Podcast

279 – The City in the Middle of the Night

The Mythcreant Podcast
The season of Hugos is upon us, and Mythcreants is getting into the award-winning spirit! Not by winning awards of course, but by critiquing each of the six novels nominated for the biggest award in speculative fiction. This week, we’re doing The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders. Weird monsters, strange aliens, and tidally locked worlds, oh my! Buckle up, it’s gonna be a wild ride through the twilight with burning day and frozen night on either side.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

The City in the Middle of the Night

Hugo Award List

Tidally Locked Planet

Battlefield Earth

Epistolary

Fake Words

Melodrama

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by Cindi at YourPodScribe.

Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreant podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock and Chris Winkle.

[Opening Theme]

Chris: This is the Mythcreant podcast. I’m Chris and with me is…

Wes: Wes.

Chris: And…

Oren: Oren.

Chris: And all hail the Gelet, our lord and saviors. Hail.

Oren: All hail.

Wes: Ughhh. [All laughter]

Chris: So we are doing the first of our Hugo nominee coverage. We’re going to be covering all six novels that were nominated for a Hugo this year. And this time it is City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders, and it is a doozy. We have been practically bursting at the seams to talk about this one.

Wes: The last several podcasts we had to bite our tongues just to save some material for today.

Chris: So we’re going to start, we could pick over small things in this book for the entire podcast but just going over some basics, especially for people who have not read this novel. So again, Charlie Jane Anders is a trans author who’s won lots of awards previously.

She hasn’t yet gotten a Hugo for a novel, but she has won a Hugo for novelette. And she’s had a previous novel that’s been a finalist. She’s got a lot of awards under her belt. I have read some of her short stories previously, and they were honestly a lot like this book. So basic genre and premise of City in the Middle of the Night.

It’s a science fiction novel about human settlers on a tidally locked planet. We have main character, Sophie grows up in this oppressive city called Xiosphant, and then she travels to another city on this planet called Argelo that is very chaotic, and then finally goes to the City in the Middle of the Night, which is an alien city.

Do any of you want to add some basic details of this premise or the genre?

Wes: There’s a Sea of Murder. [Chris laughter] You cannot forget the Sea of Murder. Which is like the only really great parts. [Wes laughter]

Oren: I mean, the best part about this book for me is playing the how do you actually spell these weird scifi words game? Because I listened to it on audio, so I don’t know how to spell Xiosphantor Argelo or Gelet, which is the name of one of the aliens. It’s very exciting to find out how these words are actually spelled.

I guess I probably should have led with this. Definitely, there will be spoilers since we’re talking about the novel here, and part of those spoilers include the other character arcs. I guess really the two main character arcs, there’s Sophie who has this arc of having a toxic crush that she can’t quit until she joins up with the aliens who she accepts as her lord and savior. And then there’s Mouth who is a kind of oddly named other character who has this arc of going from a total badass in theory, to being a total pacifist and also accepting alien Jesus into her heart.

So those are the main character arcs of the story.

Wes: And the two narrators. Did we say that? Sophie’s a narrator and Mouth is a narrator.

Oren: I forget, are either of them first person or are they both third person limited?

Wes: Sophie is first person and Mouth is distant.

Oren: It goes to show that to a certain extent, some of these narration choices kind of fade after a while beacuse I could not remember, even though I only read this book last month I was like, is Sophie first person? I don’t remember her being first person, but apparently she was.

Wes: Yeah, and for such a long time, especially when the characters got together, as I was reading it, I was thinking okay, Sophie’s narration has so many internal thoughts and feelings and Mouth’s chapters do have that, but they’re more limited. And then when they finally were in the same physical space and you were in Mouth’s chapters, Sophie was just kind of labeled as the mute, you know the strange girl that doesn’t talk. And then in Sophie’s chapter’s Mouth was just like the arrogant jerk. It was confusing for a bit.

Oren: So I guess we should ask, why did this book get nominated for a Hugo? Why do we think that enough people liked it that it is now on the finals list?

Chris: I think it’s all a novelty, personally.

Wes: Novelty. Yeah, that was what I was going to say.

Chris: This book is pretty much just novelty, novelty, novelty. I mean, I have to say I did, when we finally get to the City in the Middle of the Night, as much as that chapter was mostly exposition, I did enjoy that chapter because it was so novel.

Wes: I agree. The novelty was really high at the beginning of the book because we’re on an alien world. What are we going to do? We’ve got these people who seem to be resisting some kind of force, which is a city, and since that’s a tidally locked planet, they don’t have any kind of circadian rhythms for their bodies to follow. So then I kind of liked where they were going with the tyranny aspect of the government controlling their sleep and maybe therefore if they control your sleep, they control your dreams and your whole lives.

But that didn’t matter. I’m going to say that about a lot of things in this book.

Oren: I did definitely find myself thinking, “and that didn’t matter” quite a bit as I was reading this. So I can see the novelty aspect, right? Because it takes by some tidally locked world. That’s cool. It’s got weird monsters. That’s cool. But I’m honestly kind of surprised that it didn’t suffer more from how confusing the beginning is.

I could not tell what was happening at the beginning because I eventually figured out, oh, okay, we’re on a tidal locked planet, and like I know a little bit about tidally locked planets, I’m not an expert, but I understand the basics.

And then she goes outside and doesn’t immediately die. Is she wearing a space suit? No. Okay. This planet has atmosphere. Even though a tidally locked planet, you would really expect it to not have atmosphere. And I don’t think it was ever established that it has atmosphere until she was outside and not dying

Wes: And her main city of Xiosphant? The two main cities exist in basically like a twilight, which it’s really unclear how wide that is. Also, the distance between everything, so we’ve got this whole planet, but everybody can only live in a 50 mile strip and that’s it, which is weird, but there’s mountains that protected the city from the daylight side.

That was some geography that I did notice, and then a mountain that they throw Sophie off of to basically kill her early in the book and then she doesn’t die.

Oren: Spoiler, she doesn’t die.

Wes: She doesn’t die. [all laughter]

Oren: But that really hindered the novelty for me because okay, cool, I like tidally locked planets and I like alien monsters and I’m willing to extend my suspension of disbelief that a tidally locked planet would have monsters on it. I just would have appreciated that being established before it was suddenly plot relevant.

My basic expectation of a tidally locked planet is that it’s going to be lifeless and not have an atmosphere because that’s how I understand tidally locked planets to typically work. And this one doesn’t work that way.

And it’s not like this was a surprise to Sophie, right? If Sophie had thought that it was lifeless and had no atmosphere and then found out otherwise, that would be one thing. Because we would have been going along with the ride, but Sophie already knew all this. So having it not established made it really hard for me to enjoy the novelty. I kept being like, what? What? What’s going on?

I’m honestly surprised that that didn’t hurt it more. I guess other readers must be better at understanding this stuff than me.

Wes: Well, I think what people probably did like a lot about it is, and I have to believe it’s Sophie, because I don’t think Mouth should have even had a POV [Oren, Wes, laughter], not for me, but I can see the appeal of Sophie’s struggles. The obsession, the quietness, learning to try to come into her own, dealing with, I like how you put it, the toxic crush and just feeling pulled every which way, and that interiority is clearly the focus of the novel, but often all the novelty that we’ve just discussed is not a part of that, really at all. Except for, as Chris pointed to, the good chapter where we actually get to the City in the Middle of the Night and conveniently these aliens have a working computer and video for her to just watch it and learn stuff.

Oren: Yeah. The alien appreciation tour [Wes, Chris, laughter]. One thing I did, like, I’d forgotten about this in my torrent of notes about things I didn’t like, one thing I did like was the introduction of Sophie’s character. This was before the weirdness with the planet itself, but Sophie is introduced as a character who has a crush on someone who is unattainable. It wasn’t clear to me at the beginning if that was because this is a homophobic society or just because Bianca is of higher social rank than her. It turned out to be both.

But I could tell that she had a crush on this person who didn’t see her romantically and would be difficult to pursue, and that crush translated into her taking the blame for this crime that her friend committed. And that’s cool, I like that, we’ve got conflict where the storie’s moving. That’s a great way to build sympathy with Sophie immediately. I enjoyed that quite a bit. Then she got thrown outside and I was like, why is she not dead?

Wes: For stealing three dollars. [Chris laughter]

Oren: That part I didn’t have a super problem with because who knows how this authoritarian government runs, but how is she not dying? And it’s, Oh, okay, it’s because all the stuff that was not established for me, before it suddenly was critical to what was happening.

Chris: So now that we have talked about what is good about the story and taking time away from that, let’s critique starting with the crocodiles.

Oren: Ooh, the crocodiles.

Wes: But before we get full crocodile, let it be known that there’s a; this is part of the book, translators note at the very beginning that basically talks about how the whole thing has been made accessible, and so therefore the names of certain things are changed and we got crocodiles and bison and let’s just go from there. I just thought that was super weird.

Chris: Was this a fictional translator’s note?

Wes: In the copy I have before Sophie’s first chapter, there’s a little note there that talks about how, actually I will open my book and find that page for us. Okay. So there is a translator’s note at the very beginning of this book and it says, “This manuscript has been translated from the original Xiosphantiand Argolen into peak English”, which as, unpronounceable name, points out. And then it goes on to say that the entire thing you’re about to read has been translated for you English speakers with some really weird things about how, and this is the translator speaking; “I have attempted to render this into peak English as seamlessly as possible. Hence “radio,” “lorry,” “pager,” “crocodile,” “cat,” “bison,” etc. Names and proper nouns have also been regularized into English spelling where possible.” Just some very odd notes that I didn’t quite find necessary.

Chris: It’s so funny because the other book that I’ve seen that done in is Battlefield Earth and it feels like a weak way of trying to turn your novel into epistolary. Like this is a real document from the world. But it’s not though. It’s obviously a fictional story. There’s no other part of the narration that makes it epistolary.

Wes: No, not at all. And it’s, it’s an unfolding narrative, right? Neither Mouth nor Sophie are recalling this, they’re living it.

Chris: That’s just awkward.

Wes: It’s just awkward.

Oren: I should point out, I don’t remember that from the audio version. Was that in the audio version, Chris?

Chris: I don’t remember from the audio version either. Although with everything that happens in this novel, it could it be quite forgettable?

Oren: Okay. That’s weird. I suppose we should explain what is going on with the progress.

Chris: Why are we talking about crocodiles, right? [Wes, laughter]

Oren: And then I can explain why this translation note is extra irritating. Okay. So the crocodiles are this thing that Sophie mentions a few times before she gets thrown out of the city for the crime of stealing some money. Okay, why are we talking about crocodiles? That’s a little weird. Maybe they brought some crocodiles from Earth. I don’t know, but that’s all we get is mentions of crocodiles and then we find out after she’s thrown out that the crocodile is actually an alien. It’s an alien monster, and this is so jarring.

Because at this moment that should be like really tense of Sophie having been thrown out of the city and being confronted with this alien monster. The story has to do an info dump about what a crocodile is, and it feels super disingenuous that like anyone would call them that, they don’t look anything like crocodiles.

Chris: Yeah, there’s an explanation of how they have a mouth with lots of teeth, but no, that’s not enough.

Oren: Lots of things have mouths with lots of teeth.

Chris: And the mouths are round too. They’re not even pointed, like triangles.

Wes: The image that came most readily to mind for me with some kind of crayfish or a lobster, calling them lobsters would have made more sense than crocodiles, because they had pincers and tentacles. So…

Oren: Yeah, and the reason why this is so extra funny is that this is basically what Chris specifically said not to do in her post about using fake words.

Chris: Yeah I have one example for when you actually do want to use fake words. And my example was almost exactly like this situation.

Oren: But it was specifically exaggerated and surely no one would ever do this, I’m exaggerating for effect, then I read this book and, nope, someone did it [Wes, laughter]. Parity is now real.

Chris: My example to be clear was if you have a creature that is technically an alien or fantasy or whatever, but it wags its tail and herds sheep and barks, it’s obviously a dog. But if this thing climbs on the ceiling and licks dust off of it, it’s obviously doing weird things, then don’t call it a dog. That would be confusing.

And the crocodiles are not the only instance of using words in this way. Word usage is just all over the place, confusing everywhere. The mountains are called Mother and Father, we have other animals like bison are definitely not bison…

Oren: Or anything bison like

Chris: or anything even close to bison.

Wes: They’re just a maw of teeth and they can move apparently lightening fast.

Oren: Right, they’re huge, but also somehow really sneaky.

Wes: But here’s the big thing, late in the book, they have explosives. And the quote is, “One of the explosives had a crude timer which they turn to its furthest setting, a picture of a zebra.” And my mind exploded because what is a zebra? Bison are not bison. Crocodiles are not crocodiles. So what is this a picture of? You cannot suddenly have an actual thing be what it is named. That doesn’t work.

Oren: And there were actually a lot of things like that, that happened in the story where they talked about like peaches and fish and other things, and okay, do you mean those things or do you mean weird alien stuff?

Chris: We can’t trust words anymore.

Wes: I  know! [laughter]

Chris: They could mean anything.

Oren: This translator at the beginning is so irritating in retrospect because it feels like trying to take what is clearly a mistake and be like, no, actually it’s very clever that I used the wrong words for things because this is a translation, you see. But it’s not a translation. This is internal narration, an unfolding story. No one is writing anything down. You can’t just say it’s epistolary, oh my gosh.

Wes: If anything, the best monster in the entire book is, here’s a shortened version of the description, this is when I think they’re going back across the Sea of Murder from Argolen to Xiosphant…

Chris: Which, it’s very confusing that the Sea of Murder is actually a sea.

Wes: Yeah, that’s a good point too [laughter].

Chris: Because you’re trained not to trust words anymore and assume everything that’s metaphorical means something else. So I was really surprised when the Sea of Murder was actually a body of water. I was not expecting that.

Wes: They’re returning to Xiosphant because Bianca has won the affections of a crime lord in a crude, small army. So anyway, then they’re on the Sea of Murder and the quote says, “But the mist cleared, and Alyssa spotted the cause of the eruption, one tentacle covered with iridescent feathers and tipped with a leaf shaped barb the size of a tenement had burst upward from the frozen ocean.” This is just a tentacle monster thing that starts wreaking havoc on them. It gets no name, and I’m fine with that. I’m like, okay it’s some beast from the deep that isn’t worth a name, but at least it’s not trying to trick me into thinking it’s something that it’s not.

Chris: How do you know that’s not the zebra?

Wes: Oh my God. Oh my God.

Oren: Actually, earlier they called it a squid.

Wes: Did they? Ugh.

Oren: Yeah.

Chris: An actual clear name that’s actually descriptive.

Wes: It’s at least close.

Oren: It’s like, yeah, okay, that thing is somewhat squid like. It’s not a squid, but at least I can see why you would call it that. As opposed to animals that have nothing in common with the monsters that they’re named for.

Chris: And we haven’t even talked about The Invention.

Oren: Oh my God.

Wes: Let’s just talk about Mouth [Chris, laughter], because cut that entire thing out of the book, the entire Mouth POV. I didn’t want any of it.

Chris: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Wes: All of it done with it. But please, Chris, tell us about The Invention.

Chris: Well, I mean, just going back to terminology where The Invention is obviously misleadingly named on purpose. Spoiler, not spoiler, it’s a book of poetry and cultural stuff and it’s clear that nobody in that world would ever name that book The Invention.

And Anders just felt that it’s going to be so clever because this thing is really valuable to Mouth, and we think that it’s an actual piece of technology that could make a difference. Instead what’s important to her is a cultural artifact. I’m fine with a cultural artifact being important to her that she has a reason for that but doing this, but what is it doesn’t help us get in Mouth’s viewpoint and care about it like she does.

It just keeps it vague and it feels super contrived because again, nobody would ever call it that.

Oren: Right. And it was obvious from the beginning that it was not going to be something useful. Because there was no reason for the author to withhold all description of it if it was actually going to be something helpful. It was the clumsiest attempt at a subversion I’ve seen in quite some time where it for some reason assumed that we would think it was something useful.

But I have no expectations for it. I don’t know what it is. And so I’m just sitting here being like, would you please tell me what it is so I know why it’s important for us to go get it? And it just didn’t, and it was like aha it’s a poetry book. Why does that matter at all? That didn’t go back and improve the chapters where I didn’t know what it was before and I could tell it was going to be something useless.

And mostly I could tell that because humans in the setting are incredibly incompetent and can’t find their ass with both hands [Wes, laughter]. So the idea that they were going to find something useful was immediately off the table. But that was some meta knowledge on my part.

Chris: Speaking of Mouth, one of the interesting things is, I think that Mouth was originally intended as a nonbinary character. It’s extremely subtle, where we get a very brief line about Mouth not wanting labels and gender is included in a list of labels that Mouth doesn’t like. But the reason I was pretty sure is because when Mouth is introduced, Anders seems to go to a lot of effort to try to not use any pronouns to refer to Mouth whatsoever.

She does use “her” to refer to things that belong to Mouth or when that is appropriate, but never uses “she” in reference to Mouth for quite some time and repeats the Mouth’s name frequently. And then about halfway through the book it feels like Anders is just like, okay, this is too hard and gives up and then uses “she” for mouth whenever.

Wes: That’s a good note. I didn’t think about that. I was really hung up on, this plays into the weirdness of The Invention, it’s Mouth’s POV and Mouth is a part of a group of transporters, smuggler types, but Mouth is the last of this group called the Citizens, which was basically, I imagine it being some kind of motorcycle brigade that didn’t live in any of the cities and just got high in the wilderness and visited these sacred sites that they made up on a planet that, you know, humans are new to.

Oren: Yeah. More or less [Chris laughter].

Wes: But Mouth is called Mouth because Mouth never got a personal mythology and therefore never got a name. So I thought the repetition was just emphasizing that this person is just a Mouth, but nothing important. But again, it wasn’t very satisfying.

Chris: I don’t think Anders’ wordcraft is quite that calculated.

Wes: No, probably not. Oh, also Mouth’s people were creating climate change on this planet and so the crocodiles killed them.

Chris: Okay. It’s time to talk about the crocodiles more, isn’t it? [Wes laughter]

Oren: Yeah. We have to get back to the crocodiles because, Oh God, I hate everything about them.

Chris: Just to start this off, there’re a lot of things wrong with this plot. Pretty much everything is wrong with this plot that you can think of to be wrong with a plot, but one of the base problems with the very premise is that the crocodiles, which are later renamed the Gelet, are a sapient people on this planet, but it is absolutely critical for this plot to work that they simply cannot communicate with humans except for via, what is best described, literally, as Lovecraftian mind rape, for reals. I wish that was not the best way to describe it, but it is. And some of the times it is consensual in this book, but some scenes seem to be deliberately framed to make it more analogous to a violation.

And Anders loves the Gelet, so as you can imagine that’s pretty problematic.

Oren: Yeah. We spent huge sections of the book just worshiping and fawning over how great the Gelet are. I’m sitting here being like, these are super gross and everything about them is gross. And I was rebelling in my head at how great the book was telling me they were.

Wes: And the fact that Sophie is the poster child for what the Gelets want; a complete submissive with no sense of self.

Oren: Yeah. That too. Everything about the Gelet is wrong. First we get told that they are super powerful and yet they apparently don’t do anything to stop humans from killing them. Humans randomly kill them sometimes because humans think they’re animals, and they don’t try to stop that.

Apparently they’re fine with it. That seems unlikely. Then they have this hilarious thing where we’re like, oh, well, Mouth’s people, her group, accidentally disturbed the system that they had in place to keep the climate stable, and so they murdered all of Mouth’s people, which we are told they’re very sad about because it was their last resort, but it was also apparently their first resort. They didn’t even try communication.

Wes: Let’s also point out that there’s a scene where Sophie takes several other people deep into the night, she’s persuaded them that the Gelet will talk to them and a bison shows up. And the Gelet just destroyed this thing in a hot second. Sophie has time to just register the bison’s open mouth, all these giant teeth, and then it’s just gone. And then the Gelet are there. So what’s their deal?

Oren: Yeah. I don’t understand. They apparently want something from humans, but it’s really unclear to me what they could possibly want from humans because again, humans in the setting are incredibly incompetent. And I feel like you’re so powerful, you have to be able to just get whatever it is you need.

Chris: We also know that they can operate human computers because there is a specific scene in their city where they play an old computer recording to communicate with Sophie that another human has left. So the idea that they could operate human computers but cannot figure out how to intelligently communicate to humans any way is something that cannot possibly hold up.

But it’s really important to the story that Sophie have to undergo this huge transformation and do things that other people aren’t willing to do in order for communication to happen.

Oren: Yeah. And then of course Sophie goes around forcing herself on other people which is some of the grossest stuff that I’ve ever read and I feel like I don’t why? Why? What is happening here? What is the point of this?

Chris: Yeah. That’s one of the biggest things about this book is it really feels like it’s supposed to have a message. But I was racking my brain trying to figure out what message Anders wanted to send with this book. First we’re in this Xiosphantcity and it’s super oppressive and kind of fascist, and you’re like, okay, this is the bad city, and now she’s going to Argelo, and you think you’ll see in Argelo what the better human civilization is.

Nope. Argelo is supposed to be the opposite extreme. It’s actually real unrealistic. It’s supposed to be chaos. Nine different families fighting each other. Basically crime lords and the city is constantly changing leadership.

It mostly just feels like somebody who knows nothing about anarchy, their idea of what anarchy is. In reality, when you have those kinds of situations, you end up with a dictator. One person has more power or power accumulates power. It’s just a kind of an unrealistic society.

But now we have two opposite human societies that are both bad. I don’t know what the point is with this. And then we finally see the alien city, and it’s like a paradise because the crocodiles, the Gelet, our lord and saviors are perfect in every way. But it’s also pretty clear that this is not achievable by humans. Humans are incapable of the utopia of the crocodiles.

So then I was looking for, is there something that humans are supposed to do to get closer to the symbolic utopia of the Gelet and that doesn’t ever come, that doesn’t appear in the story in any way. As far as we know, the Gelet are just amazing and awesome and so much better than humans, and there’s no message that humans can take away from this about how to create a better society, even though it looks like that’s what the pieces of the book are trying to construct.

Oren: At the end, it really felt like the message was that we must submit to alien Jesus [Chris, Wes, laughter]. That’s the only way we will be saved. And I was like, was this written by one of those people who thinks that UFOs are coming to save us? Because those people do exist. They’re real. It feels like one of them wrote this book and then published it under Charlie Jane Ander’s name.

I don’t think she thinks that, so I’m very confused what the purpose of any of this was.

Wes: Want to know a super minor thing that is just going to be such an irritation for me?

Oren: Oh yeah?

Wes: What is the ankle skirt. Were they wearing skirts, but the skirt was around their ankles?

Chris: I guess. I mean, what do words even mean.

Wes: I don’t know. But if anybody can figure that out, please let me know because I just…

Oren: Admittedly I assumed it was supposed to be an ankle length skirt, but maybe I am a pleb and didn’t understand.

Chris: I assumed it was skirts around the ankle with frills.

Wes: They bring it up several times about having to take off the skirt around their ankles. It’d get dirty immediately.

Oren: I also love how Argelo is a crime agro zone. Immediately upon coming to the city, this group of heavily armed, bad ass mercenary couriers is attacked by a dude with a harpoon gun. Really? Those are the people you’re going to try to rob, single guy with harpoon gun?

Earlier we had the same thing where they got attacked by “pirates”. Who were simultaneously supposed to be desperate fishermen who had turned to piracy, but were also clearly just fully kitted out to be pirates and had clearly been doing this professionally for quite some time, even though nobody crosses the sea. This is the random encounter, I guess [Wes laughter]. I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy recently and it felt like, yep the screen went all whirrly and now we’re playing the battle music and here are some enemies.

And they don’t actually exist in the overworld when you’re walking around, they’re just here. So you have someone to fight.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, that is the thing about the novelty of this book for me is that yes, it’s very novel, but so much of it makes very little sense. And if that’s something that you don’t look too closely at, maybe you get a lot more out of that novelty than if you’re inclined that just wouldn’t happen or that doesn’t compute.

Wes: So we keep talking about the Gelet because they keep distracting us. But I do want to finish talking about Mouth’s arc because of how bizarre it is. This is one of the two major character arcs in the story, and it goes from Mouth being a total badass to her being a complete pacifist, but it’s so clumsy that it just doesn’t work.

First of all, I noticed that we don’t ever see Mouth be a badass. We’re told she was a bad ass in the past, but when actual fights happen in the book, she’s almost always frozen in fear or indecision.

Chris: I cannot count the number of scenes in this book where action happens and the internal narration is “and I just couldn’t do anything about it. I was completely helpless. It all happened so fast and I was disoriented and I wanted to do something, but instead I threw up.” Over and over again.

Wes: There is one thing that happens right at the beginning when Mouth’s chapter’s introduced and that’s when they’re trying to go into this secret tunnel in Xiosphant with the smuggled goods and some guy, I don’t know what his name is, Jeremy or whatever, walks up and he’s, Oh, I’m going to rob you guys and Mouth just puts his head into the ceiling.

That’s the one clear moment of violence where Mouth apparently is strong. Just pick this guy up, explode his head, drop him on the ground, and then the rest of her people are like, great, he was our one contact. They’re like whatever, we’ll find somebody else. I’m a bad ass. And then you never did anything cool again. [Laughs]

Oren: Right. Then the part about it that makes it even weirder is that we have this big fight in Argelo, which doesn’t seem that important at the time because it’s told almost entirely through summary. We’re told that some acid rain started and then the nine families started fighting and that Mouth and her friend went and held this food depot for a while. This is all summary. So okay, I guess we’re going to keep going. And then the next time we see Mouth, she’s handed a weapon that she just drops. What is happening?

And then we are back-filled in about how in between chapters, she developed a problem where she can’t hold weapons anymore. The assumption being that because she was traumatized during this fight…

Chris: That was told. In summary…

Oren: Yeah. If this fight was so important, why was it in summary and what about it was more horrific than any of the things Mouth has done before? She’s killed lots of people. Why was this particularly bad? I don’t know. The book didn’t tell me. And so that was the weirdest type of character arc I’ve seen in quite some time.

Chris: Before we go, there’s one last thing that we really haven’t talked about, which is the wordcraft. Because it is very purple. Besides the confusing words, it is super purple. You know, some of the metaphors are interesting. There is some novelty in the wordcraft, but some things don’t really make sense. I don’t know what somebody standing like an upturned a knife is supposed to mean or what connotation that’s supposed to happen or what connotation that’s supposed to have.

Sometimes the metaphors feel pointless. Like, my eyelashes froze like needles. Is that really necessary? I mean, if your eyelashes freeze, they’re just a little stiff. It seems a little extreme to call them needles. And we can’t describe time passing without, “it felt like we had always been walking and that was our entire lives and we would never stop walking again.”

That’s how Anders summarizes time passing. Every single thing is dialed up to 11. Really melodramatic throughout the entire book. Wes do you have any…

Wes: Yeah. The metaphor thing is something that stuck out to me. It’s notable that this book is specifically focused on a subset, which, most metaphors in this entire thing are similes. So, that word “like” is throughout the entire book. Argolen, a language that sounds like a throat disease, like icicles, like this, like that, like shit, like…all of it and it’s just weak. It’s not, it’s not offering anything to me as a reader.

Every metaphor you’re offering, you’re telling me exactly how it is and it’s over the top. It’s not making me ponder. It’s not considering any nuance. You’re not giving me anything to play with with this language. It’s just telling me exactly what it is in melodramatic language that doesn’t seem to fit the environment.

Oren: All right, so my favorite is at one point when Sophie makes an analogy to something smelling like a dead woman’s tears.

Wes: That was a great one.

Oren: What does that mean? What do dead women’s tears smell like? Are they different than dead men’s tears? How do you know what they smell like, Sophie, [Chris laughter] how do dead people cry in the first place? What does this mean? And it was so absurd that like a lot of the purple prose, it just took me right out of the story, which is the main reason why you’re not supposed to use purple prose is that it’s distracting because it means nothing. It’s just weird.

Chris: Yeah, I have to say that if you want every single moment to be juiced for as much emotion as you can possibly get out of it, then it becomes monotonous after a while, it means nothing and moments that are supposed to be emotional…it gets very tiresome the longer it goes on.

Oren: Yeah. Hashtag do not juice it, is my new way of looking at the world. All right, but we’re going to have to call it, we’re already way over time, so thank you everyone for listening. We will return next week with more Hugos and just for the reference, I think this is the worst one in my opinion, so I think they’ll get better after this. We’ll see.

For those of you at home, if anything we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com. Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons. First we have Kathy Ferguson who is a professor of political theory in star Trek. I feel like she would have a few things to say about this book’s misunderstanding of how anarchy works.

Next we have Ayman Jaber, who is a Marvel connoisseur and urban fantasy writer, and finally we have Danita Rambo and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week with more Hugos.

Promo: If you enjoyed this episode, consider leaving us a review on iTunes so we can continue to grow like a swarm of Nanites.

[Closing theme]

Chris: This has been the Mythcreant podcast. Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself, by Jonathan Coulton.

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Comments

  1. Jeppsson

    I haven’t read City in the Middle of the Night, but what you say reminds me of Gene Wolff’s the Book of the New Sun series. I liked these books mostly for all the novelty, and some absolutely LOVE them (I guess novelty plays a big part there too). It’s sci-fi fantasy, told in first person, one single PoV characer, mostly unfolding if I remember correctly (like, the MC retells the story of his life, but it still mostly comes out as unfolding).

    Weirdly, in the SECOND novel, at the very END, Wolff introduces an appendix, where he talks about “finding” these manuscripts, from the “far future” (so they popped up to him via some never-explained time portal, or what?), and he “translated” them into English (how?). It was annoying to me since it added nothing to the story, it was just really weird, especially since it popped up so late in the series.
    In the appendixes, Wolff also explains that when references to ice-age mega animals or dinosaurs pop up in the books (something I had so far just rolled with, since the story has so much fantasy flavour anyway), it’s not literally these species, but new kinds of animals created through bio-engineering; sometimes even alien animals brought there by Earth’s alien population. Still, they’re named (in the “translation”) after animals they RESEMBLE. So, okay. At least the pictures I got in my head while reading were accurate. That’s plus one to Wolff over Anders, I guess.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I just wish authors would stop with throwing in unnecessary stuff like this in the name of being clever. It adds nothing to the story!

  2. Silverware

    Oh wow, this was a pretty intense roasting. One of the things I was thinking while reading the transcript was that even I, at tender age of 16, dedicated 4 chapters to the events of one day because they were Important. Gimme a Hugo!

    Sadly I can’t have a Nebula because I didn’t finish the damn thing, and that’s the true difference between rookies and Hugo nominees.

  3. Paul

    “We can’t trust words anymore!” Love it, great podcast.

  4. Lexy

    Listening to you guys tear things apart is always fun, but in this case, it was hilarious as well, oh man. :’D Well done! I have to say though, it is a constant disappointment and pet peeve of mine to see mediocre stories become so popular and/or acclaimed because of one random element. It’s like no one cares about actual well written plots or characters anymore and I don’t get it at all. o_e;;; When did the bar drop so low???

    Anyway, super looking forward to the rest of these!

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      the secret is that being really good at one element has always been how stories become popular. Stories are actually much better on average these days than they used to be.

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