At the start of The Just City, Apollo can’t work out why Daphne chose to be turned into a tree rather than mate with him. When he goes to discuss it with his sister Athene, he finds her deep in the process of planning an experiment where she will put together a working version of the Just City envisioned by Plato in The Republic. Adult devotees of Plato from all throughout history will oversee the city’s establishment (with some robots to do the heavy lifting), and freed slave children will live there with the adults, learning and growing and reproducing in the ways stipulated by Plato. Apollo decides to become human and participate in this city, in order to get a better grip on human volition.
As strange as that made the book sound, that’s exactly how strange the book is. Jo Walton admits in the epilogue to having been nudged to read Plato at a too-young age by my girl Mary Renault, and this book is essentially what you would expect from that: Something Renaulty and Socratic-dialogue-ish, with not always quite the exact perfect ratio of scene-setting to plot advancement.
Having said that, I still found myself getting lost in this book, glancing up to find that I was just about to miss my opportunity to notify the bus driver of my stop. I expected to be annoyed with Socrates when he came onto the scene — it feels like many authors who portray Socrates want to puncture his myth and make him overwhelmingly annoying and gross — but Walton’s Socrates is wonderful, exactly what you would want Socrates to be. (If you are the sort of person who wants Socrates at all.) (Which Legal Sister is.)
And when I finished The Just City, I wanted The Philosopher Kings straight away.
And also, I would never ever ever go live in any attempt at a utopian society because that seems to never work out.
This has been my fourth and final read for the Once Upon a Time IX challenge, the mythology book. Thanks so much, as always, to Carl for hosting, and do go visit the reviews site to see what other people have been reading!
Question for you: Would you ever live in a utopian commune? What kind of utopia would you want it to be?