Schrödinger’s City by Matthew P Buscemi is the paradoxical adventure of your literary existence… or is it the other way around?
Note: This novel was provided to us by the publisher, Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, for review purposes.
There are many cases where the first line of a novel tells you a lot about the book, but few accomplish it better than Schrödinger’s City:
The novel is a whirlwind of changes, both expected and unexpected, with unpredictable characters and places. It takes place in City, a type of metaphysical purgatory that obeys no known laws, where people appear and disappear completely at random, with no memory of any pronouns from their past life, including their own name. After arrival, a “City name” is divined by another City-dweller from the surroundings, from a sound or feeling they believe resonates with the new person, like Echo or Grey or Bolt.
“The scientist only imposes two things, namely truth and sincerity, imposes them upon himself and upon other scientists.” Erwin Schrödinger
Over the course of the novel, it becomes apparent that City’s random rearranging is not completely arbitrary: City switches between two arrangements, called City-as-Usual and City-as-Grid. The only population in this unreal plane of existence is composed of a random assortment of people from different worlds (whether this is planets, dimensions, or even different places or times is never explained) who one day appeared, and have managed to survive by organizing themselves into factions. The main factions are the Collective, the Republic of Fuckknowswhere, and the Amaranthine District, the antagonists of the novel (apart from City itself). It is nearly impossible to give you too much character information without diving headlong into some serious spoilers, so I’ll tread lightly, but trust me when I say to read the book for yourself. It truly is excellent.
Who are the protagonists?
The main characters could arguably be Naim, Kaia, and Gwei, but they are only three partial voices in a novel composed of 27 separate points of view. This is not to say there is 27 individual people narrating, but rather multiple people at three different points of time: Before, Now, and After (in addition to the out-of-time chapters by an omnipresent narrator). When these characters start to become too comfortable and acclimated to City, enough so to start questioning its existence instead of just trying to survive, everything they took for granted is turned upside down. For the first time, a character (trying to avoid ruining things…) manages to disappear from City of their own accord, and everything consequently falls to pieces.
What are the dangers of City?
The evil, infectious purple mist is spreading further from the Amaranthine District, bringing zealot “tribals” along with it, who intend to “convert” the other City dwellers (whom they call Barbarians) into the possessed, naked, radical quasi-religious purple-tattooed Amaranthines like themselves. The tribals/Amaranthine’s are dangerous because if you put up too much of a fight or otherwise resist being converted, you will be executed as a lost cause. The purple mist, which the Amaranthine’s worship, is called Luster, and warps everything in its path: buildings, sidewalks, and people are twisted and tainted by its magic.
The Amaranthine luster and the tribals are the primary danger in City to the residents until the City’s shifts and changes become more common and violently unpredictable. Naim is a philosopher who becomes obsessed with finding a way out of City, sacrificing everything else, even the girl he loves, to finding the answer. As the answer grows nearer, City grows stranger and soon the residents will be forced into a confrontation with the tribals, City, and amongst themselves. Some of the City-dwellers who have lived there for longer have their own ideas and motivations about how to either make life in City more bearable or do whatever it takes to escape.
The Review Part of This Schrödinger’s City Review
Now that you have the vaguest understanding of this infinitely layered book, let me just say: What a ride! I read Schrödinger’s City over the course of three nights, and I looked forward to it every time. The narrative doesn’t allow you in gently, you have to fight for each handhold in the story, but it makes the novel even more satisfying. Each new revelation, whether it’s a mental connection of two different points of the linear timeline, or a deeper understanding of a City-dweller, sucks you into the book more each time. In addition to the artfully crafted narrative structure, I really appreciated Buscemi’s use of speculative fantasy cut with no small amount of hard science. The use of real scientific theories and discussions by the characters and narrator made the book feel just outside the realm of reality, while in actuality being completely separate from it. It was a literary roller coaster ride, if the roller coaster traveled across four dimensions and occasionally transformed into a completely different roller coaster.
To act as a counter-balance for our 17 best sci-fi novels by female writers, we decided to take a look at lesser known science fiction from the Golden Age (and a few more recent entries) and unearth some of the best, underappreciated (or completely forgotten about) classic science fiction books from the celebrated male authors of the time. Experimental, controversial, or just plain weird, these written works [Click here to read more…]
In the area of character development, I’d like to point out how much I appreciated Buscemi’s inclusion of a diverse cast (race, sexual orientation, age, religion, etc.) without shoving it in your face. It felt natural: instead of “trying to be diverse,” it felt like Buscemi wrote a real story about real people and then shook it up with a whole bunch of philosophy and science and wonder and then poured it over the rocks and garnished it with a sprig of romance and a spray of cultural relevance.
Final Thoughts and Concerns
The only issue I had with the book was the ending, a rather bad note to leave a fantastic journey on. It felt too… easy compared to the rest of the book. In essence, there are a multitude of dangers and philosophical dilemmas, but by the end of the novel, the characters come to the anticlimactic conclusion that, “If we find out the answer to these questions, there will only be more questions, so let’s just leave it to somebody else and go enjoy life.” A respectable, realistic human decision to be sure, but not the grand finale I was expecting from Schrödinger’s City.
Overall, I’m happy to give Schrödinger’s City 4 out of 5
cats stars, to represent the adventure of this fantastic novel, and to account for the less-than-fulfilling ending. But please, check out this book, it was really fun and had me thinking about it and discussing it with others throughout my day. If you enjoy speculative, unusual sci-fi, and especially if you’re a smart cookie who enjoys science and philosophy, this book is for you.