I never heard of Edmond Hamilton, or this book, The City at World’s End. Me reading this is one of those lucky accidents. I for the life of me couldn’t figure out what to listen next on my Librivox app, and somehow stumbled upon this novel. The premise seemed interesting, and the book turn out to be just what I needed. Reading/listening to this was one of the most exciting experiences of my last few consuming months.
The pacing of the book is excellent. Only after finishing it did I find out that it was indeed serialized, and you can really tell. Every chapter comes with a cliffhanger or an interesting question left without answers, forcing you to keep on reading. The experience of reading this was similar to reading Rendezvous with Rama a few years back. Every chapter a piece of the puzzle is revealed, not the whole thing, but just bit by bit. It is probably more of an atmospheric thriller than an sci fi novel.
There is an uncomfortable amount of chauvinism and sexism in the book. At least for me, and at least to that amount that it brought me out of the book, back to reality. But I don’t think it’s the author being straight up sexist. From what I see, he was using the book to show and explore how insecure some men were back then, how threatened they were by a smart, capable woman. The character of Carol is a good example. She is the love interest in this novel, but she is also her own person. She has priorities, ideals and she and the protagonist, even if they are a couple soon to be married, are at odds with each other more and more. She is his anchor, consciousness and reason for a big part of the book. She likes the world she knows and used to live in, and wouldn’t give it up for anything or anyone, no matter how much the protagonist is an awe of all the new in their lives.
The book is clearly an allusion to the worst possible end game of the Cold War. The amount of paranoia and anxiety with every character is almost through the roof. Spencer does a really good job depicting the psychology of his characters. It is very realistic. There are no boring metronomes, everyone and their moods go up and down, depending on what the situation is. His portrayal of the city as it turns into a complete mob fueled by irrational fear is fantastic. The evacuation scenes are the best example of that. The amount of realistic chaos, people acting on whims and reflexes, even when they are facing probable death is frustrating to read but extremely realistic. We are animals, and animals want to go back home when they die.
I listened to the free Librivox version narrated by Mark Nelson. First time listening to him, and he is by far one of the best narrators that gives his precious time and energy to the librivox project. Great job Mr. Nelson, you are an amazing narrator. You can also listen to it via the youtube link below, or download a free copy on Project Gutenberg