The Just City - Jo Walton

The Just City was another one of those books where I heard the premise and thought 'that sounds interesting', and finally my local library obliged me with providing a copy for the princely sum of 45p. Again, I am saved from buying a book because it sounded good and being ultimately disappointed with it afterwards (Something Coming Through, I am looking at you!) and feeling like I've wasted money that could have been spent on something I would want to keep and re-read.

 

Okay, so the premise is this: the Greek gods are real, particularly Pallas Athene, who has got it into her head that she wants to try out Plato's idea of how a more just society could be built as laid out in his Republic. In order to do this, she removes a number of people from their own timelines, both past and present (from Roman times through to our future) and places them on an island where they will create the eponymous Just City. These individuals will be responsible for raising children who will all be aged about 10 years old when they arrive at the island and who will be considered as blank slates. In theory, their education should determine their overall qualities, with a love of philosophy marking out those who will be the City's future leaders. Meanwhile, Athene has also provided workers, which are essentially robots from the future, to undertake all of the manual labour which will be required.

 

So far, so good. Unfortunately for me, The Just City is written from the point of view of a number of the people involved in its creation, both masters (who are male and female) and children, including one child who is actually Apollo 'slumming it' as a human to understand what it's like. For me, telling the female masters apart was a bit of a struggle, as they seemed to be somewhat similar to one another in voice.

 

There's also a (not particularly graphic) rape scene involving one of the masters and the aftermath of that really stuck in my craw - there are no consequences for the perpetrator, who is later noted to be one of Athene's favourites and who really doesn't get that there was a problem with his actions. This seemed to contrast quite poorly with what she'd told Apollo earlier, as the reason he is experiencing humanity is to understand the concept of volition after his failed attempted rape of Daphne.

 

The most interesting part of the book is what happens when Sokrates arrives and subsequently discovers that the workers are actually sentient and don't like what they're being made to do. At the end of the book, things are unravelling, as the repercussions of the choices made throughout the setting up of the City (e.g. their demand for children causing those children to be abducted and their parents murdered so they can be sold to the masters) start to hit home. All in all, I could probably have done with a bit less verbiage earlier on and to see how things shook out in the aftermath - as is the way of things, there is a sequel (The Philosopher Kings) but I don't know if I can summon up sufficient enthusiasm even if it's only going to cost me 45p (library permitting).