An interview with China Miéville


35 Responses to “An interview with China Miéville”

  1. vertigo25 says:

    He wrote an RPG???

    Or are you talking about the Guide to the River Kingdoms supplement for Pathfinder to which he was a contributor?

  2. kateling says:

    Just finished Railsea yesterday. It was brilliant. Grand adventure, compelling characters, gorgeously written, thought-provoking, and just plain fun.

  3. MonkeyBoy says:

    “China Miéville is one of the most important writers”

    Jeez,  please choke down your fanboy horndoggery.

    While I find him an interesting enough writer that I will check out a new book by him that shows up at my public library, his work is not immune from being boring or wallowing in cliches. 

    There are many “more important” writers than Mieville that given a choice I am more interested in reading.  I guess that some consider him important because he is trying to emerge from the  SF/Fantasy genre that has been so polluted by Vampire/Zombie/Sword/King cliches, yet he still employs them.

    • jere7my says:

      Grr, yeah, I hate it when people have different opinions from me on objectively verifiable things like writerly importance. I mean, jeez, doesn’t he know that if you want to know who the important writers are, you just ask MonkeyBoy? And if you want to know if the Enterprise could beat up a Star Destroyer, you need to ask Dame Judi Dench? The rules are right there, people.

      • SushiSpook says:

        I get your point… but let’s be fair here: Tom didn’t qualify it as “In my opinion, he is one of the most important writers” – he just up and dropped it out there. MonkeyBoy’s criticism is valid, if a bit needlessly caustic. 

        • jere7my says:

          But MonkeyBoy is doing the same durn thing — Tom gave us an unqualified “he is one of the most important writers” and MonkeyBoy gave us a “no, he isn’t one of the most important writers,” only he did it while insulting a stranger. Both of them offered their opinion. (Tom goes on to support his in the course of the interview.) And it is necessarily their opinion, because there is no objective standard of writerly importance — “in my opinion” can be taken as read.

          Anyway, his point is off-target because he thinks “important” means “interesting.” Posited: J.K. Rowling is one of the most important writers in Britain, regardless of how many cliches one might say she employs. Stephenie Meyer is one of the most important writers in the US.

    • Getting close to having any comment containing the word “fanboy” auto-replaced with an animated GIF of the timecube.

    • SoItBegins says:

      If that’s what you believe, that’s fine! :) What writers do you favor? I might like to check them out sometime.

  4. Ashen Victor says:

    I coincide with Mieville: Iron Council is one of his best, also the epitome of the “I told you this wasn’t going to work” bitter-sweet ending.

    • PXL says:

      That’s one of my least favorite of his books- the combination of the ending with the endless political speechifying… I started trailing off around the halfway point. I finished it, but probably won’t read it again.
      Just goes to show how subjective it all is, I suppose.

  5. Slartibartfatsdomino says:

    I haven’t read any China Mieville, so he might be worth all the accolades he gets here on Boingboing and I’ll probably check his work out at some point, but seriously, it sometimes seems like he’s the only sci-fi author you guys have ever heard of (aside from C.D., but even his sci-fi is never plugged to the extent that Mieville gets plugged… and he’s a Boingboing blogger).

    Anyway, after I finish the latest Kim Stanley Robinson and Alastair Reynolds books, I’ll take a look at something by Mieville. Hope he’s worth all the hooplah! Anyone got any advice on what I should start with? 

    • mandaya says:

      Personally, I think ‘The Scar’ is his best book. ‘The City….’ didn’t quite hit my taste, it’s too much hard-boiled/noir detective for my tastes. ‘Scar’ is a fantastic novel in the sense of the word. great stuff.

      • scav says:

        Agreed. The Scar is one of my favourite books. And even though it’s the middle one of the 3 Bas-Lag books (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council) it stands on its own, so it would be my recommendation too.

    • freemoore says:

       Perdido Street Station is a cracker.

    • Peter` Card says:

       Chronologically, Perdido Street Station precedes The Scar, which precedes Iron Council. While the novels are almost entirely independent, I think Perdido Street Station provides the best introduction to the city state of New Crobuzon.

      Or if you want the most accessible starting point, try his young-adult novel Un Lun Dun, which is of course entirely worthwhile for old-adults too. A London A-Z might come in handy as reference.

    • Talia says:

       Depends on your tastes, I suppose. I didn’t care for ‘Perdido Street Station,’ but I adored ‘City and the City,’ which is considered by some atypical of his stuff – an exciting mystery with elements of the fantastical. I also thought ‘Embassytown’ was brilliant (he plays with a variety of fun ideas).

    • EvilTerran says:

      I tend to find short story collections a nice low-commitment way of checking out new authors, so I started with Looking for Jake:

    • Egypt Urnash says:

      Most of Miéville’s stuff falls more under “fantasy” than “sci-fi”. Looking down his bibligraphy as listed on Wikipedia, I count seven books I’d file under fantasy, one I’d file under magic realism, one I haven’t read, and one that’d go under SF.

      (and the one I haven’t read is a novella that sounds a lot like I’d stick it in “fantasy” as well)

      If you’re looking for cool technology and people gadding about in space, Miéville is not your man.

  6. Mordicai says:

    As a 33-year-old leftist American Geek who grew up on DC comics, Dungeons & Dragons, escaping crappy Fundamentalist politics, pulp fantasy and Star Wars, I’m always super glad to have Miévill’s voice around.

  7. occula says:

    “Kraken” was the first of his books I read, and I had to keep pausing to chortle over his magnificent vocabulary. I love the feeling of reading a book and having the feeling that the writer is really, freaking, honking intelligent.

  8. Vickie Kostecki says:

    TIL China Mieville is a guy.

  9. Eric Arnold says:

    China makes me work, as a reader.  So far the payoff is more than sufficient.  I “get” some of the criticism against his work but it is washed away by how he pushes at literary boundaries.  Was Perdido Street Station tedious in places, with prose that, in places, made me think of E.R. Eddison?  Damn straight is was.  But it was also magnificent.  So keep on keeping on, Mr. Mieville!

  10. wizardru says:

    I’ve only tried to read on China Mieville novel, Perdido Street Station.  After hearing so much praised heaped upon it, I was eager to enjoy.  But by halfway through I put it down, uncertain what everyone was praising.  I agree, the City did seem like a real character in the book…a character that I wished, quite frankly, would shut the hell up and let the story get going.

    Not adhering to classic Fantasy tropes?  Check.  Wildly Imaginative? Check.  Entertaining?  For me, No.

  11. bobkat says:

    I thought Perdido and Scar were both mind-blowingly wonderful examples of the kind of book you can just get lost in.  All the details of the universe they describe, the minutia, the creatures, the history, the weirdness – I love that stuff, and it’s all too rare that a writer can successfully articulate that level of creativity in the framework of a page-turner story.  
    Iron Council just irritated the hell out of me for some reason.  I guess the serious lefty politix just distracted too much from the story for my taste…and I’m about as lefty as they get!
    Ever since then, I’ve been wishing for a triumphant return to Bas Lag, or at least that level of immersion in a universe of his creation.  Sadly, I’ve been disappointed with everything else.  The City was intriguing, but felt like it was trying too hard to be postmodern meta-whatever, and I thought it fell apart at the end.  Kraken had some wonderful stuff in it, but despite it’s physical girth, the result was curiously fluffy.  UnLunDun was pretty great, admittedly, though also fluffy.  Embassytown came the closest for me to that rare feeling – I thought it was pretty brilliant scifi – and it re-ignited my fanboyism.  I look forward to reading Railsea…

  12. Just read Embassytown.  A few interesting concepts, but not many that weren’t already explored in the ST:TNG episode “Darmok”, and in some cases so vaguely explained that they just came across as not really thought out.

    There was some flashy use of language… but much of it felt show-offy and gratuitous. 

    Across the board, the characterization was  flat as a pancake.  This included a protagonist/narrator with no particular personality or stakes, whom I didn’t care about at all. 

    Mieville also has this annoying, all-too-frequent habit of having much of the action happen “offstage” — e.g., writing, “Many reports of trouble came in,” instead of writing a scene showing specific trouble being reported. 

    In short, I don’t get what all the hype is about.

  13. NoGovernmentName says:

    The New Crobuzon trilogy is a masterpiece. I loved each book in its way. Perdido was an incredible ordeal, the world building was deeply engaging, and the ending set me on my ass. The Scar was the most technically perfect, a long con that was beautifully played out. Of the three, though, the Iron Council broke my heart.  The emotional realness and depiction of loss were so poignant.  I agree with Mieville– it’s my favorite too. Call me a fangirl if you want. I am, and Mieville earned it. 

  14. Having just gotten my Hugo voters’ packet, I’m going to make my third attempt to read a China Mieville novel. As someone who’s voting on it, I feel obliged to try harder than usual. But … well, damn it, I’ll just say it. I have never gotten past page 2 of one of his books without losing all interest.

    Toward the end of the interview, he says, “Also, I’m very interested in radical aesthetics in general, and one of my loving complaints about the field of fantastic fiction is that there is often an excessive lack of interest in technique.” Which reminds me of what people said who were trying to get me to read Gene Wolfe’s Urth of the New Sun novels back in the ’80s, and Samuel Delaney back in the ’70s. I think what he describes as “aesthetics” and “technique” is what I describe as “deliberately obfuscating prose that makes it so time-consuming to tell what the author is talking about that I can’t make myself care enough to bother.” All three of them are authors whose books are described to me as “very important” but that, to my taste, read like grade-B pulp sci-fi movie scripts that have been fed through a thesaurus program to obscure the fact that there’s very little there.

    I prefer the Heinlein model of fiction writing: do something that catches my attention by the end of the first paragraph. I prefer the Clarion Writer’s Workshop school of science fiction: do something by the end of the first page that makes me care about these characters. Throwing those things over the side in order to polish the prose into incomprehensibility feels too much to me like one of those C programming competitions where the objective is to write running code that nobody can read. Maybe that’s why so much of the recent SF that I’ve actually enjoyed was written for a YA audience; they know that if you write interesting characters doing interesting things in a thought-provoking world that relates to real-world problems or real-world history, you don’t benefit from hiding these things in a fog of purple prose, from drowning them in mushy word soup.

    But because I’m being asked to have an opinion about it, some time this month or next I’m going to grit my teeth and try to make it through Embassytown. Wish me luck.

Leave a Reply