Much of the pleasure of The City in the Middle of the Night comes from its slyly understated novelty ... The characters’ raw, painful honesty and their troubled relationships to each other form the heart of the novel. These relationships reach, with realistically varying success, across a range of barriers—not only of social class, but also of national identity and, indeed, of species. These finely drawn intimacies concretize the much larger social and environmental issues with which Anders’s ambitious novel grapples ... Here, Anthropocene allegories emerge without eclipsing organic characterization or plot. The development of the Gelet plot line is handled slightly more clumsily, but still with a depth of imaginative world-building that keeps the novel compelling ... This plot line seems at times a bit too conveniently scaled to the world of the characters, a bit too neatly explained, but the vividness with which the characters are drawn...keeps the narrative taut, driven by well-grounded emotional conflict rather than ham-handed moralizing. The City in the Middle of the Night is both an urgent exploration of the political exigencies of the Anthropocene and a sprawling epic that refuses simple reduction to climate extrapolation.
And yes, I get it. This all sounds YA-simple, doesn't it? ... But stick with me a minute because there's more here. Lots (and lots) more .. And yes, there is adventure and action. I mean, this is a book with spaceships, pirates, smugglers, rebels, rich girls and alien lobster monsters. And Charlie Jane knows how to tell those stories, for sure. But it is more than that, is what I'm saying. It is an intimate portrait of people as much as it is a piece of culturally aware social scifi — a look at our moment in history through a distorting lens of aliens and spaceships. And it is those people who break everything that lies broken by the end of things...
I never thought I would describe a book as painting a story entirely in different shades of anxiety, but Anders nails the feelings of claustrophobia, fear of acceptance, inferiority and loss of identity all in the span of 360 pages ... The City in the Middle of the Night does not end cleanly, and perhaps it’s fitting that a story so well grounded in realistic and relatable protagonists ends with such an unsatisfying tilt. In this novel, Anders has lovingly crafted a unique world, and finishes with a wild twist that left me endlessly interested in the next book of the series.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders is superbly written social science fiction as well as an intimate portrayal of individuals who are damaged by their societies ... The main disappointment of this brilliant book is the ending, which cuts off abruptly, in mid-action, with little resolution of any of the book's major problems or themes. This certainly suggest a sequel is on its way, but the reader is left with an incomplete tale. Despite that, this novel is likely to garner major awards attention for its many-layered and nuanced characterization and themes.
... a stylish sci-fi adventure that combines the social and environmental themes of Le Guin with a Guillermo del Toro creature feature ... It’s all very suspenseful for the first third of the book, as Anders builds expectations for both a social revolution and a heist. But neither of these things happens, and Anders leaves Xiosphant largely unexplored ... Nonetheless, Anders takes the final third of the novel in some interesting and unexpected directions, both geographically and thematically ... The City In The Middle Of The Night is far less ambitious [than Le Guin], but still a fine piece of popcorn sci-fi that will inevitably become a TV series.
Built on more science than many works of science fiction, City is anything but a dry and scholarly tome — the weird crocodilian creatures alone would make sure of that. At more than 300 pages, though, the book is dense to the point of being slow going, with alternating points of view that are sometimes as disorienting as night and day. Persist and the last chapters come together in a satisfying conclusion with lessons that are more than relevant to this Earth today.
...[a] bristling and vivid book. The planet of January is a splendidly imagined world of terror and beauty ... The plotting and dialogue of The City in the Middle of the Night are somewhat haphazard, though the chaos has its own momentum ... Anders even dashes the action with some blackly comic absurdity ... As a onetime editor of the website io9, Anders knows her way around the science fiction genre and then some. It is possible that imbibing so much in the field left her with a surfeit of ideas, which seem to spill out of her novel’s pages ... But Anders remains a fiery original, a perilously rare thing in today’s remake and remix culture.
This is a long novel, and it’s not in a hurry to get where it’s going. Anders’s plotting isn’t thin, exactly; it’s just that storyline isn’t what she finds most interesting. Instead she draws the reader into the socio-political detail of her imagined world ... This is a millennial’s novel, featuring young people trying to make their way through an uncaring, corrupt and intermittently violent world. If this middle-aged reviewer found it sometimes hard to like the dramatis personae, that doubtless says more about the gap between real-world generations than about the novel. Though sometimes judgmental and self-righteous, Anders’s characters are also emotionally sophisticated and passionate, and this is heartfelt and absorbing fiction.
Anders dares to imagine something different, a better way forward. This is not to say the book does not include tragedy, trauma, pain, or devastation—the repercussions of systemic violence enacted and inflicted is a continuous, intrinsically-exhausting theme. This book is, often, a downer. But it explores what healing looks like, too—both for the individual and for the community. It champions something strange, new, and much more inclusive in the place of what its human characters know. It recognizes that change is terrifying, yes, but that the alternative is far worse.
... a book that is in conversation with a stunning array of current issues ... I have to back up a moment here to praise the efficient, ingenious, and somewhat hilarious way in which Anders dealt with the issue of naming a whole planet of indigenous life and features, as well as solving the science fictionist’s perpetual dilemma around naming future technologies ... Anders’s worldbuilding is dense and rapid-fire ... Anders never turns to a narrative of defeat. Instead, these characters stand back up and try to find another way. Even in the most lightless corners of the night, when every foothold has fallen away, they try. May we all find such strength within ourselves and among each other.
Anders sets out to do a lot in this novel. It’s at once a troubled romance, a political and environmental fable, a story of first contact with aliens, a rousing adventure complete with sea monsters and pirates, and, toward the end, an almost visionary evocation of an alien way of thinking as we learn more about those crocodiles and their world. That she succeeds at balancing all this is a testament to her growing sophistication as a novelist ... a darker, edgier tale than All the Birds in the Sky, with its grim setting and more desperate and brittle characters, but those characters stay with us. Anders makes a convincing case that the decisions they make, even when motivated by personal passions and resentments, are crucial to the very survival of their world.
... Anders centers actual politics with deliberate efficacy in The City in the Middle of the Night ... As [a science fiction] novel within a lineage of other sf novels doing sociological critique, asking big questions and venturing a handful of possible answers, Anders’ The City in the Middle of the Night is an impressive piece of work that stands solid on its own but grows in scope and effect when taken as part of a conversation on the medium ... There is much, much more I’d like to explore about the novel that isn’t even mentioned here, but overall, I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
From the very inception of its title... the reader senses that he or she is in for some kind of dark thrill ride. And Anders provides that in spades ... Anders has created a unified story that integrates any number of complex submechanisms into its organic and authentic whole ... Anders’s concern with social structures, on display in her first book, also gets an even more sophisticated exegesis here. The book is full of aperçus and aphorisms (and enlivened scenes) that deliver her judgments on the folly and wisdom of mankind ... Never didactic or preachy, Anders illustrates by action and characterization the various approaches to mutuality and consensus that underpin human life ... Anders’s sophomore outing proves that she can embrace passionately and creatively just about anything she turns her hand and mind to.
It’s these stories of inner and inter-relational conflict that give a depth to an otherwise original and gripping story of an alien world ... Anders... has given us an original protagonist in the awkward and open Sophie ... The City in the Middle of the Night may be set light-years away, but it’s likely to hit too close to home.
The City in the Middle of the Night... puts the science in science fiction with a fascinating premise ... Pitting humans against a hostile environment, Anders constructs a society that’s lavishly detailed and wonderfully convincing ... It’s understandable, given the ambitious scope of the book, that the story line doesn’t always flow organically ... I believe the ending of The City in the Middle of the Night leaves the way open to a sequel. And that’s a good thing. Such a dazzling fantasy world shouldn’t vanish after only one book.
Although Charlie Jane Anders’ new book, The City in the Middle of the Night, is full of cool ideas, nothing gels enough to make it a standout read ... The premise is engaging, but the book fell dizzyingly short of my expectations ... I agree that the world is the best part of this book, but it’s all meaningless because of how the book is written and structured. The whole book is chaotically plotted, with random pacing. Anders introduces some ideas that seem really important, only to abandon them ... Over halfway through the book, I had no idea where it was heading – and not in a good way. Anders does tie some of the ideas together in a cool way in the last 50 pages or so, but at that point, it was too little, too late ... We never get to see more of the characters than broad stereotypes ... The characters are all vaguely bland and unlikeable ... I get the sense that Anders is trying to play on sci-fi tropes at some points – maybe – but it’s all so muddled it’s really hard to get a grip on the tone ... While I genuinely enjoyed some of the ideas explored here, I couldn’t get past everything else.
Anders weaves an intricate tale of colonialism and evolution on both physical and social levels. The harsh world and well-developed characters combine with stunning storytelling that will capture readers' minds and hearts.
Violence, politics, betrayal, love, friendship, encounters with alien predators, and experiences in a dying city entwine to create a conflicted world in an even stronger novel than Anders’ Nebula Award–winning All the Birds in the Sky (2016); a tale that can stand beside such enduring works as Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion (1989).
Watching Sophie come into her own and gradually (and almost too late) realize that the Bianca she loves doesn’t exist is inevitable, sad, and, eventually, empowering ... Anders contains multitudes; it’s always a fascinating and worthwhile surprise to see what she comes up with next.
[A] riveting genre-bender ... Anders’s worldbuilding is intricate, embracing much of what makes a grand adventure: smugglers, revolutionaries, pirates, camaraderie, personal sacrifice, wondrous discovery, and the struggle to find light in the darkness. This breathlessly exciting and thought-provoking tale will capture readers’ imaginations.