So I had been eagerly anticipating her follow-up release, The City in the Middle of the Night, for quite some time, and after I’d read it I loved it too. I’m writing this because I want to explain why. Maybe this time I’ll even manage it.
Through the eyes of these two narrators, Anders unfolds a carefully-crafted world full of socio-political statements on the role of government, humanity’s response to the climate catastrophe, and the motivations of revolutionaries. This book is radical sci-fi in the classic sense – it’s become almost cliché for reviewers to compare Anders to Ursula Le Guin, but this novel makes it seem the only rational comparison you could make.
But that’s not all there is to it. Believe me, I love some Big Political Statements in my literature, especially when they’re made through the lens of science fiction, but to focus on that aspect of the novel alone doesn’t do it justice. In my experience with the 20th-century ideas-driven sci-fi of Le Guin and her contemporaries, character sometimes takes a back seat; narrative and worldbuilding are the foundations on which the genre tends to build, and as a result I’ve often seen protagonists who act more as ciphers – either as a blank everyman, or as an embodiment of a particular belief or perspective that the writer wishes to engage with – than as individuals in their own right.
But Anders’ viewpoint characters feel real; the conflicts they deal with resonate, and their context within a futuristic dystopia on an alien world only amplifies this. “Every time I think I know what’s wrong with me, I find something else,” Sophie muses in an early chapter; both characters struggle, throughout the novel, to recognise and reconcile disparate aspects of their own identities. It’s a novel about what it means to be a person, as much as it is a story about authoritarianism or global warming.
There’s so much more I’d like to say about The City in the Middle of the Night. I haven’t talked about transhumanism, or queer yearning, or the nuance with which Anders dovetails her exploration of each of these various ideas in a way that makes them feel inextricable. I haven’t even mentioned the crocodiles yet, with their long tentacles and hundreds of tongues. But the bells of Xiosphant are ringing, and the shutters are coming down, and I know this means it is time for me to sleep.
Still, even if I had all the time in the world, I’m starting to doubt I could explain to you exactly why this book means so much to me. I’ve barely scratched the truth of it here. I don’t think I can convey the significance of everything this story is and does to you second-hand.
You’ll just have to read it for yourself.