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The China Miéville Thread


Books


Starting off with a review of his new book, Kraken:

Quote:

A giant, dead squid on display at the Natural History Museum in London goes missing, to the consternation of its curator, Billy Harrow, and that of the police officers of the FSRC (Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crimes unit). The police think Billy might be a link. So does the Church of God Kraken, which is unhappy with one of their deities being half-inched. Less happily, so do Goss and Subby, murderers and pain-merchants for hire. Half of London is out looking for the squid, for its disappearance is related to fevered dreams and portents of apocalypse. The squid must be found, or the world will burn.

Kraken is China Mieville's seventh novel, and probably his most barking mad book to date. Kraken is a total one-eighty from the measured, focused crime noir that was his previous novel, The City and the City, and shares many more elements from his young adult-aimed Un Lun Dun, such as the fantasised (much more lightly here) depiction of London and a whimsical sense of humour (not to mention the short chapters). Where Un Lun Dun stumbled slightly in its opening chapters with Mieville trying to be down with the kids a little too hard, Kraken aims its culture and pop references more clearly at geekdom, with multiple references to TV shows like American Gothic, Lexx and Battlestar Galactica ("The revamp, obviously,"), a number of Moorcock references and a number of plot points related to Star Trek. There's also some nods at Gaiman, particularly Neverwhere (which also inspired elements of Un Lun Dun and King Rat), with Goss and Subby coming over as worthy homages to the latter's Croup and Vandemar, only less pleasant.

For a book that's so satisfyingly bananas in places, it makes you work hard in others. Mieville gropes for a prose style in the opening hundred pages or so, meaning that the opening part of the book is delivered in short, staccato bursts, one moment enjoyable, the next annoyingly obtuse to the point of turgidness. Mieville has never been an easy read, but he's also never been one with problems of flow in his books, and Kraken presents the first issues with this that I've come across in his work. Luckily, once the book shakes off its jitters and gets down to business, these problems fly out the window as well-defined characters, enjoyably weird factions and an ever more engrossing plot come to the fore. Along the way we meet some fantastic characters and creations, from Wati the stone-bound spirit to the loathsome Goss and Subby to the monstrous being known only as the Tattoo, and events culminate in an ending that is satisfying, if a little predictable (and the "It's the end, whoops, no it isn't, here's another one, and one after that too!" nature of the multiple endings is slightly wearying). Previous Mieville novels have perhaps been overall more cohesive, but ending an extended narrative seems to be something Mieville has struggled with in the past (his short fiction is notably better at this, most notably The Tain). Here he shows some true flair in his ending.

Kraken (****) takes a while to get going but once it does, it fires on all cylinders until it reaches a solid conclusion. Frustrating and hilarious by turns, it is a novel that rewards commitment. It will be published in the UK on 7 May and in the USA on 29 June.

Qadira

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I put down Un Lun Dun after a couple chapters. I couldn't believe the enormous brain that gave us New Crobuzon City could possibly have created such an awkward mashup of Neverwhere and Harry Potter.

Loved The City & The City although it confused the hell out of me.

Andoran

Huh. I actually really dug Un Lun Dun, mainly because I saw it as a successful attempt to turn the "young adult fantasy" genre on its ear. I seemed like Mieville purposely put together a long series of clichéd plot elements in order to later subvert them, which he did in most cases.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go spend too much money on Amazon.com.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Just preordered Kraken. It won't arrive for a couple of months, but still...

Andoran

Vattnisse wrote:
Just preordered Kraken. It won't arrive for a couple of months, but still...

Yeah, me too.


China Mieville won the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Award earlier tonight for his previous novel, THE CITY AND THE CITY. It's the third time he's won the award, which he previously won in 2001 for PERDIDO STREET STATION and in 2005 for IRON COUNCIL.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

How's The City And The City? I haven't read that one yet.


Vattnisse wrote:
How's The City And The City? I haven't read that one yet.

It's very good, but different to his other works. Much more 'restrained' and more of a thriller. If you read Mieville for tons and tons of baroque ideas, crazy magical creatures, disturbingly weird ideas and so on, you may find this book less interesting than some of his others (although there are some horrific and threatening elements in it).

The book is built around a central concept/idea that is absolutely brilliant (and a major spoiler, so I won't spoil it here) and very cleverly developed. It is, however, a lot to swallow and I know some people who couldn't quite buy it. I must also admit it's a subtle book for Mieville which left me dissatisfied on an initial read, but has since improved.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

The City and the City reminded me a little bit of CJ Cherryh's Wave Without a Shore. At least its central premise did. It was pretty good. I haven't read Un Lun Dun yet. Hopefully soon. I like most of his other stuff.


China Mieville's acceptance speech from the Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

Qadira

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Werthead wrote:
The book is built around a central concept/idea that is absolutely brilliant (and a major spoiler, so I won't spoil it here)

Really? The core concept is pretty much explained on the dust jacket...


delabarre wrote:
Werthead wrote:
The book is built around a central concept/idea that is absolutely brilliant (and a major spoiler, so I won't spoil it here)
Really? The core concept is pretty much explained on the dust jacket...

Not on the UK one, although they may have changed it for the paperback now the secret is pretty much well-known on the Internet.


I saw Kraken in Waterstones today - didn't get it, as i've just spent close to £100 on paint and similar to re-decorate my bedroom


Time for a Bas-Lag novel now

?


How cool is China Mieville? Cool enough to get invited to Blondie singer Debbie Harry's birthday bowling bash. That's pretty cool, if also extremely random.

Quote:

Time for a Bas-Lag novel now

?

Not for a while. His next book, EMBASSYTOWN, is an SF novel set in space with aliens and stuff. That puts a return to Bas-Lag at least two years away and probably a lot more than that.


Well then I hope he invents some new alien races for that novel.

Is that really her, looks young.


Knoq Nixoy wrote:

Well then I hope he invents some new alien races for that novel.

Is that really her, looks young.

Her blood is pure botox

even her touch can parylise you


A review of The Scar:

Quote:

Fleeing from New Crobuzon for reasons she prefers to keep to herself, Bellis Coldwine is heading for Nova Esperium, a colony located thousands of miles away across the Swollen Ocean, to lay low. Unfortunately, her ship is intercepted by the enigmatic pirates of the floating city of Armada and she is pressganged into Armada's service...as a librarian.

Armada is a city like no other, even on the baroque and weird world of Bas-Lag. Ruled over by the passion-fuelled Lovers, defended by Uther Doul and his unique sword, funded by piracy across half a dozen seas, Armada is a city of boats and decks and intrigue. But after centuries of wandering, Armada now has a mission and a purpose: to chain a creature of myth and to use it to find an ancient and great treasure. In the process Bellis will visit the island of the mosquito-women, will uncover a vast threat to New Crobuzon itself and be used and become an important chess-piece in the struggle for supremacy in the floating city.

China Mieville has written many good novels over the years, books which combine fine prose with wonderfully strange ideas, but often the elements of his books are out of balance. Perdido Street Station, for example, features wonderful worldbuilding and powerfully effective prose, but the actual story is somewhat mundane and the book overlong. The City and the City has a clever story and efficient, stripped-back writing but the premise doesn't convince (or at least the reactions of the outside world to it). Un Lun Dun is brilliant fun but lacks the darkness that lies at the heart of much of Mieville's work. And so forth.

The Scar, on the other hand, has all of Mieville's strengths working in tandem with one another. The world is vivid, the story engrossing, the writing intelligent but also compulsively page-turning, whilst the book has arguably Mieville's finest collection of characters.
Breaking free from the metropolis of New Crobuzon (which was fairly well-explored in Perdido Street Station), The Scar takes us across the oceans and islands of Bas-Lag, showing more locations and hinting at grander vistas lying beyond the horizon. It's a dizzying travelogue of invention and weirdness and works excellently.

The characters are an interesting bunch, from cold and remote Bellis Coldwine, our main protagonist, to Uther Doul, the city's resident badass warrior with a philosophical streak and a mighty sword (if The Scar had come out a bit later, I'd have suspected Anomander Rake as an inspiration). Even the secondary cast is superb, such as Tanner Sack, a Remade slave in New Crobuzon who becomes a respected and worthy citizen of Armada, and Shekel the cabin boy, a potential cliche who becomes a compelling character in his own right. Even barely-seen characters like the Brucolac, Hedrigall the lookout and the steamborg Angevine hint at tantalising depths. Mieville also continues his tradition of giving good monster, with the mosquito-women in particular being memorably horrific.

The Scar (*****) may be China Mieville's masterpiece, a rich and captivating weird novel of the fantastic. It is available now in the UK and USA.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I finished KRAKEN a couple days ago. Brilliant!!! I also recently read King Rat (or is it Rat King--I know I read WW2 or Vietnam prison-camp book by James Clavell with a similar title decades ago).

KRAKEN was awesome. It kept throwing crazy curveballs at you, but as bizarre as they seemed, they weren't weird just to be weird. Very Gaimanesque, especially Neverwhere, without being TOO much like Neverwhere. It actually reminded me a lot of Planescape and Sigil in particular, especially with all the weird factions and emphasis on belief having power.


Kraken has an awesome ending, much better than The City and the City.

Contributor

Kraken is top of my xmas list.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I'm in the middle of Kraken on an audiobook right now. You've got me curious about the ending!


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Chef's Slaad wrote:
I'm in the middle of Kraken on an audiobook right now. You've got me curious about the ending!

wow,

didn't see that comming


A short story by China for the Guardian.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I'm almost done with "Embassytown." It's been a wild ride.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

OK. I just finished "Embassytown."

Did anyone else think it riffed a lot on CJ Cherryh? It had aliens that thought totally different than humans, a human colony in alien territory, linguistics was the plot driver, and there was even a human linguist/diplomat named Bren!!!!! (Like Bren Cameron in Cherryh's 12 volume "Foreigner" series.)

Also, the aliens were physiologically unable to lie, like another alien species in Cherryh's Allianc-Union universe's Faded Sun trilogy, the regul.

Or am I such a big fan of Cherryh's, I imagine her influence everywhere?


Cherryh is very obscure in the UK, so I wouldn't say it was likely, but who knows?

The title for the next Mieville book has been announced, RAILSEA, due in May 2012. We don't know much about it, but I doubt it'll be a return to Bas-Lag. There's a very vague rumour it may be another YA novel, like UN LUN DUN.

Odd that there hasn't been any news on the TALES OF NEW CROBUZON RPG. Adamant Entertainment started work on it in 2008, so I'd have expected it to be out by now, but from the sound of it they haven't really even started work on it.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

I guess Mieville did some work on Pathfinder's River Kingdoms; maybe he'll do his own supplement on Bas-Lag races, archetypes, base classes (golem-mancers!), magic, and prestige classes.


Embassytown:

Avice is an immerser, a person who flits between worlds by sailing the immer, the strange sea of time and space that underlines our own. To satisfy his curiosity, she takes her new husband to see her homeworld of Arieka, where the native Hosts communicate in a language unlike any other known to humanity and only specially-trained, genetically-engineered humans can talk to them. But back home in Embassytown she discovers that a new Ambassador has arrived, one with a different way of speaking to the Ariekei Hosts...one that may shatter their way of existence and endanger the human population of the planet.

Embassytown is China Mieville's eighth novel and his first science fiction book. This shouldn't be taken to mean that Mieville has dramatically moved away from his traditional fare: this is very much still in the weird vein he is known for. Arieka is a world of uncanny bio-technology where farms and factories are living creatures, whilst the Hosts are an utterly alien, difficult-to-comprehend species whose thought and speech processes are totally different to that of humanity. Even Mieville's take on hyperspace - the immer - is a place where strange and bizarre things can happen. In Mieville's SF novel the usual SF trappings - spaceships, FTL travel, futuristic weapons - are given his typical weird spin, but it wouldn't be hard to re-set the novel on a remote part of Bas-Lag or in another fantastical milieu.

What does make Embassytown SF is its take on the idea of language. The notion of one species trying to talk to another when their reference frames, histories, backgrounds and ways of life may be completely different is a difficult and challenging one, but also something that SF has usually papered over with a universal translator or the like. Here the difficulties of communication between two different species are studied in depth. The Hosts can only understand language when there is sentient thought motivating it: they cannot understand recordings in their language, nor can they communicate with AIs. They also can only think in terms of the truth: the notion of lying is something so foreign to them that they can only barely grasp how it is done, though a few individual Ariekei boldly try to become liars themselves, giving rise to the vividly-described Festival of Lies that Avice encounters at one point in the book. This discontinuity is a minor weak point in the novel: if the Hosts can lie, even with difficulty, than over the course of millions of years they should have developed the ability to do so more freely. If they can't lie at all, than the climax of the book (which is a tad predictable) is impossible. Them being only able to lie with human intervention does open up some interesting questions about inadvertent colonialism, however, that are almost certainly intentional.

Mieville makes his aliens truly alien, so the only way to communicate with them is to make the human Ambassadors partly alien themselves through genetic engineering. Ambassadors are twins who are raised to think and act as one as a way of duplicating the Hosts' duality-based language. This in turn makes them something different to ordinary humans although, as is revealed several times throughout the narrative, not as different as perhaps first appears. This gives rise to an interesting parallel where humans have to alter themselves to talk to the Ariekei, bu the Ariekei cannot conceive of altering themselves to talk to humans...at least not until that decision is made for them, unwittingly, by the arrival of a new Ambassador.

The book is a slow burn, with the opening half focused on exploring Avice's childhood (during which she is chosen by the Ariekei to become a living simile, a walking and talking embodiment of their language) and background before the action focuses on what is going on in Embassytown in the present. Whilst there is a major crisis in the book, one that leads to violence and a loss of life on an epic scale, Embassytown's writing is focused, intelligent and even quiet. The writing style is more like the pared-back City and The City rather than the chaotic Un Lun Dun and Kraken (the former enjoyably so, the latter rather more sloppily), which is a plus for me.

There are big events with major ramifications going on, but Avice is much more of a passive observer of events than an active protagonist, only stepping up to this role quite late on in the novel. This results in a lot of major plot movements happening off-page (several times Avice arrives on the scene of an important, game-changing event just after it's happened) and only being explained later on. This could be slightly frustrating, but in Mieville's hands it's a well-executed inversion of the more traditional (and implausible) format where the narrator is at the centre of every major event in the book. Here Avice is playing just one role in a larger cast, and we don't always get to see what everyone else is up to.

Avice herself is a well-defined but not entirely sympathetic protagonist. She's a bit of a snob, frankly, and invokes her travels to other worlds as an explanation for why she thinks she's better than everyone else. This results in amusing passages where Avice is frustrated because she's not involved at the centre of events. From her POV, she should be, but of course from the POV of the people running Embassytown there's no reason why she should. This frustration becomes more acute when the input of Avice's new husband, a linguistics expert, becomes more valued by the government than Avice's own contribution. It's a solid bit of characterisation that makes Avice more of a plausible protagonist at the risk of making her unlikable, though I think Mieville avoids that pit trap. The other characters in the book are mostly well-defined (especially Avice's robotic best friend and the half-Ambassador Bran), though the limited POV structure means we don't get to know them as well as characters in some of his other books.

Overall, Embassytown (****½) is a formidably intelligent exploration of language, colonialism and communication, not just between humans and invented aliens but between people and people. It raises interesting questions, doesn't give pat answers, and entertains along the way. It's not Mieville at his best, but it's certainly a strong novel and an interesting take on the traditional tropes of science fiction. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Taldor

Werthead wrote:

Embassytown:

Avice is an immerser, a person who flits between worlds by sailing the immer, the strange sea of time and space that underlines our own. To satisfy his curiosity, she takes her new husband to see her homeworld of Arieka, where the native Hosts communicate in a language unlike any other known to humanity and only specially-trained, genetically-engineered humans can talk to them. But back home in Embassytown she discovers that a new Ambassador has arrived, one with a different way of speaking to the Ariekei Hosts...one that may shatter their way of existence and endanger the human population of the planet.

Embassytown is China Mieville's eighth novel and his first science fiction book. This shouldn't be taken to mean that Mieville has dramatically moved away from his traditional fare: this is very much still in the weird vein he is known for. Arieka is a world of uncanny bio-technology where farms and factories are living creatures, whilst the Hosts are an utterly alien, difficult-to-comprehend species whose thought and speech processes are totally different to that of humanity. Even Mieville's take on hyperspace - the immer - is a place where strange and bizarre things can happen. In Mieville's SF novel the usual SF trappings - spaceships, FTL travel, futuristic weapons - are given his typical weird spin, but it wouldn't be hard to re-set the novel on a remote part of Bas-Lag or in another fantastical milieu.

What does make Embassytown SF is its take on the idea of language. The notion of one species trying to talk to another when their reference frames, histories, backgrounds and ways of life may be completely different is a difficult and challenging one, but also something that SF has usually papered over with a universal translator or the like. Here the difficulties of communication between two different species are studied in depth. The Hosts can only understand language when there is sentient thought...

Thanks for the review and the heads up.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

The super tight third person POV is another similarity to CJ Cherry's work, but Embassytown is first person, which is pretty close.

Cherryh's work also deals extensively with xenolinguistics (she's also a linguist in real life). Particularly in the Chanur and Foreigner series.


Iron Council by China Mieville

Quote:

New Crobuzon is in the grip of economic disaster. A ruinous naval war against the city of Tesh is being prosecuted over thousands of miles, draining the city's coffers. People are laid off only to be rehired on a fraction of their original income to make weapons for the war effort. The seeds of revolution are being sown within the city. Outside, a band of revolutionaries are on another type of quest, to head into the badlands at the centre of the Rohagi continent in search of the perpetual train, the Iron Council. The Council defected from New Crobuzon's control twenty years ago and is now a symbol and a myth to the people, a sign of freedom and hope. But the rulers of New Crobuzon never forgets any slight against it, no matter how small, and have their own plans to take vengeance against the Council...

Iron Council, published in 2004, is China Mieville's fourth novel and the third set in his signature fantasy world of Bas-Lag, though it has little to do with the two previous novels (the solid Perdido Street Station and the excellent The Scar) and can be enjoyed by itself. It's a somewhat complex novel, following three distinct story strands. In the first, a band of revolutionaries from New Crobuzon set out in search of Judah Law, a man who knows the location of the Iron Council. Once reunited with him, they search together for the Council and how to best guide it home. In the second strand, Law flashes back twenty years to the events leading to the Council's defection from New Crobuzon's control. In the third, the story follows a revolutionary named Ori as dissent and anger on New Crobuzon's streets reaches fevre pitch and threatens civil war.

The book combines some influences from real history. Events in New Crobuzon are reminiscent of events in Petrograd (aka St. Petersburg) in the run-up to the Russian Revolution, with a ruinous war being prosecuted beyond the state's ability to fund it and this leading to economic disaster, fuelling social unrest. The storyline in the western badlands is more like a Western, with its iron roads spanning thousands of miles of hostile wilderness and hard-edged men and women fighting for survival with guns. Of course, this is Mieville, so the hostile natives are worm-like inchmen and stilt-like striders (who can be reasoned with) rather than simple tribesmen, and the terrain includes things like the cacotopic stain, an area where reality is bent out of shape and can recreate and change anything that passes through it. As with most of Mieville's output, his imagination is on formidable and impressive display.

The novel focuses on the characters of Cutter, Judah Law and Ori, and Mieville does good work bringing these and a galaxy of supporting roles to life. Ori is a man searching for a role in life and is drawn into the world of politics and activism. Cutter is politically ambivalent and is driven in the hunt for the Council mainly by his love for Judah (which is ambiguously reciprocated). Judah is a more complex character, whose wants and ambitions see him yo-yoing between the Council and the city. He has impressive magical powers, most notably the ability to create golems. Mieville gives these golems a New Weird twist by allowing Judah to create them out of almost anything, including railroad sleepers and even shadows. What seems like a minor side-detail ultimately becomes a major part of the book's resolution. Mieville also infuses the minor characters like Spiral Jack and Ann Hari, with internal life and complex motivations, resulting in one of his better-cast novels (actually probably only second to his masterpiece, The Scar).

Iron Council seems to be regarded as one of Mieville's weakest novels, which is curious as I found it far better-written and more cohesive than Kraken, and certainly much more strongly plotted and characterised than even the revered Perdido Street Station. Criticisms seem to stem from it being too political, which I did not find to be the case. Despite being a socialist in his own politics, Mieville never gets preachy in the book. In fact, characters from numerous and diverse backgrounds are brought together in a situation where they feel forced to respond to the government's acts with disobedience and eventually violence, regardless of former party affiliations. Indeed, an attempt to politicise the revolution, to give it shape and an ideology, falls apart because the disparate factions that make it up are so different (that in itself - stand united or fall alone - may be a political statement, but if so one I don't think many can disagree with).

Where problems do emerge is in the book's tripartite structure. Swapping between events in the city and the badlands is fine, but the addition of a massive flashback sequence in the middle of the novel is a bit unwieldy. This self-contained sequence feels like it would have worked better at the front of the book as its own narrative rather than putting everything else on hold whilst the flashback unfolds mid-novel.

But other than that, Iron Council (****½) is a successful, imaginative and gripping fantasy novel, richly-characterised and fuelled by one of the strongest imaginations working in the field today. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Taldor

SmiloDan wrote:

The super tight third person POV is another similarity to CJ Cherry's work, but Embassytown is first person, which is pretty close.

Cherryh's work also deals extensively with xenolinguistics (she's also a linguist in real life). Particularly in the Chanur and Foreigner series.

Having just read the Chanur series and Embassytown - I agree, a lot of similarities.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Check out Cherryh's Foreigner series too. It is even more "xenolinguisitic..."

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