String Theory is an attempt to unite the General Theory of Relativity with Quantum Mechanics to form an overarching theory that explains “everything.” To unite the big of the universe with the small of particle theory. (see link for further explanation)
To do this, String Theory math requires at least ten other dimensions exist. String Theory was proposed in the nineties and is still being hotly debated as to its validity. Yet, the idea of other dimensions is showing up in science fiction novels and shows. It’s a fairly new direction and an intriguing one. The popular T.V. series “Fringe” deals with the concept of parallel universes.
My recent read of China Meiville’s The City and the City addresses the idea of overlapping dimensions. Think of The City and the City as a bit of Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984 all mixed together.
It concerns two contemporary cities somewhere at the edge of Europe that dimensionally overlap each other. A woman is murdered in the decaying and impoverished city of Beszal and Inspector Tyador Berlu gets the case. While inhabitants of both cities can see each other, they are taught from birth not to look directly at anything, or anyone from the other city, or they will be charged with an act of “Breach” and be whisked away, never to be seen again. This makes for a strange set of behaviors. People are constantly trying to avoid running into what they are forbidden to look at. Certain styles of dress and definitive movements provide clues as to which city an inhabitant is from. Still, the pressure of not looking at, or touching the hazy image that is often right in front of you, permeates the story.
Clues from the murder case impel Inspector Tyador Berlu into a strange border crossing from the city of Beszal into the overlapping dimension of the rich and thriving city of Ul Quoma where he joins up with his Ul Quoma counterpart, Inspector Quissim Dhatt. Of course the two men can’t stand each other, but they must work together in order to solve the case. So a bit of tension there.
The murdered girl is discovered to be an archeology student involved in a dig in Ul Quoma that is looking for artifacts from the Precursor Age. (before the dimensional split) Soon radical unificationalists, a rich foreign tycoon, local politicians, a controversial author, a young female sidekick, shadowy Breach enforcers and hysterical parents become involved.
Things get very confusing. A controversial author makes a case for a third shadowy city containing powerful beings and then loudly refutes his work. The murdered girl’s best friend disappears because she is terrified that her life is in danger. From whom exactly, is not made clear.
While the book contains the intriguing idea of multi dimensions wrapped in the structure of a murder mystery, I found the whole thing rather confusing. A lot of things kept being hinted at while not actually being said. People would look at things and then have to “unsee” them. I wasn’t sure whether there ever were aliens involved. The whole idea of the inhabitants of two cities having to step around and not look at each other or risk being taken away to Breach, is hard to believe. Everyone is terrified of “Breach” and yet throughout the book incidents of breach happen without punishment. The reader feels like he is being distracted from one red herring to another. And indeed he is.
It’s an odd book…and for that reason, interesting
If you like hard-boiled mystery novels with a science fiction slant, then this one’s worth trying.
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