One of the most interesting things about the speculative fiction umbrella, in my opinion, is the ability to muse on just about everything. Spec fic books can explore societal variants based one one simple change, or they can be as complex as the mechanics of artificial intelligence or space ships. Whether it involves magic or science or something in between, if it can be dreamt, it can be created. In the case of Elliot Harper’s The City Around the World, the familiar becomes the unfamiliar, and wandering is not always a good idea…
1. Thoughts on the plot
I will admit, at first I had no idea what was going on. This book starts out in a fascinating manner; it takes a vague image and follows it through layers of complexity and specifics until we, along with the nameless main character, have as complete an understanding of the world as can be managed. This phenomenon was done very well, indeed.
This book follows our main character as he wakes from a drug stupor, and then seeks out another hit, just doing his best to make it through the day. In the course of coming off of the high, he finds a mysterious object. Not knowing its purpose, he tries to trade it for more drugs, but this ends up causing more problems than otherwise, until the entire foundation of his world is changed. This book involves a megacity of the Slums, a mysterious city surrounding the equator, a religious order that may or may not be valid, and many other mysteries.
I think that the nature of the reveal at the end really worked incredibly well when taking into account the means by which the book is first started. The fact that we know so little about the world at the beginning is what makes it so successful. And each successive piece brings just a touch more clarity, until such time as a full understanding is reached. At that point, the story is so gripping that it is hard to put it down.
2. Thoughts on the character
Because our main character is nameless, we only learn a little about him. It is enough to get a general sense of his beliefs and a base line for any character development. But, just as with the plot starting out from a place of vagueness, I don’t think any more than this is actually needed. The focus here is not on the character, though he is obviously important, but on the world and its wrongs and mysterious past and structure. As we follow the main character on and on, he changes some, but mostly he is a vessel through which we understand the world. I see this device occasionally, but mostly more in pieces of literature where the purpose of the novel is not to explore a single mind, but to discover the wrongs with the world, both in the book and without. In that regard, the character is a perfect means to do that.
3. Favourite part
My favourite part is definitely the reveal at the end, where we finally understand what in the world has been going on and why it has been going on. And, unfortunately, I can say no more than that because of spoilers. This is definitely one you’ll have to discover on your own.
Frankly, I don’t really have much of a critique for this novel. The parts that were a little shocking make perfect sense in the context of the story. And the ending left just enough to chance and imagination to really cement the story home. The characters were interesting, and the interludes between the chapter were fascinating once their purpose was understood. The prose was smooth and flowed well.
Overall, I would say that this dark sci-fi novel (novella, sort of) was expertly done and was really fascinating to read. An excellent example of its kind.