The City and The City

Last night I finished watching the BBC adaptation of China Miéville’s novel THE CITY AND THE CITY on BBC iPlayer and must admit that it left me feeling that I wanted to know more about the twin cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. As to the story being a police procedural set in a semi-fantasy setting … well I felt that it worked, but it did take a bit of mental effort to follow everything that was happening. (I happen to like dystopian stories, and this certainly fits into that genre.)

The concept of the populations of the twin cities not being able to ‘see’ each other did seem odd at first, but when I began to think about it, I realised that human beings can do that all the time. For example, in many totalitarian states the population seems to be able to ‘not see’ things that might be dangerous for them to ‘see’, and how many times have we each ‘not seen’ something that was unpleasant or difficult even though it might be blindingly obvious. One only has to consider some of the recent child protection cases that have taken place in the UK to realise that this can happen on a wide scale if the environment is conducive to ‘not seeing’ something that is inconvenient to acknowledge as existing.

The choice of the names of the twin cities (and the mythical third city) is interesting. As soon as I realised that the twin of Besźel was called Ul Qoma (pronounced Ulcoma), I was struck by the similarity to the word Glaucoma, which is a group of eye diseases that can result in damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision … the later being something that the populations of both cities seem to collectively suffer from.

The name Besźel put me in mind of the word bezel, which besides being a grove that holds a jewel in place also refers to the facets on a gem and the frame of a TV, computer, or smartphone screen. In the latter case it ‘contains’ whatever we can see … which is yet another oblique reference to restricted vision.

The mythical third city is called Orciny, and as soon as I realised how it was spelt, I saw the obvious reference to the word ‘orc’. Thanks to the work of J R R Tolkien, I doubt if there are many people who don’t have an idea what they are … hideous humanoid creatures that are part of a fantasy race. Orcs are often portrayed as being underground-living (in THE CITY AND THE CITY to ways into Orciny seem to be through underground passages or tunnels), aggressive, cunning, and capable of working metals. The latter is interesting as part of the story’s plot revolves around the discovery of unique metal objects fashioned from a previously unknown alloy.

This was not any easy TV series to watch, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. I understand that there might be a follow-up series based around the same characters and the setting, but as the author has not written any further novels as yet that are set in the twin cities, I suspect that this will not come to pass.


It is interesting to note that most of the location filming was done in Liverpool and Manchester. In the series Besźel is depicted as a run-down and dirty place, redolent of Communist-era Eastern Europe and with out-dated technology (the cars all looked like old Russian Ladas), whereas Ul Qoma is far more modern and clean-looking, with up-to-date technology, an almost universal smoking ban, and armed police and soldiers on every street corner.

Two different views of dystopia, both of which worked in their own contexts and in the context of the story.


A Fantasy version of my Portable Wargame rules

One of my regular blog readers is Maudlin Jack Tar, and whilst I and others have been thinking about writing a Fantasy variant of my PORTABLE WARGAME Ancients rules, he has actually gone and done it!

His rules are available on his blog page, PROJECTS & PROCRASTINATION …

… and besides enough information to actually fight a Fantasy battle using his rules, he has added a battle report.

I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in a possible Fantasy variant of my rules to pay Maudlin Jack Tar‘s blog a visit. I don’t think that you will be disappointed.