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Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville

I’m eagerly anticipating China Miéville’s next full length novel, but a new short story collection is a more than adequate way to bridge the gap. The collection contains 28 stories, some of which are lengthy and involved and some are simply a couple of pages long. It’s hit and miss as most collections are, but the misses are never too egregious and the hits hit hard.

The titular opening story Three Moments of an Explosion is more of a tone setter than anything else; brief, unnerving and intriguing, but not much to talk about in of itself. The subsequent Polynia is much meatier, taking place in a London whose skies have been invaded by inexplicable floating icebergs and the story of a boy who becomes obsessed with them. Its environmentalist message isn’t exactly subtle, but its unsettling and awe inspiring nonetheless. Miéville does a brilliant job depicting the strangeness of the new world the Londoners find themselves in; at eye level all is the same, but a quick glance up and you can see that something is very wrong indeed. The Condition of New Death is another shorter piece, but one of my favourite of the collection; you’re given just enough for the bizarre premise to lodge in your mind for days. I adored the next story¸ The Dowager of Bees, where mysterious and arcane suits occasionally appear in the hands of those playing high stake card games. Again, a sense of unsettling and alienation is what Miéville goes for here. There’s a palpable sense of danger whenever one of these cards appears. It isn’t necessarily layered with meaning, but it’s easily one of the most fun stories in the collection. The following story is another long one, In the Slopes. This tale of two warring archaeologists as they uncover a strange civilisation and culture beneath the earth is generally quite popular, but it didn’t quite land for me. This story is pure Lovecraft, a writer Miéville owes a lot to in content if not in style. The story is told from the point of view of a bystander, which simply left me feeling remote from the events and struggling to care. Still, the image of what lurks beneath the earth is highly compelling.

The Crawl is a weird one, describing scene for scene a trailer for a fictional movie about a civil war between two types of zombie. Stripped of context, it’s largely just a series of powerful imagery. I’m not really sure what Miéville is trying to say with The Crawl, whether it is meant as a comment on films and their marketing or simply a nugget of an idea he finds interesting. It’s odd but I liked it. Watching God is about an island where strange ships come and go and is surrounded by giant strange words. I suspect there was more to this one than I picked up, but it ends up as quite a compelling look at ritual and tradition and the way minor changes can throw a community into disarray. The brilliant The 9th Technique follows; it concerns a magical artefact created from the pain of a real life torture victim of Guantanamo Bay. The combination of the relatively familiar and fantastical world of dark magic and totems with the very real horror inflicted by those who many in the West consider to be ‘the good guys’ is deeply chilling. The Rope is the World could easily be stretched to an entire novel, and is written in the style of non-fiction, describing giant space elevators which have fallen into disrepair. Only a couple of pages long, Miéville asks a couple of fascinating questions and leaves it to the reader to answer them for themselves. The Buzzard’s Egg is one of the most overtly fantastical and is narrated by the elderly guard for totems of Gods taken by some kind of controlling empire. The nature of God, as well as how many may have been forgotten in the march of empires throughout history, is the order of the day here, with the rambling unreliable narrator putting everything through am intriguingly foggy lens.

Säcken is the most straightforward horror story of the collection, and is genuinely terrifying. It may lack the edge of satire seen elsewhere, but this story of a young woman and her older academic lover travelling to a lake in Germany is a huge amount of grisly fun. It was one of my favourites. Syllabus is just that for a strange university course. I’m ignorant enough of academia that I suspect any satire here flew over my head. Dreaded Outcome is probably the most straightforward story in the collection, but so much fun, following a psychologist and her unorthodox way of helping her patients. It’s silly, darkly funny and pretty broad, but coming around the middle of a collection it offers a nice bit of breathing space from the heavier stories that sandwich it. You need that breather because the next story, After the Festival, is the most grotesque of the collection, set in a London where a mainstream festival sees select Londoners place a severed and hollowed out animal head on theirs and parade through the city. As a comment on our culture’s attitude towards meat and animals it was uncomfortable and effective, particularly as a non-vegetarian like myself. This story is held back by a weak ending which aims for ambiguous but lands on unsatisfying, but that image of the grisly parade won’t be leaving my mind anytime soon. The Dusty Hat was a weird one; at first it appears to be a satire on the inability of the hard left to work together without splitting into warring factions, something which frustrates me as a proud Lefty myself, but it takes a strange turn into the fantastical which didn’t quite work for me.

Escapee is another entertaining fake trailer, although I think I enjoyed The Crawl more. The Bastard Prompt is a brilliant little thriller about actors who take work as fake patients for doctors to train on, who begin to name bizarre and alien symptoms. It’s chilling, sinister, fun and the symptoms themselves are gloriously inventive. I’d read an entire fake medical book if Miéville was behind it. Rules briefly describes a strange children’s game, interesting enough but not particularly memorable. Estate is another story set in London involving a strange ritual, a clear fascination of Miéville’s, where a burning stag is released through the city. I couldn’t work out what the point of this one was, but the imagery is very effective and powerful. Keep was another story with a great premise and an irritatingly obtuse ending, about a contagious illness where people sink into depressions in the ground if they are still for too long. It’s quite engaging, but doesn’t really come to much.

A Second Slice Manifesto is similar to Syllabus, following a strange new artistic method, but is a bit creepier and more atmospheric. I think it may be a bit of an examination on post-modernism, but I’m pretty ignorant about art so I may have missed something. Covehithe is awesome in the original sense of the word, where derelict oil rigs have picked themselves up from the ocean floor and begun to march on land. Similarly, to ­Polynia, the environmentalist message is pretty clear. It’s a cool story with some brilliant imagery in the vast, loping grace of the oil rigs. The Junket is the funniest story in the collection, about the murder of a screenwriter known for courting excessive controversy in his deeply offensive writing. It’s a brilliant take on an outrage addicted media, as well as the vapidity of offensiveness for offensiveness’s sake. Four Final Orpheuses briefly offers four alternative endings to the Orpheus and Eurydice myth; they’re mildly interesting but little beyond that. The Rabbet is a creepy little ghost story about a sinister animation, but I found it a little bit too straightforward. I really enjoyed most of the more straightforward stories in the collection, but I found this one a bit irritating, even if this one had an actual ending.

Listen the Birds is the third and final fake movie script, acting as the others do as a palate cleanser of sorts before the final two stories. A Mount isn’t a story so much as a prose description of porcelain animals. I enjoy Miéville’s writing enough that even something like this has a strange majesty. The collection ends strongly with The Design, the story of a 19th century doctor who discovers beautiful scrimshawing on the bones of a body he has dissected and becomes obsessed with their mystery. Lovecraft rears his head again, with a similar sense of cosmic dread and human irrelevance. Are the bones a message from an alien or magical creature, or was God simply doodling? Answers are less important than the nagging discomfort of just not knowing.

Three Moments of an Explosion is a brilliant example of Miéville’s range. Some are a lot of fun, some truly horrific, some satirical and clever and, yes, a few are obnoxiously obtuse. Still, I’d take a self-consciously intellectual approach of Miéville over something that’s, well, stupid.

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This Census-Taker by China Miéville

I haven’t read a China Miéville book in ages, so this slim little novella seemed as good a place as any to jump back in. It’s a strange, unsettling story, with a tighter focus than Miéville normally shows. This is still a political book, everything Miéville writes is, but it perhaps has a greater focus on the personal.

This Census-Taker has a strange setting, a sort of desolate fantasy dystopia. There are hints that this world is not our own, but Miéville isn’t interested in world building here, with the setting being used primarily to create mood and atmosphere. There are a couple of hints that it may take place in the Bas-Lag setting seen in Perdido Street Station, but if that is the case it isn’t particularly important to the story. The protagonist is an unnamed young boy, who runs into his village screaming that his mother has killed his father. Lacking evidence, he is forced to return home to his terrifying and homicidal parent, living in constant fear, with his only allies being a group of street urchins.

It’s a relatively straightforward story by Miéville standards, but thoroughly unsettling. Miéville has flirted with many different strands of horror, most effectively with Lovecraftian cosmic horror, but domestic horror may be some of the scariest, the fear of what lurks within your own home. Very few characters are named and they are generally thinly drawn, but this is more about creating an atmosphere than anything else. Hints to wider events are welcome and suggest that this is a world gone very wrong, expanding into the broader social commentary Miéville is so well regarded for. The titular census-taker doesn’t show up until close to the end, but he’s an intriguing figure with hints to complex motivations. Some have suggested that This Census-Taker could almost be a prologue to a larger work and I wouldn’t mind if that were the case. The novella asks some interesting questions I wouldn’t mind seeing answered.

This Census-Taker is a clever, unsettling slice of fiction I’d recommend to any Miéville fan. He hasn’t published a full novel since 2012s Railsea, so I hope there’s another one not too far away.

 

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Railsea by China Miéville

Railsea may fall under the category of YA fiction, but that doesn’t stop it from being a bloody clever, meta-fictional post-modern piece of work. That’s all well and good, but much more importantly, it’s also a damn good adventure story. One might even go so far as to call it a ‘ripping yarn.’

Miéville is an author who often builds his books around a vivid and imaginative setting, and Railsea is one of his best yet. In a vaguely post-apocalyptic world which was, perhaps, once known as Earth, a vast network of rails and trains criss-cross the land. Churning beneath the surface are a collection of deadly mutated creatures, such as giant moles and insects, that will devour any who land in the dirt. Our protagonist, Sham ap Soorap, is a young doctor’s assistant on the Medes, a mole-train which travels the railsea in search of its prey, the giant moles known as moldywarpes. Captain Naphi of the Medes has a personal quest, her ‘philosophy’, to take down the albino moldywarpe Mocker-Jack, who had taken her arm many years before. During a routine hunt, the Medes come upon a wrecked train, and inside Sham discovers a series of photographs which threaten to shake the foundations of the entire railsea.

Railsea is, at its core, just a really great adventure. It shares DNA with a fair bit of Miéville’s own previous work, particularly the similarly train themed Iron Council, but I was also reminded of my personal favourite, The Scar. Of course, the biggest influence is obviously Moby Dick, although it’s significantly more interesting than just a retelling of Melville’s classic with a train instead of a boat and a mole instead of a whale. It’s a hugely fun book, with some clever twists and a much better ending than has often been the case in Miéville’s work.

I’ll admit to not having been hooked from the get-go, with Miéville’s typically challenging writing style setting up an immediate barrier to entry. When you get used to it, it actually works quite well, with a faintly 19th century Robert Louis Stevenson style to the writing. Still, this does feel like the book where the accusations of pretension which have (in my opinion) been unfairly levelled against Miéville’s may perhaps be justified. Miéville uses ampersands throughout the whole book, which is fine, but do we need an extended reflection on their use? This is a story about stories, and Miéville playfully teases the reader throughout the book, dangling then pulling back intriguing story threads. At the end of the day though, this is marketed as a ‘book for all ages’, and unlike Un Lun Dun, I just cannot see how these digressions are going to do anything but alienate many young readers. Still, whatever you think about his unique style it can’t really be denied that Miéville has an almost unrivalled ability to craft a vista in the reader’s mind. The railsea is Miéville’s best and most vibrant setting since Bas-Lag, and it’s quite painful to leave it when the book is done.

Sham is an engaging and likeable protagonist, not necessarily hugely complicated, but he nonetheless goes through a distinct character arc, which is accomplished subtly enough that you don’t really realise how much he has grown until the end. There’s an engaging supporting cast, with the driven Captain Naphi standing as an intriguingly morally grey figure.

Railsea is probably one of my favourite Miéville books. It’s not quite up there with The Scar and The City & The City, but it’s still damn good. It’s a complex, political, intelligent work which, most importantly, tells a hugely fun story. I’m just not sure if your 8 year old will enjoy it.railsea_design

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

When I bought this book I had no idea that it was Young Adult fiction, but since I’m starting a teacher training course soon it’s good to experience some more books for younger readers to recommend to students. Un Lun Dun works brilliantly as a kids book, with China Miéville’s potent imagination providing plenty for children to enjoy, but it’s also a great read for an adult reader.

Un Lun Dun primarily takes place in the parallel city of UnLondon, a bizarre reflection of London in a parallel dimension. The elephant in the room is the immediate comparison to Neil Gaiman’s excellent Neverwhere, which also takes place in a parallel London, but Miéville’s genuinely puts an entirely unique spin personal to him upon it. Neverwhere and Un Lun Dun’s depiction of a bizarre London alternate are as different as two depictions of the same fundamental concept can be. If anything, Miéville’s Kraken felt more indebted to Neverwhere than Un Lun Dun does, with the titular city showing Miéville’s excellent world building at its best. Whether it’s Perdido Street Station’s New Crobuzon or The City & The City‘s Beszel and Ul Qoma, Miéville knows how to create a fascinating and vivid setting, and UnLondon is a great example of this.

Un Lun Dun follows two young Londoner girls, Zanna and Deeba, who are bought into the city of UnLondon after a series of strange incidences in the real world. There, Zanna finds out that she is the ‘Shwazzy’, the chosen one who is prophesised to help the city of UnLondon defeat the ‘Smog.’ Following the cleaning up of the air on our side, the infamous London smog gained sentience and fled to UnLondon, where it has been marshalling it’s power. Along the way Zanna and Deeba encounter a wide range of weird and wonderful characters to help, and hinder, their battle with the sinister Smog.

Although it’s perhaps a bit overly long for a children’s book, the pacing is still much snappier than many of Miéville’s works. This being a China Miéville book, there’s an interesting political undertone to the whole thing, and the book holds a clear message about avoiding blind trust in authority figures, and the importance of asking questions and exercising a healthy cynicism. Miéville has a lot of fun mocking the traditional fantasy pre-ordained ‘quest’ structure, and makes a conscious effort to undermine it at every turn, often with very funny consequences. Un Lun Dun is a reaction against rote storytelling for children, and it’s great to see an author trying to do something so interesting in a book like this.

The fact that he’s writing for children forces Miéville to rein himself in a bit, and the book is probably better for it. Although it’s far from dull plain prose, Miéville writes with a clarity which can be lacking in his adult fiction. Sure, we lose a bit of the linguistic grandeur which we come to expect from Miéville, but we also lack the tiresome rough patches that can invade his work.

Although Zanna is the ‘Shwazzy’, the story is primarily told from her friend Deeba’s perspective, and she’s the real star. Deeba is a great character, brave and strong, but also funny and droll; she’s the perfect kind of role model for young girls reading this book, and is the kind of character we rarely see written by male authors for children. There’s a strong streak of Lyra Belacqua to her, with the less well fleshed out Zanna seeming to in some ways be a parody of the ‘too good to be real but ultimately dull’ female protagonist we often see in fantasy written for children. There’s a charming supporting cast too, with plenty of highly strange figures, such as Brokkenboll, the lord of broken umbrellas, and Curdle, Deeba’s pet milk carton.

Un Lun Dun may not quite reach the dizzying heights of Perdido Street Station, The Scar or The City & The City, but it’s nonetheless a great read for adults and children alike. It’s that ideal combination of funny, scary and intelligent that the best children books should be, and one which I would recommend for any parent whose child has a streak of the macabre. nyt_unlondon_gluekit

The City & The City by China Miéville

Well…no one could accuse China Miéville of doing the obvious. Miéville’s work typically engages with a big, strange idea, and The City & The City may be the weirdest yet. Although not perfect, I loved this book; in fact, it’s probably my favourite China Miéville novel since The Scar.

The City & The City takes place in the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, which are situated in an unnamed location in Eastern Europe, with a strong post-Soviet vibe pervading the place. The main conceit of the novel is that the two cities exist in the same geographic location, due to a mysterious split 2000 years before. Although large amounts of the cities do not cross over, with certain areas being only is Beszel or Ul Qoma, some areas are ‘crosshatched’, and exist in both cities. Crossing in these areas to the other city, or even acknowledging their existence, is the ultimate taboo, and citizens of both cities are trained to ‘unsee’ the other. To do otherwise is the invoke the wrath of ‘Breach’, a mysterious power which enforces the border between the two cities.

The concept of two cities occupying the same geographical space is one which a lot of readers will struggle to make sense of, and I advise you not to try. Yes, on the surface the idea may seem silly, but if you open your mind up a bit you’ll begin to see what Miéville is trying to do. Miéville is inconsistent as a world builder; the London of Kraken owed too much to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and the setting of Embassytown never quite came alive for me, but the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma stand alongside New Crobuzon of Perdido Street Station and Iron Council as one of Miéville’s finest creations. The metaphor of The City & The City is clear, but powerful; the way in which the citizens of Beszel and Ul Qoma are trained to ‘unsee’ is a clear indictment of the way the homeless are ignored  in society, as well as a commentary upon divided cities in general. The reader finds this enforced separation ridiculous, we wonder ‘can’t they see how much they have in common, how much they could achieve if they worked together’, but nationalist and jingoistic sentiment keeps them apart; I’ve felt the same confusion about the Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem. Beszel and Ul Qoma are both fascinating and entertaining settings in their own right, but also work as a symbol; there are few authors who can pull off both, but Miéville does with gusto.

The actual plot follows Inspector Tyador Borlú, a member of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad, and his investigation into  the murder of Mahalia Geary, a foreign student with an interest in the two cities and the mysteries surrounding them. Borlú’s investigation brings him to the heart of the two cities, as he discovers secrets which threaten to shatter the delicate balance of power between Beszel and Ul Qoma.

As well as an excellent sci-fi novel, Miéville shows himself as an able writer of a good old murder mystery. He does a good job of weaving both types of narratives together, with the plot staying mostly interesting and coherent throughout. Things begin to derail slightly towards the end, with a somewhat rushed and messy conclusion taking away slightly from the whole, but it’s hard to deny that The City & The City is a strong science fiction and police procedural.

Miéville  can be quite self indulgent with his prose, but he’s gotten better and reigning himself in as he’s gone on. Police procedurals tend not to be the most overwritten genre, and true to this tradition the prose is surprisingly plain given the bizarre concept. That’s not to say that the prose is poor, in fact it’s just right for this novel, with the plainer style actually reinforcing the madness of this setting rather than undermining it.

The characterisation is probably the weakest element of the novel; I’ve still yet to read a Miéville   which could rival The Scar for the quality of the cast of characters, and it’s hard to get too invested in this bunch. Borlú isn’t the most dynamic or interesting of protagonists, although a decent supporting cast helps matters. I liked Corwi, a foul mouthed police woman, but she’s very much a toned down version of Collingswood from Kraken. Slightly more interesting was Dhatt, an ‘old school’ Ul Qoman cop, but overall it’s still the setting which is the star. There’s no stand out character in The City & The City; everything pales against the concept itself.

The City & The City is one of Miéville’s best works, and one which I think even non fans of sci-fi would enjoy. It manages to convey a genuine message whilst also being damn entertaining, which isn’t an easy feat. For all his flaws, Miéville is still one of the most interesting authors around, and one whose books I snap up at every opportunity I can get.the city and the city

Kraken by China Miéville

Ah, China Miéville, never change. Who’d have thought that things could have gotten weirder from Embassytown and the Bas-Lag trilogy? This time Miéville doesn’t even need to construct a new setting, such as New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station or the eponymous Embassytown, instead setting this bizarre and fantastic tale inside of London. I first gained an inkling of Miéville’s fascination for his home city in the excellent short story collection Looking for Jake, with most of the stories taking place in London. In fact, the seeds for Kraken can first be seen being planted in that collection. This novel draws immediate comparisons to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, but never feels derivative, offering a vision of a fantastical London which feels suitably different from that shown in Neverwhere.

Kraken is, like Neverwhere, set in a London which contains a fully fleshed out, vibrant world alongside the mundane one of our reality, hidden from the general public. Where Neverwhere had a much clearer division between the London of reality and the mystical underground alongside it all, in Kraken this bizarre London bubbles much closer to the surface, to the point that it can rather strain belief that everyday residents haven’t noticed anything. I think this may have been intentional; Miéville is possibly commenting on the way that people will blindly ignore what is right in front of them if it doesn’t conform to their pr-existing beliefs or thought structures. Regardless, this is a London filled with bizarre warring factions, some religious cults and some supernatural criminal gangs. Along the way we encounter the ‘Chaos Nazis’, the ‘Gunfarmers’, the ‘Londonmancers’ and plenty more. I won’t say much about the strange and fantastic things the reader encounters here, as discovering yet another layer to this strange world is probably the chief pleasure of this novel.

Kraken follows a few characters, but at its core is the curator Billy Harrow, a ‘normal’ drawn into the bizarre parallel London, a la Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere. Billy is giving a tour of the Natural History Museum, and he is about to bring his group to the star attraction; a fully intact, preserved giant squid. However, things don’t quite go to plan. Somehow, impossibly, the giant squid has been stolen from under the nose of the museum staff, and has been whisked away. The giant squid, or ‘Kraken’, is the God of a cult, and a being of immense power. This power of the squid is being harnessed by a mysterious figure to bring about a fiery apocalypse. Billy, as the curator who embalmed the squid, is hailed as a prophet by the cult and is drawn into Mieville’s wonderful and strange London to hunt down the squid and attempt to avert the oncoming apocalypse.

Kraken is probably Mieville’s most uneven novel I’ve yet read. The plot of Kraken doesn’t quite hold together throughout the novel, often feeling more like a series of amusing and interesting vignettes rather than a coherent whole. The central mystery of exactly what’s going on with the giant squid never feels quite as prominent as it should, and Mieville is perhaps a little too eager to foist another strange bunch of factions upon us rather than sticking to the central premise. Mieville used this fractured style to great effect in Perdido Street Station and The Scar, but it doesn’t quite work as well here. That said, this is simply one of the most fun novels I’ve ever read. If taken as what it is, rather than what we may want it to be, Kraken is one of the most entertaining novels that you’re likely to read, a great example of the wonderful merging of social-political commentary, edifying intellectualism and glorious silliness which makes up Mieville’s unique style. Mieville’s penchant for Marxist themes in his writing are on clear display here, but never overwhelms the entire novel as it did in the somewhat disappointing Iron Council. To clarify, I’m not opposed to fantasy taking a political stance, but I don’t believe that it should ever get in the way of a good story, and if used subtly can significantly enhance it, as it does in Kraken.

Mieville is a writer not content to stick with the relatively plain style generally favoured by writers in the genre, and his ebullient prose is always a lot of fun to read. Kraken takes a while to find it’s tone, but when it does it settles into it nicely. There’s a lot of authorial interjection in this novel, an almost conversational or chatty tone to the narration which reminded me of Stephen King’s folksy style. This is not a novel written with an impassive aloofness, a method which is generally the safest bet as too much of an authorial presence can be rather wearying. Mieville pulls it off nicely though, with the authorial voice often delivering some of the funniest lines in the novel. Oh, and wow is this a funny novel. Mieville’s other works which I have read weren’t exactly laugh riots, some of the stories from Looking for Jake excepted, but Kraken shows that Mieville has some solid comedy chops as well.

Whilst Billy’s development from mild mannered, geeky museum curator to savvy, supernatural badass isn’t particularly convincing, the supporting cast entirely makes up for it. Particular highlights included Wati, an incorporeal entity who heads a union for familiars, a figure whose back story is one of the most fascinating and moving I’ve ever encountered. A great comic highlight was Collingswood, a foul mouthed young witch who works for a branch of the police specialising in the supernatural. The characterisation here is probably the best I’ve read since The Scar; like with Steven Erikson, in Mieville’s novels, the world itself is often the star, with the actual characters somewhat paling next to the vivid and fascinating settings Mieville has conjured. Happily, in Kraken this isn’t the case.

Things aren’t all rosy however; the awfully sinister and insidious villains Goss and Subby are suitably loathsome and horrible, but are somewhat diminished by their startling similarity to Croup and Vandemar of Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not simply rip-offs, and are interesting figures in their own right, but anyone who has read Neverwhere will be extremely distracted by the similarity, and they never quite manage to match the wonderful creepiness that Gaiman’s creations exhibited. I suspect that Goss and Subby were intended as an homage to Croup and Vandemar, but it’s an homage which is just too close to what it pays tribute to.

Kraken is, whilst not quite living up to Perdido Street Station and The Scar, a really fun book which never stops revealing hidden depths until it ends. It’s a sprawling, uneven, and oddly undisciplined novel, but it’s strengths comfortably shine through these issues and leaves Kraken a thoroughly enjoyable read. If you’re a fan of Mieville’s other work, or even the works of writers such as Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, you should find a lot to love about Kraken. 

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Embassytown by China Miéville

My only real experience with Miéville is within his fantasy Bas-Lag setting, and a few short stories set within parallel versions of London, so this was my first encounter with Miéville as a sci-fi writer. Embassytown strongly reminded me of Iain M. Banks at his best; complex and confusing, but not pointlessly obtuse (as Banks can sometimes be), with real philosophical depth and interest underlying a compelling tale. Embassytown is a novel fundamentally concerned with language, deconstructing a fictional alien tongue to allow us to examine our own. In most science fiction, no matter how bizarre the aliens are on the surface, or how difficult their language may be for humans to understand, there is still the possibility for translation and communication; no matter how bizarre these creatures are, we can still understand them by Earth methods of communication. Embassytown presents creatures who communicate in a method utterly alien to our own, something absolutely fascinating to read about.

The eponymous city of Embassytown is where most of the novel is set. In Miéville’s universe, long distance space travel is best achieved by sailing in the ‘immer’, a sort of parallel dimension which constricts distances which would otherwise make travel between the stars impossibly long. Embassytown is upon the planet Arieka, home to a race of creatures named by the humans as Ariekei, although they are generally respectfully known as ‘Hosts.’ The language of the Hosts differs fundamentally from that of humans to the point that communication between the species requires extraordinary effort. Ariekei can make two sounds at once, and so each Ariekene word is comprised of two parts, the ‘cut’ and the ‘turn.’ When said separately they are simply meaningless sounds to the Hosts, and other workarounds such as having the sounds spoken by a machine or by two humans at once failed as the language is fundamentally based upon conscious thought behind it, and without a unified mind expressing the language it is simply noise to them. To communicate, the human settlers bred clones, who are linked with a sort of quasi-telepathy, known as ‘Ambassadors’, who can make themselves understood to the Hosts. There are plenty of other fascinating elements to the Ariekene language as it is deconstructed throughout the novel, allowing us to gain a parallel understanding of human speech. This novel helped me understand linguistic concepts such as that of the connection between the signifier/sign better than the oblique writings of Saussure or Bahktin ever did during my university course. Embassytown itself is a wonderful setting, and steers admirably clear of sci-fi clichés. The Hosts specialise in a science known as ‘bio-rigging’, the growth of organic buildings and machines, and so much of the planet is covered with living structures. Although this is immediately grotesque, as the novel goes on a strange sort of beauty to this science becomes apparent.

Embassytown follows Avice Benner Cho, an ‘immerser’, one who has been trained to travel the ‘immer’ outside of stasis, a profession which bears a swashbuckling and romantic reputation. The story is initially told in a nonlinear fashion, but about half way through it catches up with itself and we are given a faster paced single narrative. We are told of her childhood in Embassytown and her involvement in a bizarre Host ritual as well as her travels in the ‘out’, away from Ariekene, and of her return to her birth town and involvement in the local politics and ‘powers that be’ in the city. The arrival of EzRa, a new Ambassador subtly different to the others, trained outside of Embassytown by Bremen, the human civilisation of which Embassytown is a colony, triggers a catastrophic upheaval in Ariekene and human society.

The actual narrative isn’t necessarily as impressive as the way in which it is told and the comments the book makes upon language. Not to say that the story isn’t great, it really is, but this is one of those rare novels in genre fiction in which plot does not rule. This is not something I tend to enjoy, and this tendency is one of the main reasons I tend to prefer genre fiction, but it works wonderfully in Embassytown. The story is told in Avice’s first person, and she has an interesting character arc, based upon subtle change and growth rather than vast revelations. Avice gradually shifts during the novel from simply an observer, someone who consorts with those of power and influence without necessarily wielding any herself, to one of vital importance to the entire planet. This is accomplished with such subtlety that it is difficult to appreciate how well plotted Avice’s arc is while reading, with the revelation of just how well Miéville has done only coming out when finished and the novel can be viewed as a whole. The gradual revelation of what is going on and the slow growing understanding of this universe is very reminiscent of Iain M. Banks, most particularly The Algebraist, although I must say that I feel that Miéville has pulled this off better than Banks often does. Although it’s unlikely that I’ll remember all of the details of the plot a year from now, what will certainly stick with me are a few incredibly powerful and revelatory scenes, scenes which managed to be both erudite and pack a real emotional punch, a difficult balancing act.

Miéville is just such a wonderful writer that it can sometimes take my breath away. Although I probably prefer Perdido Street Station and The Scar overall, this novel is probably the best written which I’ve read so far. Miéville’s talent doesn’t lie somewhere obvious; it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is which makes his work such a pleasure to read. Miéville is perhaps the only writer in the genre to allow his books to be confusing, but to not do so unnecessarily. Iain Banks at his worst feels as if he is being deliberately difficult, without it serving any real literary purpose. Miéville seems to know exactly what he’s doing, if the reader is confused that’s because Miéville wants them to be, and there is always a payoff as the reader comes to understand what’s going on, something which cannot always be said for Banks.

However, if I were to identify a singular flaw in this novel it is that the secondary characters are not quite as well established as they were in Miéville’s Bas-Lag books. There are no characters which appealed to me quite so much as Yagharek and Derkhan in Perdido Street Station, or Uther Doul and the Brucolac in The Scar. Perhaps this is down to the novel’s length, and a shift in focus from character and world building. By far the most interesting characters in the novel are the Hosts themselves, but by their very alien nature they are difficult to understand. Avice herself is an excellent protagonist, I just wish that those around her received as good characterisation.

Embassytown is a simply wonderful novel, which, in a way, returns to ‘big idea’ sci-fi rather than playing with clichés. Miéville uses science fiction for its most vital purpose, to offer a mirror to our own world and to allow us to consider ourselves a different way. I do not believe that Miéville has written any other straight sci-fi, but after this I would be delighted if he returned to it at some point, as he clearly has as much a flair for it as he showed he did for fantasy with the ‘Bag-Lag’ novels.

Looking for Jake and Other Stories by China Miéville

I never fail to be impressed by China Miéville. There are few genuine literary innovators in the genre, and Miéville is arguably the best of them. Looking for Jake and Other Stories is his first collection of short stories, containing fourteen overall, most notably his novella The Tain. Since I haven’t revieweda book of short stories before, I’m going to experiment and take a quick look at all of them and briefly assess their successes and failures (but mostly successes).

Looking for Jake

The titular Looking for Jake established the primary theme which runs through the collection; London. The unnamed protagonist is combing a London which has suffered a  vaguely defined apocalypse to find his closest companion Jake. The bizarre apocalypse to have befallen London has a wonderfully ill-defined quality to it, and Miéville spells nothing out for us. Although I was impressed enough by this story at first, I do find it somewhat odd that this was the one chosen to headline the collection, as it’s arguably actually one of the weaker stories. Very similar themes to this story are re-explored in other stories in the collection, and to greater success. It’s still a treat to read however, and this means that it doesn’t fall into the common anthologising trap of setting such as high bar at the opening of the collection that nothing else manages to live up to it.

Foundation

Foundation is the only story which contains no element of the supernatural, but it is certainly very strange. It tells the story of a contractor and veteran of the first Gulf War, haunted by the atrocities he committed in Iraq. Miéville has long been a staunch human rights advocate and critic of military incursions in the Middle East by the West, and this is the most overtly representative of current events in the collection. Although other stories certainly reflect Miéville’s left wing leanings, in few is it as overt as in this one. It is interesting that Miéville’s sympathetic protagonist of the tale is the committer of the atrocity rather than the victim, reflecting that unrestrained military jingoism can destroy the lives of people on either side of a conflict.

The Ball Room

The Ball Room is probably the most straight forward story in the collection, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most fun. It’s a rather chilling little story about the ball pens found to entertain the children in department stores. The satire upon consumerism is somewhat heavy handed in this one, but it’s hard to get too wound up by it because it’s just such an entertaining read. I really won’t say much more about this one, as to say much more would be to give it away.

Reports of Certain Events in London

Now, this is a spot on example of the kind of innovation that makes Miéville such an impressive writer. The underlying concept off the story is that the author China Miéville has accidently received a package intended for a certain Charles Melville. The package contains a series of different texts, from committee minutes to letter, which Miéville presents in order to the reader. The different texts tell an interesting, somewhat Neil Gaiman-esque tale which is made all the more fun to read about for the intriguing way it is presented (I’m beginning to realise that Miéville has quite a lot in common with Mr. Gaiman.)

Familiar

This is one of the creepiest stories in the collection, and does an excellent job of undermining expectation. At the beginning of the story, the tale is told from the point of view of a witch who creates a familiar (an animal consort) to bolster his power. Disgusted by the grotesque creature that results, he dumps the familiar in a canal in London. The POV shifts at this point from the witch to the familiar, as it makes its way through London, growing as it does so. What is set up as a fairly standard Frankenstein-esque story , tutting at the hubris of creating life and playing god becomes something much more interesting as we are privy to the alien thought processes of the familiar. This is probably the strangest story in the collection, but certainly one of the most compelling and unique.

Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopaedia

Miéville wrote a summary of a fictional disease for an anthology of fictional diseases for The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases which also contained contributions from writers such as Michael Moorcock and Neil Gaiman. It’s a fun and whimsical couple of pages, of which I shall say no more.

Details

Miéville wrote this one for an anthology inspired by H.P Lovecraft, and there is certainly something eerily Lovecraftian about this tale. A young boy is tasked by his mother to bring food to a mysterious woman who refuses to leave her flat and is also regularly visited by an odd motley group of people. This is one of those stories which, after reading it, reshapes how  you see the world for a time. It crawls into your head and refuses to leave, and I personally found it deeply unsettling. Miéville’s talents as a horror writer are on full display here.

Go Between

Go Between tells the tale of a man who, for several years, has been receiving strange instructions to deliver seemingly random items from location to location. The protagonist agonises as to what effect his deliveries are having, as he considers stopping the deliveries in case he supports a malignant cause, but fearful to stop in case he is aiding a good one. The concept itself is a compelling one, but it is the internal torment of a good man in an impossible situation which is so interesting to read about.

Different Skies

This story is about a lonely old man who purchases a bizarre and old fashioned window. After having it installed in his London flat, he realises that, in the middle of the night, it looks out upon a different sky to the others surrounding it. Forces beyond the window begin to torment him, and we are left with an interesting twist on the ‘group of nasty young kids torment a pensioner’ trope. This is a fairly straight forward fantastical reinterpretation, but it’s certainly a compelling and creepy story, if not one of the collection’s strongest.

An End to Hunger

This is another of Miéville’s overtly political texts, relating the relationship between the protagonist and a radical Turkish hacker named Aykan, who becomes obsessed with bringing down the website of a charity known as ‘An End to Hunger.’ This story reflects Miéville’s own disdain for shallow corporate gestures of charity, and he does an excellent job of buoying you along with his outrage. Of particular geeky fun is the fact that Akyan programs a revolutionary left wing gaming experience in a Nintendo 64 cartridge. That made me smile.

Tis the Season

This was originally written for the Socialist Review, and tells a satirical tale of a future in which holidays, most notably Christmas, have been privatised. Those unable to afford an ‘official’ Christmas can experience cheaper knockoff alternatives such as ‘XmasTym.’ This is the funniest story in the collection, as Miéville depicts a motley collection of amusing protest groups trying to bring back their beloved holiday. This is a nice hearty slice of satire as it should be; funny, yes, but with teeth.

Jack

I will confess that it was for this story that I bought this collection. Jack is set in New Crobuzon, the main city of the fantastical Bas-Lag setting of his novels Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council. I absolutely love this world, and want to read every little scrap of literature set in it. Although it is certainly brief, it was very nice to return to New Crobuzon for a spell. Jack tells the story of Jack Half a Prayer, a sort of Robin Hood figure of New Crobuzon who was ‘Remade’ with a giant praying mantis claw on one of his hands. He is a figure who appears fleetingly in Perdido Street Station and by Iron Council has entered into the realm of legend. This story doesn’t bring us any closer to the man himself, but does explore the legend without sacrificing the air of mystery which surrounds the character.

On the Way to the Front

This one…well, it honestly went a bit over my head. This story is told in graphic novel format, but due to the limitations of typical novel printing quality which mostly only needs to print words it can be very hard to tell what is going on. I’m far from an expert on graphic novels though, so I can’t really speak to its quality.

The Tain

This is the main selling point of the collection, and the most lengthy and complete story that it contains. The Tain in many ways bringing the collection full circle, returning to the idea of an apocalyptic London (although this is a different apocalypse to the one see in Looking for Jake). The Tain depicts a London that has fallen to an invasion of bizarre creatures known as ‘imagos’, and I won’t say anything more about where they have come from, but to say that it’s an interesting idea well executed. In many ways, this story combines elements from all the other stories of the collection (although from some more than others). The setting is reminiscent of Looking for Jake, it reshapes your perception of the world like Details and it reflects the political bent of Foundation.

 

Overall, this is an excellent collection, and would make a good starting point to Miéville (with the exception of Jack, that should be read after his other Bas-Lag books). To date, this is the only collection Miéville has published, and I eagerly anticipate the next one, which I’m sure is one day forthcoming.

The Bas-Lag Trilogy by China Miéville

China Miéville is a fairly contentious figure in fantasy fandom. Whilst held in incredibly high esteem  by some readers, and is certainly one of those rare fantasy authors to have achieved relative critical acclaim as well, he is regularly assayed with accusations of arrogance and seeking to show off his own cleverness in his works rather than simply telling a good story. His supporters counter that he conjures some of the most interesting and bizarre environs in fantasy, as well as the creation of some of the most delightful cultures and creatures ever to grace the genre, whilst writing in an utterly graceful and elegant style somewhat at odds with the relatively utilitarian writing of a large amount of the genre. My take lies somewhere in the middle, but I certainly lean towards the admirers rather than the dissenters.

The series is really only a trilogy in the sense that there are three of them and they take place in the same setting; I only noticed one character appearing in multiple books, with even references to previous books being utterly sparse and only really done so when the plot absolutely requires it.  Miéville isn’t interested in fan-service, and whilst at times it can be frustrating as we yearn to find out what happened to the characters we grew to love in previous books, it does mean that each book stands very well on its own. Luckily, the setting itself is one of the best I’ve ever read.

One of the recurring problems with fantasy worlds is that they just don’t feel…well, real. I know that seems an odd point, ‘it’s fantasy, it’s not meant to be real’, but an utter lack of believability in worlds built by the authors can be lead to these books feeling somewhat weightless, existing only for a dramatic event. It’s difficult to imagine life in Middle Earth or Narnia outside of wars and crisis, the existence of the average resident of these lands. The most compelling fantasy worlds are those which the reader can imagine the lives of the average member of the population, one not involved in the world shaking events and conflicts which shape the narrative, whose lives go on after the story finish and who lived full existences before the story began. George R. R. Martin is a notable author who has succeeded in doing this, in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but he does so by crafting a world relatively grounded, with the fantastical elements emerging gradually over the course of the series and an ability to make even mundane details about life in Westeros interesting. There is absolutely nothing grounded about Miéville’s Bas-Lag; sentient cactus people mix with women with the heads of scarabs, clockwork robots carry out tasks for the organic populace, demons and trans-dimensional beings abound in a world filled with bizarre and fascinating locales. Yet Miéville manages to conjure a setting which feels fundamentally real; it is not difficult to imagine the life of a dockworker in the huge port city of New Crobuzon, or of a librarian in the floating pirate city of Armada, or of a track layer for the perpetually moving independent train city of the Iron Council. It is in this, I believe, that Miéville’s true triumph lies.

I’m going to look at each novel individually, as unlike the Mistborn books which I reviewed a few weeks ago, each is very much its story, with different strengths and flaws.

Perdido Street Station

Although not his first novel (1998’s King Rat for anyone who cares), it was this novel which propelled Miéville into his position as one of the most respected writers of the genre. Set in the sprawling city of New Crobuzon, Perdido Street Station tells the story of Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a rogue scientist who has been cast out of mainstream academia and now pursues his research in a simple warehouse. A man named Yagharek, a member of the avian race known as the garuda, comes to him with a request; to restore to him wings which had been sawn from him for some obscure crime. In Isaac’s pursuit of a method to give flight back to Yagharek, he accidently lets loose the terrifying creatures known as slake-moths over New Crobuzon, with Isaac and a motley crew of hangers on spending the rest of the novel trying to take down these foul beasts. The novel is rife with subplots, and thankfully all are interesting and complement the main story well, in particular the story of Isaac’s lover Lin, a scarab headed woman of the race known as khepri, who is tasked with creating a sculpture of the hideous gang leader Mr. Motley. The novel is very long, it has been argued too much so, that the plot is too slow paced and that not enough happens to justify its extreme length, but ‘plot’ is not the greatest concern of the novel. Instead Miéville conjures a living and breathing city upon the page; I have not seen a single fictional city described in such detail since Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork, and that was over the course of almost forty Discworld books. Is the incidental detail that, in the east of the city, a market has been built up in the ribs of a gargantuan flying creature necessary for the plot? What about that the descriptions of the bohemian Salacus Fields, a hotbed of anti-government activism and artistic expression? The answer is no, but that’s just fine. Traditionally novels serve the plot as the ruler of its structure and composition, but for Miéville it is the city itself, New Crobuzon, which underpins everything. A Ulysses style novel of simply walking the streets of New Crobuzon would be a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read, and the interesting plot and likeable characters who live in the city are simply a wonderful bonus.

Miéville has a real flair for language, and an ability to conjure some simply awesome images and scenes. However, his critics are not entirely wrong when they accuse him of self indulgence in his writing. Occasionally he shall break down his standard chapter structure for a short passage in the first person present, and you just know that it’s fancy and artistic because he puts it in italics. Luckily these literary self indulgences are (at this point in Miéville’s career) few and far between, and it is easy to simply roll one’s eyes and move on. Perhaps this cerebral showing off becomes worse in later books, but in Perdido Street Station at leastit’s fairly manageable.

Miéville is admirable in his avoidance of clichéd protagonists. Isaac, an overweight scientist is surrounded by those who seem like those more suited to the role of hero; the passionate revolutionary Derkhan, or a trio of badass mercenaries who join the struggle against the slake-moths. Instead, we have the flawed, yet very human protagonist of Isaac to bring us through the story. Lin, the insect headed khepri’s desire to reconcile with her upbringing in a racial ghetto creates interesting conflicts between a self loathing for her xenian nature and a desire for humanity, but it is really the city itself that is the protagonist of Perdido Street Station.

Perdido Street Station deserves its status as a modern classic, yet here I differ from the majority of my opinion in that the best was yet to come, at that the finest work in the Bas-Lag trilogy is The Scar.

The Scar

Miéville had an easy path in front of him when it came to penning a follow up to Perdido Street Station; he had the vivid and fascinating setting of New Crobuzon already crafted, rife for further works set within this utterly fertile setting. As seems often to be the case with Miéville, he avoids taking the obvious path and instead sets the novel entirely outside of New Crobuzon, although the city does cast a long shadow over the novel, with a number of the main characters originating from New Crobuzon and its militia forces  featuring in some truly epic action scenes. The protagonist of The Scar is Bellis Coldwine, an ex-girlfriend of Perdido Street Station’s Isaac who is forced to flee her native city of New Crobuzon due to events indirectly set into motion in the previous novel. Whilst setting sail across the ocean to a New Crobuzon colony, her ship is accosted by pirates and the crew are bought to a floating city named Armada. Bellis is horrified by her predicament, but many around her are grateful; her ship had carried prisoners bound for slave labour in the colony. A common punishment in new Crobuzon is to be ‘Remade’, to have the body altered with either organic or mechanical parts to either facilitate work or as an ironic reference to their crime. These Remade are treated as free equals in Armada, and so embrace their new home. Ruled by a motley collection of leaders and factions, one pair seem dominant; The Lovers, a couple covered in scars gained through their sexual obsession with ritual suffering. The Lovers seek to summon an avanc, a vast sea creature, to tow Armada, allowing it greater speed so that it may strike targets and escape notice with greater ease. Where Perdido Street Station was a fairly restrained novel, all taking place within the confines of New Crobuzon, The Scar is a globetrotting adventure around the seas of Bas-Lag, whilst retaining Armada as an interesting central location to which the narrative always returns. This approach works well following Perdido Street Station, allowing Miéville to show off just how weird and wonderful Bas-Lag is. Where the plot of Perdido Street Station is, not so much lacking, as secondary, The Scar features a wonderful story, filled with incident and intrigue. Like his previous novel, many accusations have been levelled that The Scar is simply too long and verbose, but I again feel that this is justified by the constantly fascinating details and complexities about this world revealed in his writing.

Miéville’s penchant for strange, somewhat pretentious sections in italics, returns in this novel, but unlike the other two here it feels natural and unforced. Several sections take place from the point of view of terrifying creatures known as grindyloes, and the sudden shift in writing style serves well in highlighting how alien these creatures are, unable to be reasoned with as one would a human, with an utterly xenian consciousness.

The protagonist of The Scar, Bellis Coldwine is atypical of the standard fantasy protagonist in that she is a woman over the age of thirty, and not a badass warrior heroine. Instead we get that oh so rare figure, particularly in fantasy, the well rounded and interesting female character. Many Miéville fans dislike Bellis, viewing her as a cold ice queen, but frankly I think that this says more about a repressed sexism of these critics than it does about Miéville’s characterisation. In a male figure these traits would be viewed as that of an aloof badass, yet in a woman it makes her a bitch. Bellis is supported by some truly interesting characters, such as the manipulative spy Silas Fennec and the ancient vampire known as ‘The Brucolac.’ My favourite is the philosophical thug for hire Uther Doul, a chilling figure who nonetheless invites reader sympathy and interest.

The Scar is the strongest novel in the trilogy, marrying Miéville’s talent for world building with some great characters and a truly compelling story. If any of the trilogy is a must-read, it’s this one. Can Miéville keep up this momentum into the final novel of the trilogy? The answer shall soon follow.

Iron Council

No. No he can’t. Not quite.

Iron Council returns the action to New Crobuzon and its surrounding environs. Taking place twenty years after Perdido Street Station and The Scar, it’s really great to see what the city I fell in love with has been up to. The already oppressive New Crobuzon militia have come out from hiding as a sort of Soviet style police state, and have become a military force propping up and overtly totalitarian regime. Iron Council follows three narrative strands, with only one taking place in New Crobuzon. The Crobuzoner government have been engaged with a war with the mysterious city of Tesh, with the truth of the horror overseas beginning to slip past the official propaganda. Ori is a young revolutionary affiliated with the left-wing (and illegal) publication The Runagate Rampant, who becoming sick of the perceived inaction of his peers, joins a violent revolutionary gang under a gangster known as Toro who are hell bent of assassinating the mayor of New Crobuzon. The second tells of another young man named Cutter, pursuing his lover, a man named Judah, across half a continent, eventually finding the Iron Council. The Council is a perpetual train which was hijacked from an expansion effort across the land after the employers failed to pay their workers. The Iron Council is a socialist paradise, with no currency or significant internal strife, managing to evake the forces of the militia who are obsessed with recapturing the wayward train. On this train, Remade, those whose bodies have been horrifically altered by the Crobuzoner justice system, non-humans and normal workers live equally and without singular leadership. The third arc is an extended flashback from the point of view of Judah about the formation of the Iron Council.

There have been many criticisms that Miéville’s left wing politics are too prevalent in this novel, and that it sacrifices telling a good story to instead further his socialist agenda. It is true that this book is seriously left wing, with a huge focus on topics such as trade unionism, a clear parallel between New Crobuzon’s disastrous war with Tesh and the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the homosexuality and bisexuality of many of the main characters. However, I fail to see the problem with this. Most fantasy is rather apolitical, focusing on questions of philosophy rather than engaging with the political questions of the day. It’s rather refreshing to read a novel in the genre wearing it’s political flag so proudly on its sleeve. The problems with the novel are therefore, rather than down to plot, structural in nature. A huge flashback in the middle of the novel completely disrupts the narrative flow, and the constant jarring back and forth between protagonists makes it difficult to really engage with any of them, which is a shame because they’re all rather interesting with hints of unplundered depths, particularly Judah Low, torn between his desire to strike at New Crobuzon and his wish to defend Iron Council.

The world building isn’t quite up to the standard of the first two novels either, with the environs surrounding Iron Council seeming much more nebulous and unbelievable than his first two novels, stripping this one of that wonderful ‘lived-in’ quality that those novels had. I can imagine life in New Crobuzon, I can imagine life in Armada, but not really in Iron Council.

Although this may seem awfully negative, I must make it clear that this is a very good book. Miéville plays with some really interesting ideas, and his passion for his left-wing ideals shine through the whole novel. However, it simply isn’t up to the quality of Perdido Street Station and The Scar; it’s a structural mess, and feels somewhat rushed. If you have read the first two and have fallen in love with Bas-Lag like I did however, there’s still a lot to love in this book.

Conclusion

Miéville has created one of the most interesting and original settings in modern fantasy, one which is simply begging for further exploration. These are novels I can recommend even to those with no  time for fantasy, in its utter abandonment of typical fantasy tropes. They are a lot of fun, and play around with some pretty interesting ideas whilst we’re at it. Miéville is one the smartest writers in the business, and one worth giving your attention.

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