Breach and the Breach
I read *The City & The City* a while back, and I think I have finally arranged some thoughts about it into a shape that can made into writing. This is it.
As the plot of The City & The City unravels, we get to see how people, Borlú in particular, describe how Breach appears and operates. We are told that they show up out of nowhere, are somewhat indistinct shapes or something in that ballpark. There’s a pervasive feeling that Breach is close to omniscient and omnipresent. Not something that is easy to justify physically.
However, Borlú later realises how very few make up Breach, and gets a glimpse of how they operate. Pretty much everything he witnesses is somewhat “normal”. They coordinate their efforts with cellphones and they use the Internet to obtain information (even though they have seemingly magical cracking skills). No omnipresence, no omniscience. If I recall correctly Tyador never witnesses anything supernatural while interacting with Breach. It’s like they’re just normal dudes that have a really weird job.
They use confounding styles and mannerisms that can be interpreted as both Besź an Ul Qoman in order to achieve their invisibility and to be able to show out of nowhere. They are not invisible; merely unseen by both cities.
There are a few things that irk me in this reading. There’s the weird gun that Tyador never figures out. Maybe it is just some strange prototype that Breach has access to. It uses some technology (or magic according to Clarke’s Law) to incapacitate its targets.
There’s the forgotten past wars fought by Breach that no one knows about. I can somehow accept Breach managing to erase some events from collective memory in the past, but it’s hard to accept that in the modern day. With the Internet around, who will ever forget the riots that take place in the events described in the book? Can their seemingly-magical sway over the Internet (“Go anywhere you want”) erase those?
I like to think that they can’t.
If Breach is this very elaborate construct that has no supernatural component, it casts the entire setting of The City and the City in a completely different light. A non-supernatural Breach is a bit harder to accept as the centuries old entity that it is, but I am willing to stretch my suspension of disbelief to accept that in exchange for a setting I like even more.
I like to think that the riots that take place by the end of the novel will have lasting repercussions in lives of the citizens and the citizens. “Information wants to free”. In the end, I think the ubiquity of information will overthrow Breach. It will be a painful process, but the psychological border between Besźel and Ul Qoma will disappear.