Just a short post today, but something I’ve been thinking about in connection with my posts about The Just City:
There is a whole subgenre I have noticed among the things I enjoy most. There’s a specific location — it probably has a name like The Village or The City. The inhabitants go there after the end of their mundane lives, either after their actual death or their presumed death. Escape from it is impossible, but also not desired by most people there, although there is usually one person who wants to get out, but it’s a sealed reality away from normal life. Even death may not be an escape, and death and amnesia may be linked in some way. The people there are probably (though not always) living under false names, and they’re probably (though not always) a mixture of fictional characters and real characters from history. There may also be beings serving the function of angels, mediating between humans and some unknown higher power.
The story will revolve around questions of identity, either literally as in a murder mystery or in a more metaphoric sense, and it will also deal with questions of the nature of reality. There will be long conversations about philosophy where another book might have big space battles.
This has some overlap both with Lance Parkin’s “Gray Tradition” and with Menippean satire, but it seems to be its own thing as well. Off the top of my head, Permutation City by Greg Egan, Of The City of the Saved… by Philip Purser-Hallard (and its spinoff short stories), The Just City by Jo Walton, The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke, and the TV series The Prisoner and The Good Place all fit this exactly, and The End of Eternity by Asimov, Anathem by Neal Stephenson, and the Doctor Who story “The Mind Robber” fit most of it. The Name of the Rose and some of Borges’ stuff also seem like they *should* fit even though they don’t by the genre description I’ve given above.
Now, as it happens, that’s also pretty close to a list of My Very Favourite Things Evah!, and I’m quite surprised it took me this long to notice this specific pattern.
I have no formal English Literature training past A-level, and I’m *absolutely* sure that this must be A Thing, that there must be more of that Thing out there, and that if someone tells me a name for it I’ll be able to find more of this Thing. So any ideas what this subgenre is?
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