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The Just City

by Jo Walton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Thessaly (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,0427619,796 (3.82)80
Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future - all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past. The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome - and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her. Meanwhile, Apollo - stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does - has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human. Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives - the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself - to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect.… (more)
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» See also 80 mentions

English (74)  Finnish (1)  All languages (75)
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
Found this on my e-reader (I must have got it free somewhere?) and remembered that I liked Jo Walton, so I might as well read it.

The premise is weird, but I promise it's interesting. In the notes, Walton says she was fifteen when she had an idea about time travelers setting up the Just City from Plato's Republic in Atlantis, but couldn't have pulled it off until now.

I wouldn't have been one of the people who prayed to Athene to live in the Just City, and I like Athene's (Walton's) explanation: the difference between times where we believe in attaining perfection and the times where we believe in progress. I was torn about whether to shelve this as queer; there are lots of side-mentions of bi- and homosexuality, but not any of the main characters and not as a central concern. (SO MANY HISTORICAL LESBIANS THO. IF THERE IS NO FANFIC I WILL BE DISAPPOINTED IN THE INTERNET.) The gender binary is strong in this one.

Apollo decides he needs to live as a human for a lifetime to understand equal significance and volition, and sexism and slavery are two of the foundational cracks with which the city struggles most profoundly. I might have more thoughts about this later, but Walton's treatment of both was good.

Klio's supposed to be from our near future, but she reads more like a 70s or 80s feminist. Does she not quite grok rape culture, or is she purposely giving a less-enlightened response to a date rape that takes place in the book because they're surrounded by a bunch of powerful dudes from the middle ages and antiquity and she's just being practical? (Ugh, what a time for a philosopher to choose practicality.) Both make her look bad, but her response makes more sense from a pre-2000s feminist. ( )
  caedocyon | Feb 23, 2024 |
So many books make me think I would enjoy living in classical Greece, and this is among them. I enjoyed the premise and the characters. But much more than those I appreciated Walton's weaving real philosophy into the story. To do so without wrecking the story takes immense skill. But she pulls it off seamlessly. I am likely to raise the rating on this book to five stars if I re-read it. ( )
  Treebeard_404 | Jan 23, 2024 |
Unfortunately a squandered premise ( )
  ethorwitz | Jan 3, 2024 |
A really interesting experiment of a book about a really interesting experiment - very thought provoking ( )
  danielskatz | Dec 26, 2023 |
3.5. The Just City is a thought experiment about a thought experiment - what if an anachronistic band of philosophers, numerologists, and classics nerds traveled through time to found Plato's Republic on the island of Atlantis? You can't ask for a better premise than that.

The Just City was good fun for the first couple hundred pages, walking the line between utopian and dystopian fiction to tell a smart, memorable story about the ethics of social change and the nature of happiness.

However, the last act or so didn't delight me the way the beginning did. The narrative lost its tension, and the metaphysics of Walton's world stopped working for me.

I should explain that I am a very bad reader of fantasy fiction when it comes to metaphysics. I am a hopeless materialist and when fantasy worlds start making metaphysical claims that aren't true in our world, I find it easy to feel alienated as a reader. (An example that readers might recognize comes from Gaiman's A Game of You, when Wanda is excluded from female magic because she's not biologically female. I love A Game of You, but I think it's an odd choice to make Sandman's gods reinforce a gender essentialism that in our world is purely cultural.)

So I am all for reading about a world where the Greek gods and reincarnation are real, but Walton lost me when she made these facts central to the characters' philosophical dialogues. Maybe I am missing some subtlety of what she was trying to accomplish, but since the book lost me narratively as well, I'm probably not going to reread to figure out what I missed. ( )
  raschneid | Dec 19, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
The Just City is a glorious example of one of the primary purposes of speculative fiction: serving as a map to the potentials and miseries of a possible world. But it is also a map that should be scrawled with the words, “here be dragons.”
 
Brilliant, compelling, and frankly unputdownable, this will do what your Intro to Philosophy courses probably couldn't: make you want to read The Republic.
added by bluejo | editNPR, Amal El-Mohtar (Jan 15, 2015)
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jo Waltonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sanzio, RaffaelloCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stafford-Hill, JamieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Wherever you go, there are plenty of places where you will find a welcome; and if you choose to go to Thessaly, I have friends there who will make much of you and give you complete protection, so that no one in Thessaly can interfere with you.

—Plato, Crito
The triremes which defended Greece at Salamis defended Mars too.

—Ada Palmer, Dogs of Peace
Yes, I know, Plato; but if you always take the steps in threes, one day you will miss a cracked one.

—Mary Renault, The Last of the Wine
If you could take that first step
You could dance with Artemis
Beside Apollo Eleven.
—Jo Walton, "Submersible Moonphase"
Dedication
This is for Ada, who took me to Bernini's Apollo.
First words
She turned into a tree. It was a Mystery. It must have been. Nothing else made sense, because I didn't understand it.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future - all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past. The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome - and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her. Meanwhile, Apollo - stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does - has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human. Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives - the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself - to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect.

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Book description
"Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent."

Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome—and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives—the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself—to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.
Haiku summary
Free will, consent, gods,
time travellers, robots, let's try
Plato's Republic!

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