Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: Crowds cheer The City & The City

In a fantasy city, the author would have stepped into a gleaming amphitheatre to the announcement, "And all the way from London, two time British Fantasy Society Award-Winning author...China Miéville..." The cheering throng would have hoisted their books high and demanded encores of readings from Perdido Street Station (2000), Iron Council (2004) and Un Lun Dun (2007) before allowing the author to leave the stage.

Instead, Miéville arrived at the Third Place Books Commons in Lake Forest Park, amidst the food court clanging of people finishing their dinners out on a Friday night, without even the pomp of a Kim Rickett's style Words & Wine event. He read a short section from the opening of his latest book
The City & The City before a crowd of about 200 people.

Fanfare not required though. This was a good time. It was fun to hear Inspector Borlu's interrogation of the druggie kids in Miéville's voice.
The City & The City is a different kind of fantasy, a police procedural. A "complete fidelity to the noir protocol," it opens with a dead body and the protagonist is gruff and flawed. Why did Miéville turn to a crime novel? Well, for his mother. Written while she was ill, the book is dedicated, "In loving memory of my mother, Claudia Lightfoot".

He's also enjoying writing in some new voices. Expect to see some examples in the next few years, as Miéville "begs an indulgence" from fans. Try something new? Miéville has something more sci-fi in the works as well as another fantasy. He also has ideas for non-fiction exploring topics from politics to Lovecraftian novels (Miéville wrote the introduction to the 2005 Modern Library edition of H.P. Lovecraft's
At the Mountains of Madness). The City & The City, "secretly subtitled 'The Last Inspector Borlu Mystery'" leaves openings for prequels and sequels too.

Miéville's also happy about a role-playing game in development based on one of his worlds. He's given the go ahead to
Tales of New Crobuzon.

Following his reading, Miéville was engaging, gracious, and hilarious in the Q&A before he was whisked off for the real work of the evening — signing books. He has a delightful vocabularly and talks easily across genres too. He speaks fluent geek punctuated by London slang and politics. Here are a few tidbits he shared:

Miéville's dreams: include beautiful views walking through the cities he's created, but aren't heavily plotted, "I'm somewhere and for some reason I have to go over there... it's like being in Second Life, very pretty, but nothing happens."

Miéville's writing process: Starts with setting. He builds a world and creates maps, but with white spaces to fill in later or just leave blank, "sometimes it's fun not to know." If this sounds a lot like world-building for a role-playing game, well, yes, he is quite familiar with polyhedral dice.

Miéville on fantasy: Writing fantasy provides a way to talk about and envision what is inherently impossible to talk about and envision — concepts such as radical socio-political change (what we could easily envision wouldn't really be radical). It also "shows the grander thing behind the everyday" following in the religious visionary tradition of ecstatic writing.

Miéville leaves the impression you could sit down with him and have a highly entertaining conversation on anything from the "heuristic failure of first-person shooters" to "the murderous arbitrariness of geopolitical borders". Barring that, you can read one of his books.

So, what are your favorites? One audience member asked about the short story "The Tampered Mail" with Miéville's eponymous protagonist, China Miéville. Another had a copy of Miéville's non-fiction
Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (2006). What book would you start someone on who had never read Miéville?

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