Plato imagined a ‘Just City’ ages ago (380 BC actually!) and wrote about it in Republic. Centuries later, in Jan 2015, Jo Walton’s ‘The Just City’ made it possible! A city with intellectual people from all over the world and from different centuries! What a concept for a book!
People from all ages and all places pray to Athene, the Greek Goddess, to bring them to Plato’s City and Gods being Gods can do anything! So, the city materializes! That’s what you get to read in this strangely interesting book. Athene sets up an experimental city on the island of Kallisti and brings all the praying people here along with the ‘workers’ (Robots from our age).
‘Masters’ are chosen, cities are setup with their names same as the famous historic cities, people learn art and philosophy in a thriving environment and are classified as gold, silver, iron and bronze depending on their skills & competency. A city which aims at welfare and happiness of the whole city rather than an individual. Festival of Hera is organised every 3 months where couples are picked by a lottery system to be husband and wife for one night and reproduce. And then the children are children of the city! Everything belongs to the city!
Athene herself is one of the inhabitants with an alias of Septima accompanied by her brother Apollo as Pytheas. While Athene retains all her power, Apollo chooses to be a mortal in the city and can regain his power only after death. No-one knows about them though. There are few other interesting characters and few take turns to narrate the story including Septima and Pytheas.
Socrates himself is brought to the city five years after it is setup to teach philosophy, courtesy Athene. The chapters where he discusses life, philosophy, independence to choose, freedom of thought with the students are remarkably written and are so thought provoking. Socrates dialogues with the robots to prove their ‘selfhood’ and him challenging Athene for making ‘convenient’ assumptions while creating the city are the parts I enjoyed reading the most! He challenges everyone: Humans, Gods, Robots! Rest of the book is equally good too!
Writing dialogues on behalf of someone like Socrates and making them convincing is a commendable thing Jo Walton has achieved in her book!
It’s ancient, yet so modern or rather realistic for us reading it now! Hard to point out the best things about it, there are so many.. The concept, the conversations, the food for thought it provides, characters…everything. Humans, Gods, Robots and Socrates all in one book!! Can anyone afford to miss it?? One of the best reads till date and definitely a recommendation for everyone! And there are sequels, yay!
This is the concluding paragraph form the book, as said by Apollo:
“On my temple in Delphi there are two words written: Know Thyself. It’s good advice. Know yourself. You are worth knowing. Examine your life. The unexamined life is not worth living. Be aware that other people have equal significance. Give them the space to make their own choices, and let their choices count as you want them to let your choices count. Remember that excellence has no stopping point and keep on pursuing it. Make art that can last and that says something nobody else can say. Live the best life you can, and become the best self you can. You cannot know which of your actions is the lever that will move worlds. Not even Necessity knows all ends. Know yourself”
“There isn’t an end point to excellence where you have it and you can stop. Being your best self means keeping on trying.”