Posts Categorized: China Mieville

The City and The City by China Miéville

In The City and The City, China Miéville, branches out into a new form of genre fiction: the mystery.  While past novels, like Perdido Street Station and the Scar, have firmly established Miéville as a scifi/fantasy superstar they have not been proving grounds for writing a good mystery.  Miéville works in some of his scifi and fantasy tendencies by creating this city in a version of our own world and having it split.  Citizens of each city are supposed to unsee each other.  Effectively, they act as though they have blinders on and the other city is non-existent.  If they do notice it or cross over, this is seen as breach, and a mysterious police force intervenes.  The idea is a little compelling, but not compelling enough for three hundred pages.  The city is what Miéville is most interested in, and the overall murder mystery becomes quite secondary.

Most of the dialogue in the book is poorly constructed.  Characters speak to give the reader information.  It’s a poor attempt to move the story forward that hurts the novel in another way.  Character development is as non-existent as the boundary between the cities.  The narrator is not intriguing or endearing.  We never really see his motivations beyond it being his job.  Yet, he is working outside the system.  He must have motivations.  Often times the characters seem as though they’ve been created by someone who has watched a lot of police dramas.  The other awkward area in this novel is the attempt to ground it in our present world.  There is an internet, email, and all the big corporations that litter expressways with billboards.  To what effect?  The pop culture corporate name dropping doesn’t add anything.  It doesn’t make the Cities any more strange by seeing them next to our world.

Miéville is an exciting writer who will most likely write more books.  For the time being though, this is one to miss.

Review: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

In terms of creativity, this is one of the most creative books I’ve read. A lot of the negative reviews seems to lament that fact that this novel isn’t formulaic. What a strange complaint. China …more I’m not even sure where to begin this book. I thought it was sci-fi when I began, but it rides that line between sci-fi and fantasy. That is to say it doesn’t fit a category very well. I guess you’d call it steampunk, and this is the first novel I’ve read under that heading.

In terms of creativity, this is one of the most creative books I’ve read. A lot of the negative reviews seems to lament that fact that this novel isn’t formulaic. What a strange complaint. China Mieville has devised a world and cast of characters that is totally unique. Admittedly, it is a dark world where anything resembling hope is quashed and an Orwellian power structure rules the city-state. Again, this is another area of complaint, that it is too dark. It’s not too dark. If you want dark, read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. The city, New Crobuzon is gritty, filthy and full of vermin. The mood is pervasive and settles into the pores of every resident. However, the novel is not overly graphic it just evokes such harshness in its descriptions.

I will grant at times it is overly descriptive and long, however, that’s what skimming is for. There were small sections where nothing really happened, it was just describing a neighborhood of the city for two pages and didn’t add that much to the narrative. Does that detract from the novel, not really, I’d rather have too much and skim than a skeleton-like setting.

The other point that really impressed me are the risks the writer took. Mieville doesn’t take the easy way out. Betrayal and misfortune visit the characters repeatedly. Perhaps there can be no truly happy endings in New Crobuzon, but I feel like most writers would have tried to make that happen. The ending in Perdido Street Station is the one that works the best.

Mieville explores so many themes in this novel from, what is sentience to race relations? There’s a lot here and it’d definitely worth reading.

Review: The Scar by China Mieville

In a follow up to his acclaimed novel, Perdido Street Station, Mieville offers up a novel that falls short. For those that loved Perdido Street Station, this novel takes place in the same world where New Crobuzon exists, but follows characters aboard a floating city scrapped together from a multitude of ships. Mieville has something, which few fantasy writers do: a love for words. However, that doesn’t mean he should be free of editing or allow himself to get carried away. His books are epics spanning 600+ pages, but what in those pages is actually necessary for the story?

Some may argue that his descriptions ground the reader in the setting, and establish the overall mood (decay, grit, mistrustful, and isolation) that weigh on most characters and objects, but when this effect is achieved, do you have to continue throughout the novel? I found myself skimming the pages, because I could visualize the motley group of ships with new buildings sprouting up from their decks. I didn’t need to be shown over and over again.

Another failure of this book is that not much happens.

The rulers raise a sea creature, harness it, and travel to a reality warping stretch of ocean where there is a mutiny and they turn back. In the process the primary character realizes she’s been used repeatedly. I just saved you 623 pages of reading. Of course, I’m being a little harsh, but I wanted a lot more from this novel. Part of the problem is that I was not particularly invested in any of the characters. The primary character is someone who is reserved, cold and in control of her emotions. There is nothing to identify with or to sympathize. Who cares? Who cares what happens to her or anyone else? I’m thinking of epics with characters that are despicable whom a reader cares about. That leads me to Blood Meridian, full of deceitful killers, yet I care about them, I want to know what happens to them. There needs to be some resolution.

In this novel, not only do I not care about the characters, there is nothing that really ties it all together. Are we to find pleasure in Doul taking control of Armada, or Bellis returning home? It didn’t matter to me.

While Mieville has conceived a world that is diverse, dangerous and fantastic, it does not mean this is a well constructed novel. Even the shifts in point of view “interludes” as Mieville groups them, and letters written in the first person show this weakness. He can’t tell the story without bouncy around. It’s Bellis’ story, but not entirely. On the whole, this was a disappointment. If you read it, skim as much as possible, or even better, don’t bother.