The title of this collection is "Cities," and by the editor's foreword, I was led to expect four novellas that reflected upon the nature of cities -- which sounded very interesting. I decided to buy this book because of that choice of theme, and because China Mieville, now one of my favorite authors, was one of the contributors, and to a lesser extent, because Michael Moorcock was a contributor.
Of the four stories, only one really engaged the theme of the nature of cities: Paul Di Filippo's "A Year in the Linear City," which was a very good story about a incredibly vast and strangely contrived city, the nature of which the inhabitants scarcely thought about. It was one of the few works of fiction I've read in which having a protagonist who is a writer of fiction actually worked well.
China Mieville's books "Perdido Street Station" and "The Scar" were, quite intensely, engaged in depicting the nature of the cities they describe, so I was a bit surprised that Mieville's story in this collection, "The Tain," didn't seem so engaged. At least the story was definitely set in an urban environment, and was an interesting twist on the survival tale, all the more so because of Mieville's typical mockery of the excesses of the very genre he's writing in, within the story.
Michael Moorcock's "Firing the Cathedral" was the most disappointing of the four stories in the collection. It didn't engage with the theme of the nature of cities at all. As far as I could tell, none of the action of the story took place in a city. It was broken into several subsections, each starting with some quotes to reflect the political situation of the present day real world, which were mildly interested, and followed by some disjointed conversations in which characters that I suppose we're expected to recognize from other Moorcock stories exchange smarmy inside jokes, leaving the reader completely outside. I couldn't figure out if there really was any story. It may have had something to do with global warming, but I couldn't be sure. It certainly wasn't entertaining or interesting.
Geoff Ryman's story, "V.A.O.," took place entirely within a retirement home, in which aging cyberpunk hackers tracked down one of their own gone rogue. It seemed like yet another attempt to put a fresh spin on the painful cliches of cyberpunk, by taking up the theme of aging. There was certainly nothing about cities, per se.
Overall, I found this a mediocre collection, which didn't live up to my expectations of quality, nor, more surprisingly, even particularly address the theme that was supposed to tie this book together. While Filippo's story was excellent, and Mieville's was good, I wouldn't have bought this book had I realized that's all I'd get.