Two cities both alike in dignity, in fair Ul Qoma where we lay our scene
October 14, 2021 7:05 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for literature - and especially SFF - where the concept of "city as palimpsest" is reified - e.g. where the concept of cities being many different things to different people is made literal.

Examples I can think of are China Miéville's The City and The City (Besźel/Ul Qoma) and Max Gladstone's Ruin of Angels (Agdel Lex/Alikand). I'd love to hear of some others.
posted by dmd to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Is Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente too obvious?
posted by music for skeletons at 7:09 AM on October 14, 2021

City of Stairs is partly about this (a city physically remade) if I'm understanding you.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:28 AM on October 14, 2021

Best answer: Italo Calvino has got your number.
posted by lorddimwit at 7:41 AM on October 14, 2021 [10 favorites]

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Borges might fit in a certain sense

+1 Invisible Cities--relevant passage from chapter 2-- "In every city of the empire every building is different and set in a different order: but as soon as the stranger arrives at the unknown city and his eye penetrates the pine cone of pagodas and garrets and haymows, following the scrawl of canals, gardens, rubbish heaps, he immediately distinguishes which are the princes’ palaces, the high priests’ temples, the tavern, the prison, the slum. This — some say — confirms the hypothesis that each man bears in his mind a city made only of differences, a city without figures and without form, and the individual cities fill it up."
posted by microscopiclifeform at 7:54 AM on October 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

The City We Became by NK Jemisin is about the nature of cities made discretely manifest in an interesting way.
posted by jeoc at 7:54 AM on October 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris might fit the bill here, with the original gray caps and the waves of settler humans occupying the same space, but not really co-existing.
There're a raft of other stories in the same setting...the linked collection just happens to be the one that I started with.
posted by Kreiger at 8:27 AM on October 14, 2021

I'm not sure I understand 'city as palimpsest' but I'm recommending City by Clifford Simak even though this 1952 novel seems less about cities; and more about self-aware robots, talking dogs, the human migration to Jupiter, and ants.
posted by Rash at 8:43 AM on October 14, 2021

Yeah, this is pretty much the point of Invisible Cities.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:52 AM on October 14, 2021

Folding Beijing might be a very literal answer to the question, although the future Beijing of the story isn't technically the same space to its different residents as it has different facets that are moved to the surface throughout the day.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:54 AM on October 14, 2021

Seconding City of Stairs. It's delightful, so be prepared to lay hands on the other two of the trilogy, too.
posted by foxtongue at 1:02 PM on October 14, 2021

posted by newmoistness at 2:18 PM on October 14, 2021

I immediately thought of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.
posted by Lady Li at 11:37 PM on October 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think this concept shows up in Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman and in one of the short stories in Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin, but I'm not sure.
posted by brainwane at 12:00 PM on October 15, 2021

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