I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
"Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent."
Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.
The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome—and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.
Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.
Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives—the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself—to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.
My second book this year in which the Greek gods play main roles as characters (the first being Kraken Bake by Karen Dudley).
Unfortunately, for me, I preferred the playful Kraken Bake to The Just City. Now I’ll confess at this point that I probably have read some Plato during my university education, but I don’t remember it at all. It made no impression on me. So I am not the target audience for this novel.
I do like the idea that the god Apollo decides to become human in order to learn things that mortals grok better than he does. And I can appreciate the messages of choice and consent which Walton emphasizes during the course of the book. I was amused when Socrates gets dragged into the whole situation and how much of a shit disturber he turns out to be. One person’s Utopia is another’s Dystopia. Who needs to consent to do what, and who gets to make the rules? Is biology destiny, as the women once again get stuck with the child care? What counts as intelligence—can machines become intelligent? How will we recognize when they do?
With apologies to Jo Walton (whose books Among Others and My Real Children were amazing), I just found this book overly serious and the messages really, really obvious. Serious issues were discussed very seriously. And, being based on Platonic dialog, there were copious discussions of things. I prefer a little more action and light-heartedness.