If you've ever been to one of the older cities in Europe — Paris, London, or Rome — you'll know what it's like to feel the weight of history bearing down on you when you walk through certain parts of the city. There are areas in those cities and certain others where humans have lived for well over a thousand years, and in some instances even longer. I remember getting off the plane in Athens - after fifteen hours in transit - walking out of the airport and almost being bowled over by the weight of history that came from seeing the Acropolis the first time.
London may not be as old as Athens, or even Rome, but there are parts of it where you feel like if you turn a corner you'd all of a sudden drop into another time, almost another world. Enter into one of the twisty back alleys that run off any of the main streets that make up the old City Of London, and there's the feeling if you only knew the right way of looking you'd be able to see into them.
In a great many of these older cities the new buildings, the new city itself in some places, has been built over top of the remains of its older versions. Catacombs that were once streets where a city's populace carried out their lives can be found buried beneath many a city in Europe; empty caverns of brick and mortar patiently waiting to be useful again.
It's little wonder that authors have been inspired to create stories that centre around alternative or separate versions of these cities. The most recent of these stories is China Mieville's strange and wonderful Un Lun Dun published by Random House Canada through its Del Rey imprint.
Un Lun Dun exists somewhere where London isn't; maybe beside it, maybe beneath it, at the very least near by enough so things, and occasionally people, slip through for a visit or to stay. Most of what comes through is Mildly Obsolete In London, referred to by Un Lun Duners as moil. Anything left lying around that is considered junk by Londeners, old computers, the out-of-date fridge, even vinyl records, will eventually make its way into Un Lun Dun, where it will be put to good use as building materials.
Zanna and her best friend Deeba are ordinary 12-year-old girls in ordinary London, who notice that extraordinary things are starting to happen to Zanna. How many times have you had a fox come up to you in your school yard and bow to you? Or a bus driver approach you in the coffee shop where you and your friends are sitting after school and stammer out how pleased to meet you she is and call you by the title of Shwazzy. To make matters worse, the very next day a post man was waiting for Zanna outside her house when she went to school with a note saying, we'll see you soon, and a pass for what looks to be strange version of the London Transit system, in the name of Shwazzy!