More on Mieville

by Henry Farrell on May 16, 2005

China Miéville has just won the “Arthur C. Clarke award”: for _Iron Council_, which we ran a “seminar”: on in January. He seems to be on a bit of a roll the last month or two; he’s also interviewed in the “current issue”: of _The Believer_. Look out next month for some more Miéville-related goodness.



Carlos 05.16.05 at 10:30 am

I kinda think y’all let off CM much too easy last time. Especially this part:

This is precisely why I’m not surprised by Belle’s resentment at the fate of Lin in PSS. It was, yes, precisely ‘uncalled for’. ‘That Lin should get killed,’ Belle says, ‘OK.’ Well quite. Had she been killed, it would have been ok. More than that, it would have presented us with one of the most trite figures in Romantic Art: The Beautiful Dead Female Lover. I didn’t want Lin to turn into Eurydice, which is why what happened to her had to be utterly foul and uncalled for. I maintain that it was more respectful of her as a character to give her a fate that vigorously resisted aestheticisation, than to subordinate her to the logic of myth, symbol and genre. (Particularly when (Ophelia in the water, consumptive beauties a-coughing) it’s a logic deep-structured with fetishised misogynist despite. Hmmmm… raping and mind-ruining a female character as striking a blow against the structures of gender essentialism? Well yes, actually.)

To quote myself,

Of course, Mieville is simply falling into that structure of putting “women in refrigerators“, well-known to comics readers. “What’s the most utterly foul and uncalled thing we can do to Elongated Man’s wife?” Although I don’t think the people at DC thought of themselves as “striking a blow against the structures of gender essentialism”.


China 05.16.05 at 1:20 pm

carlos, I think you probably have a point in that I was too sanguine about the idea of ‘resisting aestheticisation’ – aestheticisation is a lot tougher than that. As to the ‘striking a blow’ quote, it was meant tongue slightly in cheek. But with a serious point – what happens to Lin was thought out, deliberate, strategic, in (honestly) an attempt to avoid certain cliches that I think are gendered and sexist. But – I do sincerely accept that it may not have worked, and maybe swimming past one cliche it got et by another.

No girlfriends in refrigerators in the follow-ups. And GIR is a brilliant, phrase, by the way, which I hope you don’t mind me pinching.


Carlos 05.16.05 at 3:33 pm

Not my phrase originally — though I wish it were! — but Gail Simone’s.

I’ve been thinking about gender, epic, and genre conventions a lot lately, and while I understood the artistic reason behind Lin’s fate, it kind of struck me as avoiding the pothole by driving into the ditch.

Would it have worked the other way? Isaac as the victim with the monstrous, de-aestheticized fate? Yeah, the guts of the novel would have to be reassembled… but not the gist. I think. (Not to pin you down or anything.)


ajay 05.17.05 at 6:43 am

Interesting interview but a terrible intro:The Scar and Iron Council, are socially relevant, politically current, and anything but derivative. Think Middle Earth meets Dickensian London on really good acid.
So it’s not derivative; it’s just Middle Earth meets Dickens! (aargh)

I liked Perdido Street. I liked the Scar more. Iron Council was even better. But… none of them quite seem to make sense. There’s always the lurking feeling that ‘you can’t actually make money doing that’ or ‘that isn’t really practically possible’ – things like the economics of Armada (where does all the food come from? They’re hundreds of miles from the coast! Or the coal?), or the railway rebels making their getaway, frantically laying track in front of themselves like Wallace and Gromit at the climax of ‘The Wrong Trousers’.
(Written by someone who doesn’t know very much about building railways with circa 19th century technology; I suggest ‘An Abridged History of the Construction of The Railway Line between Garve and Lochinver’ by Andrew Drummond).

There are two recent novels that hit on this theme very well. In Neal Stephenson’s ‘Quicksilver’, there is a scene at the Siege of Vienna where the protagonist sees Jan Sobieski and the Polish Winged Hussars ride past, and deduces that, since the Hussars are the most magnificent cavalry he has ever seen, the Polish peasantry must be abnormally poor, servile and downtrodden – a deduction which he then uses to his advantage. (A rather good counterbalance to all those noble horsemen in fantasy, incidentally.)

The other is Terry Pratchett’s ‘Night Watch’ in which, right after the Paris Communish rising starts, one of its leaders is forcibly reminded exactly how many cartloads of flour, cabbage, eggs, chickens, etc a city of a million people needs to take in OR DIE every single day.


Ian 05.17.05 at 6:49 am

Mieville seems like a nice chap – I’m sure he’ll grow out of his position on the AUT boycott I’ve seen him argue elsewhere.


Jackmormon 05.17.05 at 11:33 am

I didn’t ask this question last time because I felt stupid asking it. I still feel stupid asking it, but now I feel even stupider for not having an answer. So.

How does one pronounce Mieville? Three syllables or four? Where’s the stress?


China 05.17.05 at 12:31 pm

It’s mee-AY-vill. That’s how we say it. The Swiss, from whom we pinched it generations back, would probably blench.

Thanks to Henry for the big-up (the blog-up?) and to everyone else for the comments.


Doctor Memory 05.17.05 at 10:00 pm

Ajay: as non-snarkily (towards any of the involved parties) as I can put this, suffice it to say that Mieville has a substantially different notion of how economies work than Pratchett or Stephenson.

If, like myself, you find your intuitive understanding of these things to be a bit closer to Pratchett’s, it’s probably best to read The Scar with the understanding that the economics behind Armada operate on the same principle as the watercraeft of the Vodyanoi or the reshaping of the Remade: wild, unknowable and certainly unexplainable magic. Otherwise, you’ll just get a headache.


ajay 05.18.05 at 4:24 am

Point taken, doc, but I don’t think it’s a problem with different outlooks on how economies work. The problem I have is that, whether the people bringing it in are employees, slaves, joint stockholders or communards, Armada still needs stuff brought in – and I just fail to believe that it could get enough stuff. And I hate having to just assume it’s magic. To paraphrase Larry Niven: I am quite happy with a criminal being Remade into a tentacled hybrid by wild unknowable magic. But if the criminal then runs upstairs carrying a cubic foot of gold under his arm, I will feel justifiably annoyed.

And it’s not as though CM can’t do this sort of thing right – look at the real reason for Silas Fennec’s trip in The Scar. Very nicely done – a sort of anti-Lovecraft moment of revelation. Or the whole setup of The Iron Council.


Jackmormon 05.18.05 at 8:07 pm

Thanks for the tip. My fellow fans around here kept getting tripped up during our arguments about your books. Anyway, very hearty congratulations on the prize.

I agree that Armada would need rather a lot of restocking. There are a fair number of details about home production, a couple of references to critical shortages (paper, particularly), a few descriptions of plunder coming in–but, yes, it’s a big city advanced enough to support comparatively leisure-class employment (Coldwine works at the library, not at the agricultural commune), and such structures tend to require regular agricultural supplies.

Still, I didn’t notice the problem on my first couple reads, and when I read the book again, the supply-side shortage will probably still not bother me all that much. And I think that the reason the plausability of Mieville’s explanations for the economic sustainability of Armada don’t matter so much to me is because the book is more an allegory of political ideologies. (Iron Council is more clearly concerned with questions arising from economic analysis, I think.) The exploration of motives is good enough to withstand a little skepticism of the “but where do they get their calcium” sort.

Besides, I expect that the citizens of Armada didn’t expect to live to an old age–not even those who lived under the benevolent vampiric dictatorship. Armada’s willingness to take on new citizens suggests, to me at least, a lack of anxiety about overpopulation…

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