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Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: The Just City

I got The Just City as a giveaway as part of the promotion for Jo Walton's The Philosopher Kings, which is the next book of the trilogy. If you've read Among Others, I think you'll have a feel for what Jo Walton likes, and what she doesn't do.

Walton doesn't do action. Don't expect action sequences or blockbuster style events. What Walton does great is dialogue, discussion, and references to great works.In this case, that great work is Plato's The Republic. I've never read the book, but you don't need to to enjoy "The Just City."

The premise of the book is that two gods, Apollo and Athena have decided to run an experiment to see whether The Republic could actually have worked as a utopia. To do so, they found a site (I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that it's Atlantis) and seeded it with philosophers from all across time, who are then tasked with building The Republic with a new generation of 10-year olds who are brought over and severed from their previous lives.

Walton does a great job of dealing with all the typical objections. For instance, if a group consisting of no one other than philosophers were to try to bring up civilization, how would anyone eat? Or have buildings? Or do anything even close to subsist?

Then we get the protagonists who are very human characters trying to make something out of Plato's book work. All the politics and of course, there're always people who want The Republic to fail.

In any case, the book is full of dialogue (what do you expect?), exploration of theory vs practicality, and what it means to be a philosopher King. It's major flaw is that the ending is abrupt and doesn't really make a lot of sense --- Walton doesn't really prepare the groundwork for the denouement that she provides, and it rings a bit false.

While it's nowhere near the level of the Hugo winning Among Others, I still found myself reading this book with joy, and so recommend it. I'm not sure I'd bother picking up the sequel because of my unhappiness with the denouement, but maybe that will fade with time.

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