This was really quite different from The Just City. Where I felt that the first book was incredibly focussed on dialogue and discussion about what excellence is, what makes a just city, and how to live out Plato’s ideals – and I don’t mean any of that in a bad way, I adored it – this had a lot more action. What discussion there was often didn’t feel as grounded in philosophy because it was moving away from classical sources and into more personal, I think, reflections on being and existing. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a difference.
There are spoilers below for The Just City.
This is taking place twenty years after the events of the first book. Apollo is still there but Athene is still off in a huff. The place has fractured even further than it looked like it would when Kebes and his crew left; now there are several different cities on the island, all claiming to be Doing Plato in the Right Way – and all looking quite different. I LOVE this idea and wish there had been a bit more about how and why the cities were different. There is some, and it was enough for a taste, but I wanted extra.
Anyway the focus is still on Apollo and his family, so it’s still focussed on the original city. The narrators are Apollo, again, and Maia, again – and I liked keeping these original two because they have changed so much in some ways, and not in others. Maia especially has of course moved further away from the 18th-century girl she used to be. The additional narrator in the book is Arete (which means excellence), daughter of Apollo and Simmea. Yup. She’s quite young and very different in perspective compared to Apollo (natch) or Simmea when she was young because she’s had such a different experience – no being a slave for her, as for her mother, but instead a loving family environment.
The action is mostly spurred by one tragic act which has repercussions for a number of people although not for the entire city necessarily, which is another difference between this and the first; another way that it’s more personal, rather than society-wide. It does lead Apollo to consider more about the realities of being human and all, of course.
I enjoyed it, although not quite as much as The Just City. I cannot wait for the next book because WHOA what an ending.
I hadn’t even heard of this book until Katharine mischievously sent me a copy because she wanted to know how I would feel about it. And my initial feels are: omg THERE BETTER BE A SEQUEL.
Is that what you were expecting, K?
The premise: Athene (yes, she who sprang fully formed) wonders what would happen if humans attempted to put Plato’s Republic into action – with a little help from her, of course. So she gathers together a bunch of people from across time who have all prayed to her, perhaps inadvertently, after reading The Republic and wanting themselves to put it into practise. And they’re going to collect slave children, and they’re going to try out their city on a certain island that will eventually be destroyed by a volcano… (yes Athene is aware of how recursive this is I LOVE YOU JO WALTON).
Apollo, meanwhile, is confounded by Daphne wanting so much to get away from his tender advances that she was happy to be turned into a tree, so he decides to become mortal to explore ideas of volition and equal significance. And hanging out in the fledgling Republic of the philosopher-kings seems like an interesting and pragmatic way of doing so.
The book’s chapters switch between a few different characters. Apollo gets a few, but not most, which is good because I liked his perspective and seeing what life was like for a being with godly knowledge but human limitations, but it would have got old to have him as the focus. Instead, most of the chapters are from female perspectives. Lucia, renamed Simmea, is from what I take to be the early Christian period; she’s bought as a slave and taken to Thera, destined to be brought up in the first generation of true Republicans. Maia, originally Ethel, was born in Yorkshire in 1841. Well educated for a girl at the time she appears destined for the standard gloomy life of struggling middle class woman, until she happens to cry out to Athene… and she’s transported to Thera to act as one of the guardians, teaching the new generation how to be their best selves and eventually develop into Plato’s philosopher-kings (… well, some of them).
I’ve not read The Republic. In fact, I’ve never read anything of Plato’s in much depth or at much length (I’ve taken some Classics subjects so I must have read a bit… right?). This is not, however, a problem for reading this novel because Walton does a wonderful job of having her characters discuss the various issues and conundrums and ideas that Plato raises – all without it seeming like an info-dump. Just as setting up the city is an experiment for Athene, this book is a thought-experiment itself. This book reminded me in some ways of Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, because so much of it is conversation- and ideas-driven. There is some action, but it is not the focus – and most of the action is connected to the ideas, showing them in action in some way. And I never once found it boring.
Slavery, good or bad? And can you have the perfect society as suggested by Plato without slaves to do at least some of the jobs?
Individuals as ‘fit for purpose’: should someone else get to determine what you do for your entire life? Should your worth be entirely determined by the work that you do?
How to be one’s best self: I could not help but think of Bill and Ted, of course. But it is also a deeply intriguing question: how do we help ourselves and those around us be excellent?
Censorship: can it be a good thing?
Who can you trust? How do you know? Are there levels of trust, or areas in which someone is trustworthy and others in which they aren’t?
There is JUST SO MUCH in this book I have only scratched the surface IT IS EXCELLENT.
The one off-note that didn’t really work for me was the rape early on of one of the guardians. While it was occasionally referenced later on and certainly had some impact on the woman involved, I didn’t really see why it needed to be a part of the narrative. And it seems weird to say that this is a minor quibble, given the topic, but overall I think it’s dealt with mostly ok; it just didn’t quite sit right with me.
Aaaaand in finding the image for this post I’ve just discovered that the second book already exists in the world AAAAAAAH *buys*. (Also buys a hard copy of The Just City, for re-reading and shoving into people’s hands. My mother MUST read this.) You can get The Just City from Fishpond.
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While Alisa is away, Alex & Tansy play… in ANCIENT GREECE! We talk awards, the end of publishing as we know it, stressful feminist debates, Vonda McIntyre, Twitter fiction, Stargate, and whether there’s enough Greek & Roman mythology in modern fantasy.
Tansy wins WSFA Small Press Award for Siren Beat;
Last Drink Bird Head Award Winners;
John Joseph Adams takes over from Cat Rambo & Sean Wallace as editor of Fantasy Magazine;
Wiscon committee disappoints through inaction (also here); and then finally moves to disinvite Elizabeth Moon as GoH (warning, many of the comments on that one are pretty awful to wade through); also here and here;
Paul Collins on how the ebook revolution isn’t working so well ;
Cat Valente on tedium, evil, and why the term ‘PC’ is only used these days to hurt and silence people;
Peter M Ball explaining how white male privilege uses requests for civility to silence the legitimate anger of others;
What have we been reading/listening to?
Tansy: Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson; Blameless, Gail Carriger, Bleed by Peter M Ball, “Twittering the Universe” by Mari Ness, Shine & “Clockwork Fairies” by Cat Rambo, Tor.com.
Alex: Silver Screen, Justina Robson; Sprawl; Deep Navigation, Alastair Reynolds; The Beginning Place, Ursula le Guin; abandoned Gwyneth Jones’ Escape Plans; listening to The 5th Race, ep 1 (Stargate SG1 fan podcast).
Classical mythology in modern fantasy. Can it still work? Do you have to get it ‘right’?
The Firebrand, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Medea, Cassandra, Electra by Kerry Greenwood
Olympic Games, Leslie What
Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos
Gods Behaving Badly, Marie Phillips
Troy, Simon Brown
Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad and Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, also David Malouf’s Ransom – along the same lines as Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin
Robert Holdstock’s Celtika, Iron Grail, Broken Kings
My mother told me to read this book, and after reading about Aphrodite and Apollo getting it on like rabbits I’m a leedle bit embarrassed by that.
The book’s by Marie Phillips; from what I can tell it’s a first novel. The Olympians live in a big old house in London, and it – and them – have definitely seen better days. They bicker and argue, and they still try to act as cavalierly with humans as in ‘the good old days’ – but their power is significantly reduced, which naturally feeds into some rather serious frustration. And then there’s Neil and Alice, the classic near-innocents who get tied up in a cosmic game…
You need a certain amount of knowledge about ancient Greek myth to get along with this book. Although some references are explained – like Daphne, and Orpheus&Eurydice – without a basic grasp on the personalities and traits of gods like Artemis and Aphrodite et al, I think you’d probably struggle to fully appreciate this story.
That said, with a rudimentary understanding, this is a very funny story. Apollo reduced to being an oracle on cable? Artemis the dog-walker? And let’s not even talk about Zeus… Perhaps the funniest two are Eros and Athene. Eros, the Christian. And Athene, mind-boggling intelligent… but articulate? Not so much. Even without an ancient Greek background, it would still be funny, since it’s obvious they’re gods and it’s obvious they’re not happy about their current place in the cosmos.
An amusing story that took me a couple of hours to barge through. Highly recommended for a bit of ancient Greek fluff.
I can’t really pretend this is an unusual thing anymore – once again, I am flicking between Video Hits and Rage. But that’s not the point of this post. No: the point is Britney Spears, and not even her ‘music’. The ad was for her new perfume. Basically, I think she’s heard the story of Artemis and Aktaeon, and got it mixed up a bit in her head. In the ad, she (the goddess, of course), is being pursued by a hunter, who has fallen in love with her; he shoots her with a ‘magic love arrow’ or somesuch (so maybe Aktaeon and Eros have got mixed up in her head… who’s to say?), and they live happily ever after. Very curious. And all of this, of course, takes place in a forest… very primal.