Debating Iron Council

by Henry on January 11, 2005

China Mieville is one of the most interesting people writing in the field of science fiction and fantasy. His first novel, “King Rat,” riffs on drum’n’bass, Max Ernst, Robert Irwin and contemporary London. His second, Perdido Street Station, took the genre by storm; an urban fantasy written with vigour, wit and ferocious intelligence. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. As Michael Swanwick said in the Washington Post in 2002, “It’s a little cheeky of me to declare as classic a book that only came out two years ago, but I think I’m on safe ground here.” His third novel, “The Scar,” received equal acclaim. He’s an official member of the salon des refusés of Granta’s “Best of Young British Novelists” list. China is also active in socialist politics – he ran for Parliament in the last election. His book, “Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory Of International Law,” based on his Ph.D. thesis, is being published this month by Brill.

China’s most recent novel, Iron Council was published in August. Michael Dirda of the Washington Post describes it as “a work of both passionate conviction and the highest artistry.” A few months ago, the Mieville Fraktion within CT decided that it might be fun to put together a mini-seminar around Iron Council, and to ask China to respond. He very decently said yes; you see the result before you. We’ve invited two non-CT regulars to participate in the mini-seminar. Matt Cheney blogs on literature and science fiction at “The Mumpsimus”:http://mumpsimus.blogspot.com/; he also writes for Locus magazine and SFSite. Miriam Elizabeth Burstein blogs at The Little Professor, and teaches Victorian literature at SUNY Brockport. Miriam very kindly agreed to join the project in its later stages, revising a long comment/review that she had already written (and that China had independently cited to).

The essays are posted in the order that they are mentioned in China’s response (people who haven’t read Iron Council yet should be aware that spoilers abound). John Holbo begins his essay with comments on the relationship between Mieville and Tolkien; he goes on to use Bruno Schulz’s discussion of escape and the fecundity of inanimate matter to argue that Mieville can’t decide whether he prefers political economy or Expressionist puppetry as modes of expression. Belle Waring complains that the unrelenting grimness of Mieville’s urban settings and characters’ fates is a little formulaic; he should let his characters get somewhere and perhaps even succeed in something. Matt Cheney partly revises an earlier essay where he argued that Mieville needed to represent his villains a little more realistically; he discusses some of the reasons why Mieville might have done this, and talks about how Mieville reconciles pulp and avant-garde literature in his work. My essay compares Mieville’s reworking of history, myth and revolution with Walter Benjamin’s theses on the philosophy of history. Miriam Elizabeth Burstein examines how Mieville reworks ideas of martyrdom and messianism through the figure of Judah Low. Finally, John Quiggin talks about Iron Council in historical context, arguing that just as the eponymous train of the novel becomes a myth that may return to ‘save’ us, so too the revolutionary traditions of the nineteenth century that are celebrated in Iron Council may continue to inspire.

China’s response, which speaks to all the above, and more, is here.

We’re opening up all of the essays, and China’s response, to comments. We expect that the main conversation will take place in the comments section to China’s essay; however, if you have specific points that you want to address in the individual essays, feel free to comment there. Note that offensive or inappropriate comments will likely be deleted – as always, we’re more interested in conversation than flamewar.

This seminar is being made available for distribution under a Creative Commons license, without any prejudice to the ownership of any material quoted under standard ‘fair use’ principles from Iron Council or from John Curran Davis’ translation of Bruno Schulz’ Cinammon Shops. For those who would prefer to read on paper than computer screen, we enclose a PDF of the discussion.


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Orbis Quintus » Blog Archive » Interstitial Enthusiams, Part 2
08.11.05 at 10:55 pm
Susan Hated Literature » Iron Council
11.19.05 at 1:10 pm
Emerald City Weblog » Clarke Timbered: Science Fiction and Fantasy News
11.29.05 at 1:23 pm

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