fi technology, such as telepads, computer-like “data scrolls”, and firearm analogs called “springers”. It doesn’t perfectly fit the mold of any traditional genre setting, but for me, that’s appealing. There’s enough commonality with the world we live in to feel familiar and comfortable to the reader, yet at the same time its uniqueness is alien enough to draw you in and elicit emotions of wonder and exploration. The various discrete elements of the setting combine to become one which is fresh, engaging, and surprisingly believable.

Characters: I was very skeptical about how the characters would flesh out in DreamKeepers. Anthro-style characters and works have a bit of a bad rep out here in the cyber world, and the stereotype was a hard one for me to see past when deciding whether or not DreamKeepers was even worth my time and attention. I’m not a “furry” fanboy, and I didn’t really want a story that specifically catered to that demographic subset. Thankfully, my wariness disappeared relatively quickly once I started to get through the first chapter. Yeah, the characters are all some form

of anthropomorphic animal or combination of animals, but it didn’t feel like I was just watching a bunch of foxes and cats with clothes on running around and doing things.  These characters were individuals, each with a personality and perspective on events that grew far larger than their mere physical appearances. As a matter of fact, I started to really appreciate the diversity of appearance of the inhabitants of the DreamKeepers universe. Each character was his or her own person, but being based on different creature foundations gave them a physical uniqueness which seemed to further individualize them in my eye. My favorite character in the whole series so far is actually one of the secondary protagonists, a badass bionic snake-like character called Scinter. You’ll see who I mean when you read DreamKeepers yourself(which you should).

All in all, the cast of the story is very organic and original, with my only complaint being that one of the antagonists, Tinsel, seems a bit too over the top in fitting the “evil, conceited, hot girl” mold for my personal tastes. I prefer villains who are more akin to misguided heroes, who firmly believe that they are acting in the right, yet find themselves at irreconcilable odds with protagonists due to differences in philosophy and perspective. However, since DreamKeepers is only two volumes into the story so far, there admittedly hasn’t been enough time to gain more than an introductory glance at some characters’ ultimate goals and motivations.

Writing: Overall, the script of DreamKeepers is very good. The maturity level is somewhere in the PG-13 ballpark, not in your face graphic or intense, nor sugar coated and dumbed down for younger audiences. I personally enjoy the flexibility a middle of the road approach provides to the writer and the reader. The serious moments are

I know the lighting effects are pretty, but you should be reading my review too!

certainly serious when they’re supposed to be, but interspersed are laugh out loud nuggets of wit that I couldn’t help but chuckle at. The overall gravity of the story seems to be at a balanced level, starting on the lighter side but slowly building up a sense of weight that sits in the back of my mind, leaving me with the unmistakable impression that events will continue to get  darker, deeper, and more epic in scale as the characters of the story get drawn further and further into a conflict of which only the surface has been scratched. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Volume 3, hopefully the later half of this year, so I can see the next iteration of events (to use a cliche) as the plot thickens.

The environment artwork in DreamKeepers is absolutely breathtaking

Artwork: This, for me, is really the biggest selling point of the DreamKeepers books. Yes, it’s a fun story with engaging characters and a well developed setting, but when I buy a graphic novel, I want my eyes to have something to enjoy too. As you can see from the example pages I’ve posted throughout this review, the DreamKeepers artists are not only talented, but committed to producing artwork with depth and color and scale which, frankly, I didn’t expect to see. The artwork in DreamKeepers Volume 1 seems to be slightly rougher and less refined than that of Volume 2, at least by my limited inspection. That’s not to say that it’s not excellent artwork, but there seems to be more complexity and more layers of effect in the second volume than the original.

The characters are very expressive, and the art style does and excellent job of conveying emotion. Then again, I suppose that’s one of the great advantages of cartooning. As a man who couldn’t draw a properly expressive cartoon character to save his life, I’m suitably impressed, if not totally unqualified to make any sort of judgement on the matter. We’re going to ignore that little detail though. Some people believe that because I’m some sort of new fangled rocket scientist I’m an expert on all things, and I’d hate to shatter their innocent illusions.

Anyways, what really grabs me about the artwork is the art direction of the natural environments of DreamKeepers. The flora, fauna, and especially the natural terrain depicted in Volume 2 is just absolutely breathtaking. I could lose myself for hours in the alien landscapes, and I can think of no more accurate adjective to describe them other than “beautiful”. Even the interior or city backgrounds can be quite elaborate, and the level of detail provides a real tangibility to the universe as you read through it. I could have posted dozens of pages to illustrate my point, but the three shown to the left should be sufficient to give a general impression of what I’m talking about. If you don’t like what you see on this page… you should probably go home and re-think your life.

Bottom Line: If you’re the sort of person who enjoys excellent things, then you will very likely enjoy reading DreamKeepers! It has beautiful artwork, excellent writing, characters, and a setting which borrows from many sub-genres yet feels entirely fresh and new. I don’t want to sound like some brown-nosing asshole, but seriously, if you have $4, support the talented creative duo behind this series and purchase the first two volumes to enjoy at your leisure. It’s less than you’d spend at McDonalds for a Big Mac, and it’s way nicer to look at than a Big Mac could ever be! Or you could shrug indecisively, mumble something inaudible and go back to poking around the internet like a normal boring person who has no sense of adventure. Your call man, whatever works for you.

If you’re poor and destitute without any money to spare, DreamKeepers

also puts out a weekly “Prelude” web comic, which examines the lives of the protagonists several years before the start of Volume 1.  I haven’t read through all of it yet, but hey, I’m not the cheapskate here.

In any case, if you’re reading this sentence, I appreciate your patience in

getting through this review. If you have any complaints, please remember that this is Durandal’s fault. Had his computer not kicked the bucket, you could read little snippets about indie games on xbox network, or whatever it is he goes on and on about these days.

The DreamKeepers website can be found here.

DreamKeepers is copyright of David Lillie and Vivid Independent Publishing. Images reprinted with permission.

No bribes were accepted prior to publishing this review ;).

INTRUSIVE EDIT: Learn to position pictures, Geo. Now that Durandal is back up and running and people are linking this article for some damn reason we can’t have this sort of slapdash getting thrown around.

INTRUSIVE RESPONSE TO THE INTRUSIVE EDIT: Gimme a break man, it looked super sleek on my monitor at my resolution, and now that you’ve dicked with the formatting it looks like ass on my screen. You have failed me for the last time…

November 3, 2010

The Machine of Death: A Good Book

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 9:18 pm

The Machine of Death is a book, and it is full of short stories that are each individually good and so the book is in aggregate good.

All of them are based off this Dinosaur Comics strip, in which T-Rex proposes writing stories about a world where everyone can find out how they die simply by taking a test from a little machine that is always accurate, but never quite useful. It delights in irony, see.

All of the stories, of which there are around 30, take this idea and run with it. It’s a fun time all told, every story explores some interesting aspect of life in a world where everyone is a fatalist. Some, like “Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions”, are surprisingly uplifting and optimistic. Others, like “Exhaustion From Having Sex With a Minor”, are hilarious. The editors have done a great job selecting as many unique takes as they could find, and with so many stories most are quick reads that get their points across succinctly and leave you stunned by the cleverness on display. All of the stories have a piece of art to go with them, too! Each by a different cool artist.

The book is only about $10 for the print version, which I recommend getting because it’s a super nice book size, really the type that’s large enough to feel “book-y” but small enough to carry. Very solid paperback. They also released it for free in PDF form! Check it out:

Please find below the entirety of Machine of Death as a free, downloadable PDF.

Why are we doing this? Aren’t we worried about hurting our book sales?

In a word: no. You have proven time and again that you are willing to pay for content that you find valuable. You have shown that you are driven to share material that you fall in love with. And we are committed to ensuring that you can experience our work whether you can afford to buy a book or not; whether you live in a country that Amazon ships to or not; whether you have space in your life for a stack of paper or not.

Please, download, read, share and enjoy!

Dang. What Class Acts these guys are, I mean really. Totally download the PDF and then buy the book out of sheer delight!

 

October 8, 2010

Grisly Murder at Bargain Prices

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — Chris @ 8:00 am

It was on a recent trip to Borders, crammed in the bargain bin, between a slew of inane self-help books, and about half a dozen copies of Bill Clinton’s Giving, I found a copy Daniel Stashower’s nonfiction book, The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder. With a subtitle like that, and a price tag of only $3.99, I figured I couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Unlike pretty much every other time I’ve made this decision, I was actually right. The Beautiful Cigar Girl is an engaging, insightful read, shedding light on the nuances of a period and place in history with which I was previously unfamiliar, as well as crafting a thrilling mystery out of what is, essentially, a simple recounting of historic events. Stashower combines a biography of Edgar Allan Poe, with the story of the unsolved murder of Mary Rogers (the “beautiful cigar girl” of the title) in New York City in the 1830s, showing how Poe grasped onto this story in the newspapers, adapted it for his tale The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, and invented the modern detective story in the process.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never heard of Mary Rogers before. Mary Rogers was kind of like the Paris Hilton of her day—not because she was a stupid, spoiled whore, but in that she was famous solely for being super hot. Renowned all across New York City for being the attractive young girl behind the counter at Anderson’s Tobacco Emporium, Rogers’ murder sent a shockwave through the city, the story dominating the newspapers for months. Stashower uses this real life mystery as a launching pad to dissect the political and social climate of the day, unveiling an American culture of which I was unaware, yet mirrors our own today.

At the same time, Stashower runs through the life and career of Edgar Allan Poe, and how it would eventually intersect with the Rogers murder. Now, I’m going to assume that everyone here knows who Poe was, but you may not be aware of what a strange, paranoid, self-destructive personality he was. Time and time again you’ll read on as Stashower recounts yet another moment where Poe completely blows yet another chance at success and well-being, all the way up to his ignominious death, and the brutal post-mortem desecration of his image by the man entrusted with caring for his body of work.

As I mention earlier, some of the most interesting parts of The Beautiful Cigar Girl, beyond the stories of the Rogers and Poe, are the many insights into the period. From the virtual nonexistence of an actual police force in NYC at the time, to the dozens of newspapers, each one shamelessly and blatantly editorializing the story of the murder to push its own agenda. If you think the news media is pretty bad today (and don’t get me wrong—it is), wait until you hear what it was like in 1838, when newspaper editors used the story of an innocent girl’s death not only to sell papers, but to destroy the careers of political enemies.

The aspect that I most enjoyed, however, was what an effortlessly entertaining writer Stashower turned out to be. In most nonfiction, I find the largest hurdle to getting through a book author’s skill as a writer. If the author lacks an interesting voice, and if the whole book is structured like a thesis driven essay, no matter how interesting the topic at hand, and no matter how well researched, it will be a drag. Unfortunately, this often proves to be the case, but not with Stashower. Not only is he clearly engaged with and excited about his subject, but throughout his writing you can sense a very dry sense of humor—an excellent choice in tone which serves to lighten up what would oftentimes be nothing but a dull recounting of procedure and events, yet never reaches a point of being inappropriate or crude.

The Beautiful Cigar Girl is an excellent read, and I almost feel like a criminal for having paid so little for it. It’s still available on Amazon, and for not much more money than I paid out of the bargain bin, so if I’ve piqued your interest, give it an order. You won’t regret it.

July 14, 2010

Great Contemporary Writers: David Sedaris

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — Chris @ 8:24 pm

In this new will-become-regular-if-I-feel-like-it feature, I am going to highlight some of my favorite currently working writers, and discuss why you should give them a shot. Most of them aren’t going to be very obscure or anything, heaven knows today’s isn’t, but, the way I see it, there are so many books and authors out there, even the most highly esteemed writer can still be new to someone.

There are a lot of authors out there whose work I admire, but David Sedaris the only one who I’m actually jealous of. Seriously, if I were granted the ability absorb the powers of one writer working today, and make them my own, I would suck David Sedaris dry of his literary prowess in an instant. I’d reduce that guy to withered, illiterate, husk so fast, he wouldn’t even know what hit him. By the time I was done with him, he’d be so out of juice he’d be reduced to writing haikus on construction paper with crayons, while I would be pumping out some of the most consistently excellent collections of essays and stories available today. I wouldn’t even feel bad.

A perverse way of showing my admiration I suppose, but quite simply, David Sedaris is just that good.  Sedaris has one of the greatest gifts a writer can possess, and that is the ability to make any story interesting—and funny as hell—regardless of subject. Yes, a lot of ridiculous shit has happened in his life which he mines for his books, but that’s not all Sedaris writes about. Just as often, he takes the time to recount mundane, every day events—and keeps it just as interesting as the crazy stuff.

I’m reminded of a story Sedaris tells in When You Are Engulfed in Flames, about an awkward time he had at the doctor’s. There is no good reason why a story about waiting at the doctor’s office should be all that interesting, yet without fail he finds a way to keep you stuck on every word, and laughing all the way; all while making the whole process seem effortless. It isn’t until you finish reading, and review the story in your mind, that you realize that there’s nothing there that had to be funny—David Sedaris just knew how to tell it so that it could be.

For whatever reason, memoirs have taken off in popularity in the last decade or so, and Sedaris is the best of the lot. Most of his books take that form, a series of anecdotes from throughout his life, and they’re all uniformly excellent. My personal favorite is Me Talk Pretty One Day, which primarily covers his early days living in France with his partner Hugh, but also reviews such deeply personal topics as past drug addictions, and somewhat less private subjects, such as the time he was at a party, went to the bathroom, became embarrassed because someone left a giant turd in the toilet, and the panics he went through to ensure the other guests didn’t think it had been him who had done the deed. A wide range of topics to be sure, yet Sedaris finds a way to keep the whole thing tonally consistent, not to mention hilarious, throughout.

David Sedaris is a masterful, and genuinely funny, author; one of the best out there today, and I can’t recommend him highly enough.

Also, to any mad scientists reading, I wasn’t kidding earlier: I will pay cash money for some kind of ray, brain swapping device, or vampiric essence, which will allow me to thieve David Sedaris’ talent. E-mail me.

Recommended reading:

–          Me Talk Pretty One Day

–          Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

–          When You Are Engulfed in Flames

June 16, 2010

Book Review: Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Chris @ 10:30 pm

I am hopelessly out of the loop when it comes to book releases. With movies or games, only a few are released each week, and even less of those are worth paying any attention to, so it’s much easier to stay appraised of what’s out when. With books, and to a lesser extent comics, the process isn’t so simple. So many are released so often, that I have trouble keeping up—if I’m even aware at all. Combined with the fact that I’ve yet to find a reliable source or website to help direct me towards novels that may match my interest, means I typically stumble across books haphazardly, long after others have read and absorbed them, and moved on to something else (or that’s how it feels anyway).

All of this is my way of saying that Motherless Brooklyn came out awhile ago—1999 awhile ago. I just read it though, so now I’m going to talk about it, and you can’t stop me. I mean, I guess you could stop reading, but please don’t do that; I only have like three readers as it is. Thank you.

Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog, an orphan whom years ago, alongside three other boys from his orphanage, was unofficially adopted by a small-time Brooklyn hood named Frank Minna, who for all intents and purposes grooms them to become his loyal henchmen. After they grew up, Minna employed the boys, now known as his “Minna Men,” as an equally small-time detective agency, hidden under the cover of a car service. As the novel opens, Minna is killed by an unknown assailant, and Lionel decides that it is up to him to uncover the mystery behind his boss/father figure’s death. Oh, and one other thing: Lionel has a severe case of Tourette Syndrome.

Described in a blurb like that, Lionel’s illness sounds like a cheap gimmick to spice up what might otherwise be a run-of-the-mill detective novel. In Jonathan Lethem’s hands, however, Lionel’s Tourette’s becomes the focal point of the story, delving deeply into how the various tics, vocal utterances, and OCD compulsions and obsessions of Tourette’s affect how he thinks about, and interacts with, the world around him. Lethem must either know someone with Tourette’s, or did some serious research, because he goes into phenomenal, engrossing detail regarding the condition, and what it feels like to be on the producing end of the various symptoms. For someone like me, who knows almost nothing about Tourette’s, I found it an enlightening look into a disability I had only heard about as a bad joke in equally bad movies.

This is only my second Lethem novel, the first being his sci-fi noir tale Gun, With Occasional Music. While both are detective stories, Motherless Brooklyn adopts a much lighter tone than the earlier novel. Despite being a tale revolving around murder, revenge, orphans, and the effects of a severe mental illness, it really isn’t all that grim. Many of the minor characters that enter the story seem almost intentionally absurd, and while I certainly wouldn’t describe the book as tongue-in-cheek, there is definitely something deliberately off-kilter going on that I found endearing.

Motherless Brooklyn received a lot of praise when it was released, and I can certainly see why. It is an exciting, exceptionally well written murder mystery, which in the character of Lionel Essrog, finds a unique, likeable, and incredibly sympathetic protagonist who you will remember for some time. I highly recommend it.

May 26, 2010

The City and The City

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — Durandal @ 10:35 am

China Mieville’s most recent novel, “The City and The City” is one of my new favorites. It has a unique idea at the heart of it as well as a spectacularly plotted story that avoids the pitfalls of over-explanation that plagued his early works.

China Mieville gets a lot of credit from me simply for being at least surface-level unique in almost all of his writing. Having read enough sci-fi to choke a whale as a young adult, I find that I get a little bit bored by even the best stories using the older tropes. So when, in the first Mieville novel I read, the cast of fantasy archetypes was replaced by women whose heads were gigantic scarabs, massive sentient cacti, and evil vampire hands I knew I was going to at least pay attention.

However, Mievilles’s earlier books (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, The Iron Council) suffered from a ridiculous amount of what I am certain has a name but I will call World Builder’s Myopia. Mieville, to put it mildly, spends a massive amount of time explaining the intricacies of the city/people/world he built. At first, this adds a layer of interest and complexity to the story. But somewhere along the way he tends to lose the thread, and the book becomes a list of briefly explored ideas followed by a brutally abrupt ending when he runs out. Still, I enjoyed all of his early books because I loved seeing so many new ideas, regardless of the harm to narrative structure. His newer books, a short story collection called “Looking for Jake” and a young adult novel called “UnLunDun” are spectacular because they pull back from the overly copious world-explaining and replace it with a more understated world-building that makes it clear that if you ask he can tell you why exactly giraffes are murderous pack-hunters in UnLunDun, but he doesn’t have to lay it out right this moment. “The City and The City” is further evidence that Mieville is capable of writing about places with complex and interesting backstories without becoming distracted by minutia.

“The City and The City” never really gets any more or less complex than the hook: the city and the city in which the novel takes place are two eternal rivals, Beszel and Ul Qoma. They’re presented as being reasonably like East and West Berlin or Palestine and Israel. The difference is, Beszel and Ul Qoma are topographically the same place. Which is to say, they aren’t next to each other, they’re in each other. The borders of the cities are more mental than physical. Citizens of each city assiduously unsee the citizens, the buildings, the cars, the street signs of the other. Two people can live next door to each other, or sit down next to each other, and be nations apart. This simple idea permeates every interaction the characters have, and by the end seems almost natural.

The novel opens with a murder of a young woman and an investigation by detective Tyador Borlu. Where it gets complicated is when they determine that the murder and the subsequent dumping of the body may have taken place in different cities, in which case an illegal border crossing was committed. In Beszel and Ul Qoma, crossing a border can be physical, mental, or both. And crossing one illegally, or “breach”, is a crime so grievous it merits attention beyond the police or government of either city. In order to continue the investigation, Borlu needs to cross from Beszel to Ul Qoma, and work with an investigator in the other city that exists within and on top of his own. Both of them must then attempt to discover whether this girl was murdered by the citizens of Beszel, Ul Qoma, or something that exists in between both.

The pace of the investigation never slackens, and the transition from one city to the other allows for an interesting change in scenery and character interactions without actually switching focus from Investigator Borlu. The unique setting makes it read like a combination cold-war era spy novel and modern detective story. Surprisingly, Mieville manages to continually raise the stakes and still delivers a close that makes consistent sense with the rest of the story, as well as being exciting in a manner that could only exist in the setting he’s laid down.

Mieville expertly introduces the reader to the city and the city, and allows them to figure out the strange rules that dictate interactions between them. He also takes care to lay down small hints of the interactions with the wider world these two fictional power have had over the course of their lifetime. What emerges is a lifelike picture of two cities with a difficult past and uncertain futures desperate for respect from a world that finds them a curiosity at the best of times. The subtlety with which Mieville introduces the reader to the central idea manages to make it seem plausible while maintaining an element of the fantastic that keeps the reader interested in finding out more about the place he’s created.

I can’t recommend this novel enough. The pacing makes it a quick read, and the central conceit is absolutely fascinating to explore.

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