Writers Talk with China Miéville
China Miéville is one of the biggest names in fantasy publishing, alongside those other English writers such as Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Susanna Clarke who have had enormous impact both as publishing phenomena and as respected artists.
Miéville can be regarded as representative of British fantasy's emergence from dominant forms of the 60s, 70s and 80s, a young writer for whom drum n' bass was slightly old fashioned and who is more likely to draw on Dungeons and Dragons or Kafka rather than commercial fantasy novels. His first novel King Rat was immediately hailed by Roz Kaveney as being the voice of a new generation of fantasy writers. His next novel Perdido Street Station established him as an important author, and helped create the New Weird movement. It draws on pulp, HP Lovecraft, cyberpunk, Michael Moorcock’s essay ‘Epic Pooh’, the influential novels of Mike Harrison and classic English fantasy such as Titus Groan, to create a fantasy tradition that stands in contradistinction to Tolkien and his imitators.
Miéville has a PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a book version of this thesis, Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law was published in 2005. He is a committed politician and ran for Parliament in the 2001 General Election as a candidate for the Socialist Alliance.
Among the many awards and nominations for his books, Perdido Street Station won the 2001 Arthur C Clarke Award and the World Fantasy Award, and Iron Council won the 2005 Arthur C Clarke Award and Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. His new novel, The City and The City is just out from Macmillan, and is reviewed, also by Geoff Ryman, on the Manchester Review blog.
The City and the City builds up its world slowly. At first it reads like a generic crime novel; then shows us that we are somewhere else, perhaps a parallel universe, with hints that Breach, the police force might be aliens... but in fact the novel is not a fantasy at all.
Right, that reaction is what I would have hoped. Some people know about China Miéville’s previous books; I tease the people who already know stuff about me; I hint that Breach are supernatural. I know there are some fans who are try to work out the physics that underlie the two overlaid cities but in fact there are no weird physics. The two cities are psychological and political constructs that are kept separate in people’s minds.
I don’t get my knickers in a twist about how people categorize the story, if they see it as fantasy, mainstream or crime. I would offer the novel to anyone who wouldn’t get on with my other books, people who would be pushed out of a novel with a monster or supernatural elements. There is a slight melancholy about the inevitable pigeon-holing and the age-old anxiety that a genre label puts off readers, but it would be ungracious to moan about being identified with a genre that’s been so good to me. The book is being picked up by crime reviewers. I do hope it being marketed as a fantasy doesn’t constrain it, but you don’t have to be in the genre to read it.
The City and the City does come out of a tradition of the fantastic, but an East European tradition. I like thinking in terms of form and prose, and taking different approaches. The City and the City is to do with melancholic modernism: Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Paul Leppin, Alfred Kubin, and others.