Fantasy geography is a way of simultaneously anchoring fiction in a specified location and overcoming what is, for realism, a key impasse: the impenetrability of the narrative membrane dividing differing epochs and spatial zones. In this chapter I compare the different fantasy worlds inherent in Octavia Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred and China Miéville’s 2009 novel The City and the City and explore their respective relationships to the geography of the dead. In the process, I explore two related issues: surveillance and its politics and nearness and its relationship to the ‘thing’, as defined by Martin Heidegger.

Both Kindred and The City and the City are portal fantasy novels, two competing worlds being established within one overarching setting, movement between them being accessed via an identifiable entry point. In both novels, first entry is set in train by a death or a near death experience and, as both novels progress, violence becomes increasingly connected with and inflicted upon a woman’s body. It is here that Heidegger’s theory of the ‘thing’ becomes pertinent. Death itself is a portal, a state of passing which transforms the human body into a thing. In these narratives, thing theory attaches itself to women’s bodies, but it also attaches itself to the portal itself. For Heidegger, the jug is the ultimate ‘thing’, taking its meaning not only from what it comprises but the emptiness it surrounds. Both Kindred and The City and the City define the portal at their centre as something simultaneously having material existence and creating a political and socio-cultural void.

That apparent emptiness manifests itself most obviously through ideological visibility and invisibility. In The City and the City, two cities inhabit one space, but residents of one are required by law to actively ‘unsee’ the other city’s buildings and residents, despite sharing the same material space. In Kindred, Black people avoid looking white people in the eye, for fear of being considered insolent and are permitted no cultural visibility, except as ‘things’ belonging to a plantation owner. Both novels work via a paradox, therefore, utilizing their portal fantasy structure to bring oppositional cultures into direct visual contact with each other, while requiring active unseeing to be adopted to maintain political inequalities. On one level, both novels confront us with outlandish or extreme narrative perspectives on fantasy. On another, the friction established between worlds in the text and between the reader and both texts requires us to re-think our own assumptions about power, surveillance, and body politics. Fantasy geography may breach the conventional limits of space and time, but it does so to enable us to see things anew.