The City in the Middle of the Night
July 18, 2020 7:48 PM - by Anders, Charlie Jane - Subscribe

Humanity clings to life on January--a colonized planet divided between permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other. Two cities, built long ago in the meager temperate zone, serve as the last bastions of civilization--but life inside them is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside. Sophie, a young student from the wrong side of Xiosphant city, is exiled into the dark after being part of a failed revolution. But she survives--with the help of a mysterious savior from beneath the ice.
posted by dinty_moore (13 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I found the book really disappointing. I really enjoyed the small portion that was set in the underground city, and I would have been happy to read a whole book that was set there. Instead, 80% of the book was just another tedious road trip through hardship, bad weather and dangerous monsters.
posted by Umami Dearest at 9:39 PM on July 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

I was disappointed too. A+ world-building! But both of the main characters were so passive — they spent almost the entire book moping or being dragged places they didn’t want to go. The hints of the backstory behind the planet’s settlement were much more vivid and intriguing than anything happening in the book’s present.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 10:02 PM on July 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I wanted to like this so much but found it rather tedious to get through. The setting was great but the main characters were unlikable (maybe forgivable) and dull (not). Although it wasn't pitched as a young adult book, it sure felt like one with all the teen angst in the air.

I was surprised that it made the Hugo list, frankly.

I could expound at length (in fact I did write a lengthly and somewhat harsh review on my site) but I will spare you. I did not care for The City in the Middle of the Night .
posted by AndrewStephens at 12:35 PM on July 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

There were some parts I didn't like, but overall I enjoyed this book. I'll try to write a more thorough comment later, for now just wanted to put out some appreciation to balance out the critiques. But definitely want to hear all perspectives and AndrewStephens, I'd be curious to at least see a link to your review here!
posted by overglow at 2:43 PM on July 20, 2020

Overglow, you are literally the first person who has ever asked to see something I've written. I feel a little awkward sharing a link that basically dumps on somebody else's hard work, but here is my review.

I will reiterate that I did really enjoy parts of the novel.
posted by AndrewStephens at 2:53 PM on July 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I agree that this book had better worldbuilding than story. It felt like it was a trilogy crammed into one book with all the interesting parts filed off. My preferred type of scifi is big ideas and big events, but also see the value in the type that's more about interpersonal growth, this one went straight down the middle without committing to one side or the other.
posted by Marticus at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I agree that parts of it drag, but there is so much great stuff in there! I love it, especially when things get weird towards the end.

There was a short follow-up story with Alyssa that I wanted to link here but I can't find it online anymore. Does anyone know what I mean? I know the author had it on Twitter at one point but it looks like she deleted the tweet. I wish I could read it again.
posted by beandip at 8:03 AM on July 21, 2020

Here's my goodreads review from last October:
There seem to be two camps among the other reviews of this book. Camp one found it groundbreaking and entertaining, and it does begin that way, and have moments that were exciting. The world building is great, and there were many interesting ideas to explore.
The other camp found it to be a slog, and I found myself firmly in this camp. There were way too many long passages of inner conflict, deep soul searching and firm resolutions followed by quick conversations that completely undid, in a page, everything that the previous 10 pages had laboriously laid out. The plot never really gets going because every decision that is made is followed by either a reversal or a betrayal that sets the characters going in a completely other direction until the entire plot just swirls into a story-less mess with, unfortunately, no satisfying resolution.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:53 AM on July 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here's the follow-up story: If You Take My Meaning
posted by chimpsonfilm at 10:19 AM on July 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thank you so much!!
posted by beandip at 2:57 PM on July 21, 2020

Thanks indeed, the follow up story actually feels better written than the book. Maybe there will be a sequel that we can all enjoy.
posted by Marticus at 5:39 PM on July 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

I found it somewhat disappointing as well. Charlie Jane's previous work was stronger, and to me it felt like the book couldn't decide what it really was or what it wanted to do.

Compare/contrast with another book that didn't quite stick to one thing and yet pulled it off extremely well, Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir. With Gideon, all of the meandering seems to eventually coalesce, the floating electricity finds its way to ground in a flash and a boom.

The City in the Middle of the Night had a lot of energy in the ideas, and for that alone, I think it was worthy of the Hugo nomination, but the strength of the ideas never quite found their way, I think.
posted by tclark at 7:36 PM on July 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think the book has a very strong first act, and I liked the unfolding alien species first (ish) contact story. But the middle act is bogged down in the other city (forget the name), and the final act is where things really just sort of fizzle out. I wanted more revolution, recognition of the aliens, the aliens and humans working together, etc. But the story just sort of stops, as if Anders was sick of it and didn't want to write anymore. How about that mother ship floating in orbit?? That alone could've taken the story in any number of interesting places.
posted by zardoz at 4:11 AM on August 13, 2020

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