The City versus Forks

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

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And the winner is...Oops. I can't open the envelope yet. You've got to hear how they performed before you get the ratings. Silly me.

The City and the City won the coin toss to perform first. Only reviews put this contender in front of me. The cover does nothing to call attention to it. Nor do I read many mysteries. However, I was vaguely curious about the overlapping cities concept. I wondered if they were partially out of phase to each other somehow. After all, how could it be possible that two cities could really be that overlapped and not interact with each other unless they were partially intangible to each other?

No, they really were fully tangible. People just unsee the people and buildings of the other city. Though more science-fictiony, being out-of-phase would have been easier for me to wrap my brain around, more plausible. Go figure. I spent the first half of the book trying to puzzle how the how and why of such an existence. It wasn't the, "How could the brain be able to be trained to ignore so much information?" It was the, "How could the brain know which information to discard?" And, "Why would you have to or even want to live that way?" Many of the citizens were happy with the divide. I'm still not sure I fully understand the why part, but I did finally get enough information to answer the how. Sort of. But don't ask me to explain it, because I'm not sure I can. I certainly couldn't picture it.

The story follows Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Besźel Extreme Crime Squad. His murder investigation of a young woman's death leads him through both Besźel and the neighboring (overlapping) city of Ul Qoma to discover something that could disrupt both societies on a fundamental scale. Check out Amber's teaser and review on SF Scrivener.

I almost gave up several times in the beginning. It's got that sort of gritty noir/old detective movie vibe going on, stories like Dick Tracy and whatever those other ones are you sometimes catch on Turner Classic Movies. Not much emotion from the detective but plenty of tenacity. Not really my thing, but I know some people like that style. That combined with confusion about how the cities even functioned made the first several chapters difficult to keep my interest. I stuck with it, because I'm tenacious myself when it comes to reading. I seldom give up on a book, and those cases usually involve emotions a good deal warmer than boredom and confusion.

Once I got the hang of the rules and Borlú was digging deeper into the underlying issues involved behind the murder, my fingers no longer reached for a bookmark. I didn't exactly enjoy it, but I couldn't leave Borlú's side until he solved the crime and learned what it would cost him. Even when I turned the last page, I still wasn't sure. But it's been a week, and I still find myself drifting back to the streets of Besź and Ul Qoma. The City and the City may have been hard reading, but I feel like I learned something from both the story and the storytelling. Maybe I did actually like it, just on an intellectual level rather than an entertainment level.

Then there's Twilight, the book I've been avoiding as best as humanly possible when you work in a bookstore. Vampires: not really my thing. I mean really not my thing. Especially when you add teenage angst. But if I'm going to despise a book this much, I should read it so I know the details of why. If you think I get too psychoanalytical, feel free to blame it on watching too many episodes of Bones, NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Rissoli and Isles.

I avoid sitcoms and soap operas. The melodrama and deliberate overacting make me flip channels faster than getting a clean diaper on a baby boy before he sprays. (So glad to be long past that part of parenthood.) Twilight read like a continuous sitcom, and Bella like a typical "star" of one. In other words, implausibly annoying.

She deliberately, and on her own, chooses to leave a place she loves to go someplace she finds depressing. Ok, maybe plausible. She was attempting to build a connection of sorts with her dad. But it would have been better to make that clear with the first sentences about how much she hates Forks and would rather be in Phoenix. I didn't want to be wondering that long about why she chose to make such a distasteful move.

She's seventeen or just turned seventeen and she's still that completely a klutz? That's the sort of gracelessness you hear about with young teens during growth spurts. Once past that point, they usually gain back at least some of their coordination. These days, if anyone was that severely lacking in coordination, they'd be checked out for some sort of inner ear imbalance or mild physical disability, thereby giving them a medical excuse to not do most gym activities. Plus she'd probably be medically supervised about the kinds of activities she should and should not be doing. Such as no walking in the woods without a cane or walking staff. If she was choosing to go without such devices despite doctor's orders, that's her own idiocy and pride, but there was nothing in the story to even suggest that she'd been examined for the cause of such extreme uncoordination or that her parents couldn't afford such an assessment. Not a single mention of the possibility of medical impairment. Normal gracelessness can be trained away, but did anybody ever bother to try help her get over that? No.

She should certainly get that drop-of-a-hat tendency to faint checked out.

Let's move onto the plot for a moment. Besides reading like a teen sitcom, Twilight also read like an attempt to create a modern edgy version of Tuck Everlasting, with vampires creating the immortality rather than a tiny fountain of youth in the woods. Think about it. Family of immortals. A normal girl getting romantically involved one of them. Discussion over ethics of her becoming immortal just to stay with her interest.

No. Sorry, that's a fail. Winnie actually learned something about herself and life by the end. Bella was exactly the same klutzy spastic angsty teen who got her own way. Spoiled rotten. I thought less of her by the end than I did when I started. I can give a character some leeway in the beginning, because I expect events (the plot) to instigate changes, forcing them to evolve in order to cope. For a character I'd supposed to sympathize with, she should have become a better, stronger person by the end. But no, she was just as helpless and spoiled.

Edward, who is supposed to dazzle, just made me mad. He complained about having to rescue Bella all the time, but he never taught her any moves to make her less helpless. He reinforces her inability by blatantly telling her she's helpless. Defeatist. If that had been me, I might have smacked him, even if it hurt me more than him to do so.

Then there is nothing substantial to their relationship. The only thing holding them together is pheromones and selfish desires. Every time they started to get a glimmer of something worth more than vampire sparkle, such as a discussion of music tastes, it gets drowned under the sludge of "Oh Edward is so hot. I can't live without him. I want, I want, I want." Gagtastic. That's the stuff of erotica, not real romance.

Here we are with the final scores.

The City and the City: hard to read in one sitting, dry and serious, complicated world/political situation, solid world building, and plot that maintains logic even through its intricacies.

Twilight: a fast read because I didn't care if I missed anything, primary characters with no admirable traits, almost no plot until the end, and an overdose of teen melodrama.

And the winner is...

...The City and the City! Congratulations, Inspector Borlú. I think I'll travel with you again sometime.


Brad said...

I haven't yet read The City and the City, but I did read Twilight (and finished it, somehow), and immediately wished I could have back the time I'd spent reading it, so I could spend that time reading something more substantial, like the back of a cereal box.
Like you, I found Bella to be the weakest m/c ever, and was disgusted by the fact that absolutely no one in this book grew as a character.
The City and the City seems interesting, though, so I'll put that one on my list.

Jaleh D said...

Even if you only read it once, The City and the City is well worth the effort to comprehend. The depth of his world building is amazing. He never broke the flavor of the environment he created.

Elliot said...

How dare you compare them. It's like comparing God to Satan.

Jaleh D said...

*snorts* Only because I read them back to back, Elliot. Considering one boggled my brain to comprehend the world setting and the other boggled my mind as to how the characters could possibly be palatable, well the comparison was inevitable.

But yes, they are wildly different and normally incomparable. Even without comparing it to Twilight, I eventually realized that despite my difficulty understanding The City and the City, it has made me richer as a writer and a reader. The more I contemplate it, the deeper I reach into the story and society.

Brandi G. said...

Interesting reviews. I've read all the Twilight books, unfortunately, and they still make me wince in remembrance. But they're like a car can't look away!

The City and The City sounds cool...not really my thing, however. I'll consider it.

Jai Joshi said...

Your review cracked me up! I haven't read Twilight yet although I have promised some friends that I will. I keep putting it off.


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