The Just City, by Jo Walton

Review copy provided by Tor. Also the author is a dear friend of mine, and I read this book in manuscript before I read this published version.

This is a book about time travel, robots, and eccentric philosophers using ancient slave children to experiment with approximating Plato’s Republic, with the help of the goddess Athene.

It’s also a book about consent. Once you bring Platonism in this far to the front-and-center, theme is not going to be an optional extra that can sort of sneak up on you, and The Just City is not an exception to that rule. Consent–not just in a sexual context, also in a work and personal context–goes from first page to last. If you don’t want a book that’s dealing with consent (and with historical figures and Greek gods not always having a great grasp of it), then this is not the book for you.

I think substantially because I never had a Mediterranean focus, I never had the, “I want to live there!” or “I want to try that!” reaction to Plato’s Republic–which makes it more fun to watch it twist and disintegrate than if I was a hard-core Platonist, I think? There may be hard-core Platonists about who can give me the report on the experience from their perspective. But mostly I got to enjoy Simmea and Maia striving so hard for this strange thing that kept shifting under them, and what I do like that it was like is the kind of utopian commune experiment that 19th-century America was chock full of. Um. What I do like to read about. Because I would not live on one for love nor money. Really: no. Really really: no.

One of my consistent complaints about fantastic fiction is that it’s hard to find books that treat the Greek gods as genuinely not very nice. This is a definite exception. The Greek gods in The Just City are not horrible brutes, but they are definitely not your pals–they take some of the worst aspects of being human and being alien, without becoming nuance-free monsters. I also enjoyed how thoroughly Socrates was rolling his eyes at people’s reactions to Plato. Also just structurally, the last sentences of the chapters are so very well done. But my favorite thing is probably the robots, actually. I like the robots quite a lot, and all the stuff around them, most of which is spoilery. More robots. Robots yay.

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