CITY ON FIRE
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In City On Fire, Walter Jon Williams continues the story begun in Metropolitan. The earlier book detailed Aiah's involvement with the Metropolitan Constantine in a coup in the city of Caraqui. City On Fire examines the results of that coup as Constantine becomes the Minster of Resources and he places Aiah in the position of Director of the newly-formed Plasm E Department.
Perhaps what sets City On Fire apart from so many other books is the fact that it is looking at the post-revolutionary situation and revealing that, although none of the characters seem to see it, the new reforming government is as corrupt as the former government. This corruption does not necessarily take the same form. While the Avians were fiscally corrupt, Constantine and his fellow ministers and triumvirs have no problem using their newly acquired power to acquire what they need and deal ruthlessly with their enemies.
Throughout this corruption, Aiah does not realize that Constantine is corrupt, despite his taking actions which Aiah deplores. All these actions are relegated with an "ends justify the means" approach while at the same time they demonstrate that the means influence the ends.
With its heavy reliance on plasm, City On Fire is a fantasy novel which claims all the trappings of cyberpunk. Unfortunately, plasm, and many other specifics are not defined in City On Fire, Williams, apparently assuming that his readers have already picked up Metropolitan. Fortunately, enough of the plot and political situations are self-contained enough that the reader can enjoy City On Fire without having read the intial novel.
Throughout the novel, Williams has a very detached writing style, which tends to make his characters and their situations seem less real, more like a film. The book opens with a large expository section describing how Aiah arrived in Caraqui. There is very little dialogue and the ready feels as if they are reading about a dream. Even after Aiah begins to interact with other main characters, each character feels as if they have been given a role and must play the part, but they do so without conviction.
Constantine and Aiah are lovers, but they show no sign of any real affection for each other. They don't even show that they are using each other merely for gratification. Furthermore, Aiah's relatively calm acceptance of Sorya, one of her rivals for Constantine's affection, only serves to underscore how little emotion these characters have.
City On Fire does a wonderful job examining the after-effects of a political coup on the macro level. Although Williams also attempts to look at the micro level, he fails due to cardboard thickness of his characters. It is difficult to care for them and their interpersonal relationships show no signs of affection, only, in same rare occasions, cynicism.
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