Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jo Walton's The Just City

Thrilling is an over-used word, washed out by roller coasters and horror movies. But its meaning -- a deep, stirring, positive feeling -- can best be applied to reading good fiction, full of ideas and challenges to the reader's world view.

Jo Walton's latest book, The Just City, is what made me think of this bit of definitional territory-marking. Films, at least for me, can't come close to equaling that deep thrumming reverberation inside myself.

The Just City is aptly, if a bit boringly, named. It's a real-world fantasy where the goddess Athene brings people from many eras to a single point in time to create Plato's Republic. They were chosen because they all speak or read classical Greek and at some point prayed to her to make the Republic real. They become the teachers for ten thousand 10-year-old children who are bought from slave markets throughout time.

The story takes the points of view of one of the teachers, a Victorian-era woman, and two of the students, a boy and a girl. From the start, you know it's going to be a book that challenges you when it's pointed out that the teachers' purchases of 10-year-olds at slave markets has created a market for 10-year-olds at slave markets, and caused children to be abducted.

Some of the themes and questions the book brings to life, despite the way they lie flat on my page as I write this:
  • Women are people (and making that as clear as it can be)
  • No means no (and yes means yes)
  • What are freedom and liberty?
  • Are there "natural" slaves? Are there tasks that each of us is "best fit" for?
  • Is there a utopia that can be achieved by humans?
Not to mention what can happen when Socrates gets to say what he thinks about Plato's works.

My only disappointment with the book was that it ended too quickly, but I soon found out it's the first of a trilogy. The second book will be published in July and the third (I hope) soon afterwards. I will withhold judgment on the ending of The Just City until I've been able to read all three.


Here's what Jo Walton has to say about her own book, including a link to the first three chapters.

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