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Literature / The City in the Middle of the Night

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The City in the Middle of the Night is a Speculative Fiction novel by Charlie Jane Anders. Its setting, the planet of January, is a Tidally Locked Planet. One side always faces the sun, which is a fair bit hotter than Earth's sun, so this side is not habitable. The side facing away from the sun is Always Night and is home to strange creatures (which, although called "bison" and "crocodiles," etc. are not in any way like the Earth creatures with those names). In the middle is the city of Xiosphant, in the perfect temperate zone, with the deadly sunlight blocked by a mountain called the Young Father, and protected from the night by another mountain called Old Mother.


Sophie is a painfully shy university student in Xiosphant, who befriends Bianca, a rich, charming student, and falls in with a crowd of revolutionaries plotting how to overthrow Xiosphant's highly regimented government. But Sophie is accused of a crime, the Xiosphanti police attempt to kill her by leaving her in the night, and she must go into hiding.

Mouth is a smuggler in a group called the Resourceful Couriers, some of the only ones brave enough to travel between Xiosphant and Argelo, another city in January's temperate zone, but much rougher and less regimented than Xiosphant. She meets Bianca and the revolutionary faction, and sees them as her ticket to steal an artifact from the palace. And so we begin...


This novel contains examples of

  • Always Night: Kind of comes with the territory in a Tidally Locked Planet
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: What most of the human inhabitants of January seem to view the crocodiles/Gelet as.
  • Bio-Augmentation: The Gelet perform surgery on Sophie to make her able to communicate like them. They give her a patch of cilia that come out of her chest so she can mind meld with others, and tentacles coming out of her back like the Gelet have so she can talk to them, among other things.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The alien life forms on January were given the names of Earth creatures, like crocodile, bison, cat, etc. but are clearly not those creatures (a cat is described as having horns and being large enough for a child to ride, for instance.
    • This even seems to apply to food. A drink Mouth calls "lemonade" is described as being green and sludgy.
  • Crapsack World
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The areas between the cities. If the aliens with way too many teeth don't get you, there's the icy Sea of Murder, or just wandering too far into the night or the day...
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Sophie takes the fall for Bianca stealing some food dollars, and is arrested, paraded through the streets, and force marched up the mountain into the night zone to die.
    • She also casually mentions that, because Xiosphanti society is so regimented and citizens' sleep cycles are heavily controlled, sleeping or waking at the "wrong" times too often can be punishable by death. Think about this for a second... napping and insomnia are capital crimes.
  • Heroic BSoD: Mouth has an extended one after she finds out that the Gelet murdered her tribe, because their harvesting of the lava flowers the Gelet had cultivated was bringing about climate change.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": "Mouth" was a name given to all children in Mouth's culture. Since all the other members of her community died before she reached adulthood, they never gave her a real name.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: After realizing that the "crocodiles" are capable of intelligent thought, Sophie finds new horror in the fact that humans kill and even eat crocodiles.
  • Ojou: Bianca, being Xiosphanti upper class, puts on an Ojou act at high society parties.
  • Psychic Surgery: More like psychic pain management. One Gelet, during/after Sophie has the surgery to add Gelet appendages to her body, soothes Sophie's pain and anxiety by showing her mental images of snow blowing in the wind.
  • Repressive, but Efficient: Xiosphant. Bianca figures this out when she becomes Vice Regent of the city. She tries to make reforms, but Xiosphant is a complicated machine and taking out just one cog makes it all break.
  • Rite of Passage Name Change: In Mouth's tribe, children were given a placeholder name when they were born, and then received their real name in a special ceremony on reaching adulthood. Mouth has been stuck with her placeholder name because the tribe was wiped out shortly before she was due to receive her real name.
  • Sacred Scripture: The Invention, which Mouth is trying to steal from the palace in Xiosphant, is the sacred text of prayers and songs from her culture, the Citizens.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Threatening Geography: The novel starts out in Xiosphant, which, while not the best place to live due to the draconian government, is at least more hospitable than the wilds beyond.
  • Tidally Locked Planet: January.
  • Touch Telepathy: How Sophie forms a Psychic Link with the Gelet
  • Transhuman: Sophie becomes one of these.
  • Translation Convention
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: A major theme of the book. Sophie knows from her interactions with the crocodiles/Gelet that they are "people" too, but Bianca disagrees.

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