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Thread: Science Fiction by China

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    Senior Member Array tomcat's Avatar
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    Science Fiction by China

    ...the author sounds more interesting than what he writes about, but I may see what Kino has in stock...

    By Sarah Lyall (NYT)
    23 July, 2010

    LONDON — If your idea of a science fiction writer is a scrawny guy with computer-glow pallor who’s a little too interested in whether warp speed is a realistic rate of travel, China Miéville is not that person.

    Tall and buff, he has a shaved head, a row of earrings curving sharply around the edge of his left ear, a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics and a mind that skips easily from “Jane Eyre” to welfare reform to the joys of bicycling around London. He is also a serious Socialist who ran for Parliament in 2001. The Evening Standard called him “the sexiest man in British politics.”

    “I spent much of my youth soul-suckingly horrified by ‘Star Trek’ and not understanding why no one else could understand that it was a charnel ship manned by ghosts, because you die every time you teleport!” Mr. Miéville said. “It freaked me out.”

    None of Mr. Miéville’s books is quite like the one before. For a trilogy set in a fictional universe, he invented a world so richly imagined it makes Tolkien’s Middle Earth look plodding. “Un Lun Dun,” a children’s book, is a Neil Gaimanesque tale of the mystical London beneath the surface.

    “The City and The City” (2009), which attracted more non-genre readers to his work, is a noir story set in a pair of weirdly intertwined imaginary cities that features moody, pared-down prose and a detective battling forces he can’t understand. It won both the Arthur C. Clarke award and the British Science Fiction Association award for the best novel of 2009.

    Mr. Miéville grew up in Willesden, London; his first name, pronounced like the country, is Cockney rhyming slang for “mate.” As a child, he let his imagination run free in Dungeons & Dragons-style role-playing games and, a little later, in a kind of competitive creative-writing club with a friend.

    He wrote his doctoral thesis on Marxism and international law, and began submitting short stories, unsuccessfully, to science fiction magazines, before an agent took him on. He is more or less a full-time novelist now, though he still does academic research and attends conferences; he has an article coming out soon in the Finnish Yearbook of International Law.

    While he manages to infuse his work with his political views, sometimes more overtly than other times, Mr. Miéville says what attracts him to the genre, as a reader and a writer, is the importance of the imagination — “that sense of the world blown apart, that sense of a crack in reality, that visionary sense, that ecstatic sense,” as he described it.

    “At a certain stage some people end up not trusting their own imagination,” Mr. Miéville said. “You get this kind of baleful set of voices in your head that tell you, ‘That’s silly; you’re being silly.’

    “But I think most people have more ideas in their heads than they think they do. It’s just that those of us in the fantastic fields — either we don’t listen to our own filters, or we have a much higher ridiculousness threshold.”

    Mr. Miéville’s novels — seven so far — have been showered with prizes; three have won the Arthur C. Clarke award, given annually to the best science fiction novel published in Britain. And his growing fan base has come to include reviewers outside the sci-fi establishment.

    Entertainment Weekly, for instance, recently gave Mr. Miéville’s new novel, “Kraken” (Ballantine Books), an A-, praising the way he “lobs a grenade into the urban-fantasy genre, remaking it into wild comedy.”

    “Kraken” fairly throbs with the fantastical: a squid-worshiping cult, oppressed magical animals on picket lines, a very bad man who is actually a tattoo on someone’s back, and a sorcerer who folds people up like origami and puts them into tiny boxes for easier transport. With its playful, densely pyrotechnic prose and its blizzard of references to other works, “Kraken” defies easy characterization as much as Mr. Miéville (pronounced me-AY-vill) does.

    “He enjoys writing in lots of genres,” said Tom Hunter, the administrator of the Arthur C. Clarke award. “In science fiction, people talk a lot about the tool kit — a writing attitude for approaching the world with elements that you can combine in interesting ways. China’s fiction brings his own philosophical interests and dramatizes it in a science fiction context.”

    For the record, Mr. Miéville, 37, calls himself a science fiction writer — or, for those steeped in genre subdivisions, a purveyor of “weird” or “new weird” fiction. But he stands out from the crowd for the quality, mischievousness and erudition of his writing.

    “I’m not trying to distance myself from the genre I came out of, but it makes me really happy when people who don’t read genre fiction normally say that they really like my books,” he said recently over lunch at his handsome town house on a quiet street in Kilburn, in northwest London. Talking with a great deal of intense energy, he used three tea bags for a single cup of tea.

    The book’s starting point is the kraken (pronounced CRACK-en), or giant squid. Huge scary squids have been an obsession of writers like Tennyson, Lovecraft, and H. G. Wells for the last 200 years; “Kraken” is a homage to that tradition, bolstered by the happy fact that the Natural History Museum in London has a pickled one, which gets stolen in the book.

    While the squid is a more “epically resonant creature,” Mr. Miéville says that he is in fact “a partisan of the octopus.” (His earrings turn out not to be totems of aggression at all, but silver casts of baby octopus tentacles, a gift from his girlfriend, an American doctor. He also has some little octopus figurines in his bathroom.)

    To call “Kraken” a squid-napping caper is about as accurate as saying that “King Lear” is about property rights. Among the many topics that bubble beneath the wild imagination at play are millennial anxiety, religious cults, the relationship between the citizen and the state and the role of fate and free will.

    “The book is intended to be kind of a romp,” Mr. Miéville said. “What happens if two apocalypses are scheduled to happen at the same time? How cosmologically embarrassing!”

    Read one way, the book is part of a long insiders’ dialogue between Mr. Miéville and his genre friends. “It’s a very referential book, designed to tease geek culture — my tribe,” he said. Those sorts of readers find a thicket of playful allusions to classic and contemporary science fiction and fantasy stories.

    For nonfantasy readers, there are references to works like “The Crying of Lot 49,” the Saki short story “Sredni Vashtar,” and the movie “Fantasia.” And Trekkies will be tickled by the long riff on teleportation, or travel by “beaming up,” a facet of “Star Trek” that has long irritated Mr. Miéville because, in his view, it entails ripping people apart and then piecing them, inadequately, back together.

    “I spent much of my youth soul-suckingly horrified by ‘Star Trek’ and not understanding why no one else could understand that it was a charnel ship manned by ghosts, because you die every time you teleport!” Mr. Miéville said. “It freaked me out.”

    None of Mr. Miéville’s books is quite like the one before. For a trilogy set in a fictional universe, he invented a world so richly imagined it makes Tolkien’s Middle Earth look plodding. “Un Lun Dun,” a children’s book, is a Neil Gaimanesque tale of the mystical London beneath the surface.

    “The City and The City” (2009), which attracted more non-genre readers to his work, is a noir story set in a pair of weirdly intertwined imaginary cities that features moody, pared-down prose and a detective battling forces he can’t understand. It won both the Arthur C. Clarke award and the British Science Fiction Association award for the best novel of 2009.

    Mr. Miéville grew up in Willesden, London; his first name, pronounced like the country, is Cockney rhyming slang for “mate.” As a child, he let his imagination run free in Dungeons & Dragons-style role-playing games and, a little later, in a kind of competitive creative-writing club with a friend.

    He wrote his doctoral thesis on Marxism and international law, and began submitting short stories, unsuccessfully, to science fiction magazines, before an agent took him on. He is more or less a full-time novelist now, though he still does academic research and attends conferences; he has an article coming out soon in the Finnish Yearbook of International Law.

    While he manages to infuse his work with his political views, sometimes more overtly than other times, Mr. Miéville says what attracts him to the genre, as a reader and a writer, is the importance of the imagination — “that sense of the world blown apart, that sense of a crack in reality, that visionary sense, that ecstatic sense,” as he described it.

    “At a certain stage some people end up not trusting their own imagination,” Mr. Miéville said. “You get this kind of baleful set of voices in your head that tell you, ‘That’s silly; you’re being silly.’

    “But I think most people have more ideas in their heads than they think they do. It’s just that those of us in the fantastic fields — either we don’t listen to our own filters, or we have a much higher ridiculousness threshold.”
    ...majestically enthroned amid the vulgar herd...

  2. #2
    Non Sibi Sed Omnibus Array Umbuku's Avatar
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    Looks interesting.

    China Miéville - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Novels and novellas

    * King Rat (1998)
    * Perdido Street Station (2000)†
    * The Scar (2002)†
    * The Tain (2002)
    * Iron Council (2004)†
    * Un Lun Dun (2007)
    * The City & the City (2009)
    * Kraken (2010)[17]
    * Embassytown (May 2011)[18][19]

    † denotes novels set in the Bas-Lag universe.

    May buy one for the reading for relaxation pile.
    Faith, by itself, isn't a good enough reason to believe. Instead, a belief must be defensible through reason, logic, and evidence.
    The idea that faith is somehow justified by the fact that the beliefs cannot be proven is a truly Orwellian position to adopt - not to mention intellectually and ethically dangerous.

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    Finally something to look for at the library...

    Wonder how it compares to Douglas Adams' 'Dirk Gently' novels...
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    I tried Perdido Street Station a few years back. I had finished reading Iain M Banks' Culture novels and was casting around for another writer adept at creating "worlds". Mieville was being touted as the next great thing in that territory.

    It bored the pants off me and I couldn't finish it. But then I don't like Lovecraft either.

    Anyone who hasn't come across Banks might want to give him a try.
    "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his _________ depends upon his not understanding it!"

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    You should be able to find his stuff in Kino - I've bought 'Perdido Street Station', 'The City and the City', 'Un Lun Dun' and 'Iron Council' from there this past year.

    I'd say he's a completely different proposition from Douglas Adams - the Dirk Gently books are okay, but knowing that they're based on rejected Doctor Who scripts took the shine off for me. I do think Pratchett is an infinitely better writer than Adams, fwiw.

    Whilst I agree that Iain (M) Banks is a superlative SF writer (and mainstream writer), he's writing a very different kind of speculative fiction from that of Mieville. Banks writes fanfuckingtastic hard SF space opera - 'Use of Weapons' remains one of my very favourite books in any genre. What Mieville writes is more rooted in fantasy than SF - but he is very much not writing the kind of lazy post-Tolkein genre stuff that most commonly lines the bookshelves. His writing is more comparable to Neil Gaiman - but more grotesque, perhaps.

    I can't agree that 'Perdido Street Station' is boring. What it is, though, is very VERY densely packed with ideas. It's not light reading, not at all - in fact I'd actively suggest NOT putting his novels onto any "reading for relaxation" pile, because they're big, chewy, fiercely intelligent books. They're also the polar opposite of generic, even though he clearly loves genre - he eschews cliche, and turns ideas on their head, and doesn't make things pretty or predictable or comforting.

    He's a tonic, frankly. But if you look to SF/F for easy reading full of explosions and comforting cliches, he's not your man. He doesn't write women as idiots; he doesn't assume heroes should be white, or men, or attractive; he doesn't subscribe to a simplistic whitehats-versus-blackhats ideology. His universes are complex, elaborately-wrought, imperfect, fascinating places peopled with weird and disturbing people and vividly original monsters. He's a political animal, and although he doesn't bludgeon you with this unduly, his writing is definitely informed by his political sensibilities. He's not like anyone else out there, really.

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    I like him a lot. Gritty and engrossing

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