First off, Happy Holidays to everyone out there celebrating anything at all.
On Sunday 25 I flew east from Seattle to Buffalo via Newark, beating the massive blizzard by about two hours. Our plane left at 9:40 and they closed the airport at midnight. As of this morning, some poor souls have been there four days and are still only on stand-by. Since I usually have very bad plane karma, I am grateful to not be stuck this time.
But none of that is the subject of this blog, which is China Mievelle's novel THE CITY AND THE CITY. The book tied with Paolo Bacigalupi's THE WIND-UP GIRL for last year's Hugo. TCATC (sounds like a nucleotide base) has terrific writing. The characters are vivid, the settings well-realized, the plot involving. However, the novel depends on readers' accepting the premise, which is this: Two cities co-exist with each other, in the same geographical space somewhere in Europe. There is no magic involved; the cities each have some buildings in the same block. The citizens of these two separate countries "unsee" the buildings, citizens, and events in the other, which means that from birth they are indoctrinated to ignore them until they are a vague blur. It is a crime punishable by death to "breach" this convention. Almost nobody does. To travel from one city to the other -- even to buildings that are topographically next door to each other -- one must go to a central area, show passport and visa, and "cross the border."
At a recent party, two people said to me that they had no trouble accepting this premise and so enjoyed the book. Another person said she could not, and so did not. I seem to be in the middle (a usual position for me). I am enjoying the novel but at the back of my mind is a persistent nagging feeling that I don't believe it. This is, incidentally, the same feeling I had about Suzanne Collins's THE HUNGER GAMES.
So a question: Of what relative importance is a shaky novelistic premise compared to superb execution of that premise?