The City & the City

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The City & the City
Mieville City 2009 UK.jpg
UK first edition cover
Author China Miéville
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Crime, Weird fiction
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
15 May 2009
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 312 pp
Award Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2010)
ISBN 1-4050-0017-1
OCLC 316836327
Preceded by Un Lun Dun
Followed by Kraken

The City & the City is a novel by British author China Miéville, combining weird fiction with the police procedural; it was written as a gift for Miéville's terminally ill mother, who was a fan of the latter genre.[1] The novel was published by Macmillan on 15 May 2009. In the US it was published by Del Rey Books on 26 May 2009. Also in 2009, a signed, limited edition of 500 numbered and 26 lettered copies was published in the US by Subterranean Press. It has won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, Arthur C. Clarke Award, World Fantasy Award, BSFA Award and Kitschies Red Tentacle; tied with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl for the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and been nominated for a Nebula Award and John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.[2]


Inspector Tyador Borlú, of the Extreme Crime Squad in the European city-state of Besźel, investigates the murder of Mahalia Geary, a foreign student found dead with her face disfigured in a Besźel street. He soon learns that Geary had been involved in the political and cultural turmoil involving Besźel and its "twin city" of Ul Qoma. His investigations start in his home city of Besźel, lead him to Ul Qoma to assist the Ul Qoman police in their work, and eventually result in an examination of the legend of Orciny, a rumoured third city existing in the spaces between Besźel and Ul Qoma.


The City & the City takes place in the cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. The precise location of these cities is not described. However, various references in the book indicate that the cities are perhaps in the coastal Black Sea region of southeastern Europe: Besź smugglers traffic in goods from Varna, Bulgaria and Bucharest, Romania; protagonist Tyador Borlú enjoys his coffee in the Turkish style.[original research?]

These two cities actually occupy much of the same geographical space, but via the volition of their citizens (and the threat of the secret power known as Breach), they are perceived as two different cities. A denizen of one city must dutifully 'unsee' (that is, consciously erase from their mind or fade into the background) the denizens, buildings, and events taking place in the other city – even if they are an inch away. This separation is emphasised by the style of clothing, architecture, gait, and the way denizens of each city generally carry themselves. Residents of the cities are taught from childhood to recognise things belonging to the other city without actually seeing them. Ignoring the separation, even by accident, is called "breaching" – a terrible crime by the citizens of the two cities, even worse than murder. The origin of this odd situation is unclear, as it started at an uncertain time in the past, perhaps before recorded European history. Residents of the cities speak different languages that use distinct alphabets, but that nonetheless have a common root and share a degree of mutual intelligibility.

The twin cities are composed of crosshatched, alter, and total areas. "Total" areas are entirely in one city, the city in which the observer currently resides. "Alter" areas are completely in the other city, and so must be completely avoided and ignored. Between these are areas of "crosshatch". These might be streets, parks or squares where denizens of both cities walk alongside one another, albeit "unseen." Areas that exist in both cities usually go under different names in each one. There is also Copula Hall, "one of the very few" buildings which exists in both cities under the same name. Rather than being cross-hatched, it essentially functions as a border. It is the only way in which one can legally and officially pass from one city to another. Passing through the border passage takes travellers, geographically (or "grosstopically"), to the exact place they started from – only in a different city.

From a physical standpoint, little differentiates the two cities, other than slight differences of architecture, vehicles and styles of dress which citizens and visitors are trained to recognise. Those who do not know about the separation might naturally view the two cities as one. Because of this, an extra power is needed to keep the separation in place: this organisation is known as Breach. When a 'breach' takes place (used here in the sense of 'breaching' the barrier between the two cities), Breach comes to take care of it. Members of the Breach organisation use their powers to take the breacher captive, and bring them to an unknown punishment. "Breachers", as they are called, disappear and are never seen again. Children and tourists, however, are treated more leniently: children may be forgiven for a small breach; if tourists breach, they are bundled out and banned from both cities forever.

Most breaches are taken care of by Breach immediately, but its surveillance capabilities are not absolute. Sometimes Breach must be specifically invoked to investigate a crime that seems to be a clear-cut case of breach, such as a smuggling operation that involves breaching to transport the smuggled goods from one city to the other. To invoke Breach, the police must present their evidence to an Oversight Committee composed of 42 members, 21 from each city. If the evidence presented is convincing enough, the Committee performs whatever other investigation into the matter it deems appropriate to resolve any remaining doubts its members have. If its investigation concludes to its satisfaction that a breach has taken place, then and only then will it invoke Breach. Invoking Breach is a last resort because it is an alien power to which some consider that Besźel and Ul Qoma surrender their sovereignty at their peril.


Reviewing the book for The Guardian, Michael Moorcock concludes:

Andrew McKie reviewed the book for The Spectator and suggested:

In September 2010, the novel won the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel, tied with Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl.[5] In April 2010, it won the BSFA Award for Best Novel of 2009, as well as the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award.[6] In October 2010 the novel won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel,[7] and in January 2010 it obtained the 2009 Kitschies Red Tentacle.[8] In 2011, the German translation Die Stadt und die Stadt won the Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis.


The City & the City was adapted into a play by Christopher M. Walsh. The show premièred at Lifeline Theatre of Chicago in February 2013.[9] It was Jeff recommended.[10]

It was announced in late August 2015 that British TV channel BBC Two had ordered an adaptation of the novel. [11] The TV series, which is due to air in 2018, is being produced by Mammoth Screen and adapted by British screenwriter Tony Grisoni.[12]


  1. ^ Monster-free China: Mieville's The City & The City, at Suvudu, by Chris Schluep; published 4 May 2009; retrieved 5 December 2012
  2. ^ "The City & the City". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 16 January 2011. 
  3. ^ Moorcock, Michael (30 May 2009). "Review: The City and the City by China Miéville". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2009. 
  4. ^ McKie, Andrew (20 June 2009). "Unseeing is believing". The Spectator. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  5. ^ Flood, Alison (6 September 2010). "China Miéville and Paolo Bacigalupi tie for Hugo award". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2010. 
  6. ^ "Miéville Wins Clarke Award". Science Fiction Awards Watch. 28 April 2010. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  7. ^ SF Signal – Winners: 2010 World Fantasy Awards
  8. ^ "The Kitschies: 2009 Red Tentacle Winner". Pornokitsch. 4 January 2010. Retrieved 13 January 2012. 
  9. ^ The City & The City, Lifeline Theatre February 15-April 7, 2013
  10. ^ The City and The City - Lifeline Theatre - Chicago
  11. ^ BBC Two announces The City And The City, an 4x60 adaptation of China Miéville's novel, BBC, 28 August 2015
  12. ^ Mammoth Screen - Company Info

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