The Just City, by Jo Walton

The just city Book Cover The just city
Thessaly #1
Jo Walton
Fantasy, Speculative fiction
Macmillan-Tor/Forge
Jan 13 1015
e-book
368

Jo Walton's The Just City is a pretty strange book - and it's a kind of book I would have liked to read at pretty much ANY time in my life, even in the terrible, snooty Dostoevsky-reading phase.  She gives us this premise:  Athene, the goddess, decides to build a city using Plato's "The Republic" as a blueprint, as an experiment. It is inhabited by people from all over the timeline, several very famous ones, intellectuals and philosophers and others who at some point prayed to Athene for this exact thing- to get to live in Plato's republic.  While Cicero and Plotinus and other people from centuries back are mostly male,  most of the ones from later on are female.  They are the masters, teachers, the ones who come first, to plan and build the city, and make decisions and committees.  Athene brings them "workers" from the far-future to avoid the slavery problem. The workers are robots.

 

The children, the ones who are to grow up and become - or at least give birth to a new generation of - philosopher kings, are fetched from slave markets.  Among them is the god Apollo, who has taken on a mortal life, to learn certain necessary lessons about what it means to not be a god.

 

It's so beautiful; so ideal.  Except not everything is, of course.  Plato didn't describe everything in detail; a lot has to be improvised.  Some of the things he did describe, he was perhaps not very knowledgeable about.

 

Jo Walton always writes beautifully and gently about huge, important things, often disguised as simply the everyday lives of real, vivid characters. She knows exactly where to focus to bring out the incredible complexity of those simple, everyday lives.  (And she manages to leave me with a thought of "everyday lives" after reading a book with time travel and divine intervention...!)

 

I enjoyed the book very much, and I'm happy to know there is a sequel coming.  The Just City ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, actually - at least the way I read it.  (Not in a way that left me unsatisfied, it wrapped up nicely - but it left intriguing questions I can't wait to see answered.)

 

Who should read this? Um, nerds. No, I mean, uh. I think it probably helps to have some prior knowledge of (or enthusiasm for) central names from the history of philosophy, though it doesn't have to be extensive.  People looking for a calm, philosophical bit of speculative fiction, I guess.  People who will devour all things related to Greek mythology.  People who read anything Jo Walton writes.

 

Who shouldn't read it?  People looking for an action adventure, or who twitch unhappily at the mention of things like "renaissance" or "Socratic" or even "the three parts of the soul". (I don't mean to imply it's not an accessible novel - read it if you feel the least bit curious! - but I do know there are people who find history quite painfully boring, traumatized by school or whatever, and… yeah, disclaimer ahoy.)  To be honest, I think this book is pretty obvious about what sort of book it is, and you will probably recognize it as something to avoid, on sight, if it's really not your kind of thing.

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