Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “#chinamieville”

meilufay’s (final) #CBR4 review #101 The City & The City by China Miéville

For me, the last third of 2012 was all about China Miéville.  After watching his polemic at the World Writers Conference in August, I rapidly read every article about and interview with him that I could get my hands on.  Then I moved on to his essays and lectures.  Finally, I decided I should probably read this guy’s books already.  I read Kraken first, and loved it.  Then I dug into Dial H, and ditto.  For The City & The City, I thought it would be interesting to do a little bit of genre reading as a companion so I read a selection of crime novels (Hammett, Chandler, Highsmith & more).  And then, because it felt appropriate, I read some Kafka and Philip K Dick.  I watched Brick, Miller’s Crossing, The Big Sleep and Blade Runner.  I’d been meaning to reread Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy so that went into the mix too.  This reading project has been a really entertaining, thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating ride.  I definitely feel as if I have a deeper appreciation for all the works I read than I would have if I’d just read them solo.

It just so happened that my reading this book coincided with The City & The City being Twitter book club #1book140’s December choice.  So I was able to further enrich my experience by participating in the discussions there.

Having written all that, I feel as if I should write a really amazing essay about this book but, honestly, I’m kind of tired.  I just wrote 20 reviews in two days.  So apologies to my readers, the tweeps at #1book140 and China Miéville if my review fails to adequately capture this book.  All failures in this review are my own.

One of the things I really like about China Miéville (other than the AWESOME acute accent in his name) is the fact that he’s incredibly rigorous about following through on his ideas.  Miéville describes The City & The City as a crime novel and its plot is definitely structured in the same way as the procedurals we all know so well.  But because Miéville is not satisfied until his work has some element of the fantastic or surreal, the murder his detective is investigating is overshadowed by a larger mystery – that of the relationship of the two cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma.  These two Eastern European cities are entangled with one another but it is unclear if this relationship is magical (like London Above and London Below in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere), or if they are simply intricately and absurdly sharing the same geographical space.  In order to emphasize the separation between the two cities, citizens learn as children to “unsee” any elements from the other city.  Certain colors are limited to either Beszel or Ul Qoma.  In crosshatched areas, areas which are shared by both cities, traffic and pedestrian from the two cities mingle yet retain their separation by unseeing one another.  To violate these precepts is to risk the ire of Breach, a mysterious power that enforces barriers between the two cities.  Breach is spoken of as being “invoked” and it is unclear if Breach has supernatural powers.

Procedural murder mysteries are like the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat. In order to maintain the audience’s tension all possible solutions exist simultaneously until the “true” solution is finally revealed and all possibilities then collapse into one.  Miéville takes quantum physics theories and applies them to his novel in a astonishingly rigorous way.  There are the obvious ways: the two cities are entangled, and the aforementioned collapsing of possibilities.  But he also applies Schrödinger’s paradox to the genre of the book.  A supernatural and a natural solution to the mysteries of the murder and the entanglement of the two cities exist in tension to one another until the end of the book when Inspector Borlú, his hero, finally observes the truth, collapsing all possibilities.  It’s a high wire act and throughout the book I and my fellow book club readers were questioning whether or not Miéville would pull it off.  That he did absolutely astonishes and delights me.

Based on what I’ve heard about his other books, I don’t think that The City & The City is destined to make my list of favorite China Miéville books, but this book is so inventive, so well-structured, so extraordinarily carefully well-crafted, so smart, that I am rather dazzled by his achievement and talent.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #86 Dial H (issues 1-6) by China Miéville

Right now DC Comics is revamping their entire line of comic book series as the New 52.  Of course, when they tapped China Miéville this project, he took on a series I’d never even heard of: Dial H for Hero.  In Dial H, Nelson, an ordinary, over-weight man, sees a friend being beaten by thugs in an alley and uses an old phone booth to call for help.  After dialing h, Nelson is turned into Boy Chimney and uses his superhero powers to defeat the thugs and get his friend to hospital.  Once he has returned to himself, Nelson is fascinated by the mystery of the dial and returns many times to use the old phone booth, each time being transformed into a random superhero for a short period of time.  Much of the fun of this series is just how very random each superhero is.  Miéville obviously had a lot of fun creating them.  Along the way, Miéville uses the random transformations to comment on superheroes.  An entire issue is devoted to just how racist and sexist superhero costumes can be, and Nelson begins to have problems keeping track of himself amid the superhero personalities he momentarily possesses.

The first six issues of Dial H (available in trade paperback form as Dial H, Vol. 1: Into You) are a delightful, hilarious, entertaining and thought-provoking romp.  I can’t wait to read more in the series.

meilufay’s #CBR4 review #51 Kraken by China Miéville

I have a confession to make.  I’ve been following China Miéville’s career for over a year but until now I haven’t read any of his books.  I’ve read loads of interviews, watched panels and listened to podcasts.  But I’ve been avoiding reading his books.  Perdido Street Station has been collecting dust on my bookshelf for all this time and I haven’t had the courage to read it.  Because I think Mr. Miéville is kind of awesome.  He gives great interview and even greater panel.  (I mean, seriously, he kills it on a panel.  You guys should totally watch the World Writer’s Conference videos from the Edinburgh Festival.  But only if you’re super geeky about literature because otherwise it’s pretty boring and navel-gazy with occasional flashes of pure and utter awesome.  So, you know, whatever.  You should do what you want and not even listen to me.)  It’s kind of fun, too, because despite being 40-ish, he still kind of looks like the punky kid, even when he respects the occasion by wearing a suit.  He has five baby octopus tentacles piercing his left ear and a bald head.  You can really only go so suit-y when you’re working in that accessorial arena.  So there’s everyone dressed in standard serious writer wear (creative but in the artisanal way that means, “you can take me seriously because this silk blouse was sustainably sourced and these earrings were handcrafted by refugees using colorful thread and locally sourced shiny, spit-polished rocks”), and then Miéville comes out and does the intellectual version of a Mr T, pitying the fool while kicking ass in a surprisingly soft-spoken, gentlemanly and humorous way.  It’s really squared fun to watch.  The problem is, it doesn’t matter how smart, charming and funny you are.  If I’m going to hang with you geekstyles, I’ve ultimately got to love your books.  If I don’t love the work, it’s hard for me to enjoy a writer in any other context.  Damon Lindelof may be awesome in interviews and on panels and stuff, he may totally be someone I’d love to sit next to a dinner party, but I’m not really going to watch or read those interviews because I’m not into his work.  (Sorry, Damon.  I’m sure you’re crying all the way to the bank.)  So I’ve been avoiding reading Perdido Street Station because it might not be as awesome as Goodreads says it is.  Because I might decide I want to punch China Miéville in the face after reading it, as apparently the Penny Arcade guys wanted to do.  If that happens, then you know I’m going to have to break up with China.  And that would be really sad for me, if not for him.  (Mei-Who?  I imagine him saying before shrugging his shoulders and going back to work.)  Also, it would be kind of embarrassing because I’ve posted a lot about Miéville on my Facebook page and have even quoted him in one of my recent reviews here.

So since Perdido Street Station has had such a big build up, I thought it might be a good idea to read a less famous book.  Kraken jumped out at me because the concept tickled me.  The giant squid on display at London’s Natural History Museum goes missing, plunging curator Billy Harrow into a world of competing apocalypsi and more off-beat magic than you can shake a stick at.  There’s a villain that’s a talking tattoo on some poor man’s back, a union leader who just happens to be a spirit who can only inhabit figurines or statues and a magician who can fold people up like origami.  And here’s the thing: aside from the aforementioned octopi tentacle piercings, Mr. Miéville has a giant skulltopus tattooed on his arm.  And, with his shaved head, he kind of looks like an octopus.  That’s a lot of octessorizing for any group of people, let alone one person, and it makes me think that cephalopods are something that make his brain pan sizzle and sear.  You know, if you’re gonna read one book about a tentacled sea creature, you should maybe go with the one written by a guy so obsessed with the things that he’s going to wear one on his skin every day until he dies.  Or at least that was my logic in picking Kraken.

I enjoyed reading this book every bit as much as I hoped I would.  Miéville’s got a great imagination and I thoroughly enjoyed his inventiveness with language, with character and with the fantastic version of London he’s created here.  I wasn’t sure how much I liked the book, though, until about the last one hundred pages or so.  Miéville sets a lot of plates spinning in the air and I honestly wasn’t sure he was going to pull off the ending without breaking some crockery.  But man, he TOTALLY did it.  There’s a point where the plot strands come together and it’s so delightful and fun and weirdly literal that I just started laughing and I pretty much smiled all the way until the end of the book.  Did I love this book?  No.  Am I going to press it eagerly into the hands of every single one of my friends?  No.  Am I going to read more China Miéville?  Fuck yeah!  I’m not ready to take vows or get his name tattooed on my ass or anything but I honestly can’t wait to read more because this guy has the full package.  He’s smart, he’s got a sense of humor, he can write and he can tell a story.  It’s rare that a writer combines all those qualities.  There’s a reason why Miéville keeps on getting compared to Neil Gaiman and it’s not just the whole fantasy version of London slash apocalyptic comedy thing.  He’s ambitious, he puts it all out there like he’s not afraid of failure and that is pretty frickin’ awesome.  If you like Giant Squids (wait, are there people who don’t?), inventive fantastic fiction, puns, nerdy references, genuinely scary villains and writers who aren’t afraid of slinging around big ideas, then you’ll like this book.  And if you don’t, well then you probably didn’t even read this review.

PS China Miéville is famous for using fifty-cent words (hey he’s got all those degrees from all those world-famous universities, he gotta get his money’s worth, amirite?) and, yes, I did end up reading this book with my iPad keyed up to a Dictionary site.  It was worth it.  Of the words I learned, my favorites were benthic (meaning: relating to the bottom of a sea or lake or to the organisms that live there) and haptic (meaning: of or relating to the sense of touch).  Haptic is such a beautiful word.  I’m glad I know it now.

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