Dave Hutchinson’s previous novel, Europe in Autumn, showed just how tribal human beings are. We tend to only like people who look and think and speak like us. After a flu pandemic, Hutchinson’s Europe shattered into smaller and smaller territories, states, and polities. The economic and political instability of Europe led people to turn to their nearest and dearest and, in some cases, build literal walls around their communities. Europe in Autumn gave us a tour of the new Europe through the eyes of Rudi, a man who is hired by an organization to transport people, things, and information across the multitudinous borders. Believe it or not, the world gets even stranger in the sequel, Europe at Midnight.
In the opening chapters of Europe at Midnight, I thought we were in yet another of Europe’s polities. A nameless narrator—later dubbed Rupe or Rupert because he has a habit of introducing himself to people as Rupert of Hentzau—is a “Doctor of Intelligence,” responsible for security and policing on “Campus.” His polity appears to be modeled on a massive university. Rupe mentions atrocities committed by the Medical Faculty. The hard sciences are represented by the slightly sinister Science City. Everyone has a rank: student, lecturer, professor, or doctor. The ranks are hereditary. This is were I twigged to fact that this polity is a lot older than the polities in Europe in Autumn.
It wasn’t until I got to the next section and met MI5 agent Jim when I figured out that the reality of the situation was a lot weirder than I could have imagined. Jim is called out to a stabbing on a London bus. This isn’t is usual job; Jm wouldn’t have been called out if the stabbing victim hadn’t asked for political asylum. The victim turns out to be Rupe. The day after Rupe is nearly killed, Jim is briefed on the Community and the Campus. Against all odds, Rupe turns out not to be European at all. The Campus is located in a pocket universe, created sometime in the nineteenth century by a family of people who liked to make maps of places that didn’t exist.
Jim and Rupe take turns narrating a tale in which the stakes keep growing. At first, Rupe is trying to restore justice to a war-torn campus. Then he ends up lost in England. Shortly thereafter, he and Jim are roped into a shadow war between England and Europe and the Community. Allies and enemies are hard to identify because loyalties and objectives keep shifting.
The idea of drawing a line around one’s self to designate mine from theirs is starkly illustrated by two polities in Europe at Midnight. Halfway through the book, Rupe and a group of Community émigrés are tasked with making contact with a man inside Dresden-Neustadt, a polity inside Dresden that has turned itself into a vaguely-fascist state/server farm. They’ve built a massive wall around themselves and do not allow anyone in or out. Yet they need outside help when their sewers start collapsing. Then there’s the Community. The Community is an idyllic, very Little Englander place. Everyone is white. The food is British. Dissent is not tolerated and “problems” tend to just disappear. Rupe comments later that it’s the most boring place anywhere and misses the noise and tastes of Europe.
In both Dresden-Neustadt and the Community, progress is ruthlessly monitored; most progress is suppressed. Borders might help maintain stability in the short term, but the communities on the inside will stagnate and wither without anything (or anyone) new to shake them up. Europe is shattered, yes, but European eyes are (for the most part) open to the reality around them. They are not blinkered or sheltered by their governments. Perhaps the thesis of Europe at Midnight is that when one draws a line to separate Us from Them, freedom—with all the turmoil and responsibility that entails—is stunted.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 5 November 2015.