cover image City on Fire

City on Fire

Walter Jon Williams. HarperPrism, $22 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-105213-2

In Metropolitan, which was nominated for the 1995 Nebula Award for Best Novel, Williams created a magnificent world-city, its entire surface urbanized by a multitude of civilizations that draw their very existence from plasm, the mysterious energy contained in all matter. Aiah, a low-level civil servant in the Plasm Authority, stole the plasm the great general and political leader Constantine needed to overthrow the corrupt ruling family of Caraqui and to establish his idealistic New City regime. Now, Constantine and Aiah must maintain power against many enemies, some out in the open, others festering within their own government. Complex political intrigues pile up as Aiah must hunt down those who seek to steal the city's plasm and use it for criminal ends. She encounters mages, gangsters and twisted half-humans, all of whom try to suborn her. Lurking constantly in the background is Taikoen, the hanged man, a monstrous being who lives in the plasm and who has forced upon Constantine a devil's bargain that may destroy the general and any hope for the success of his political ideas. Well-drawn, believable characters give emotional force to this fine novel, which walks the line between fantasy and science fiction. Ultimately, however, it is Williams's complex world-city, more convincing than even Asimov's in Foundation, and his endlessly inventive use of plasm that will hold readers' fascinated attention. (Jan.)