City on Fire

Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 7, 1998

City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams

Ten people attended the discussion of Walter Jon Williams’s “hard fantasy” novel City on Fire, the sequel to Metropolitan. City on Fire tells the story of establishing a new government in a city-state after a political overthrow. We see these events through the eyes of Aiah, a young woman who becomes a vital part of this new government. The fantasy component of the book is setting these events in a world where a magical substance called “plasm” is treated much like any other natural resource (electricity, gas, water, etc.)

We found the book to be a compelling “page turner”, despite the prose being written in “present tense” (which led to a discussion of grammatical terms like “future perfect” and “past pluperfect”). The characterization of several characters was well done, and we particularly enjoyed the growth of Aiah from a political novice to a wielder of significant power. The world of this book is interesting and full of rich details including mythologies, cosmologies, and unusual ethnic groups.

We detected only minor problems. Since City on Fire is clearly the continuation of the story begun in Metropolitan, one must have read the earlier book to fully understand the current book. Also, since this is a fantasy novel dealing with wars and political situations, some of us felt there should be a map. (Note: There was no consensus on the map situation. In fact, one of a group, who will be chairing the World Fantasy Convention in 2000, said “If there was a map in this book, it would be regular wuss fantasy”.)

City on Fire was an enjoyable reading experience, and we were pleased to learn that it was nominated for the Hugo Award. We’re all looking forward eagerly to the next installment in this series.

–A. T. Campbell, III