China Miéville is a writer whose books I’ve noticed only recently. Author of Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (true story!), on photos he tends to show off his earrings and his musculature. I was discouraged by both, for different reasons 😉 But one Audible credit has to be spent each month, and one month I’ve chosen his Railsea, favourably mentioned on some podcast I’ve listened to not so long before.
Well, I’m not the one to judge Miéville’s manly charms, and I don’t agree with him on politics, but I’ll happily acknowledge him as a damn good writer. One book could be a lucky shot, but Kraken was also tasty.
He represents the New Weird, an interesting and fresh (even if not so new any more, it started in the late 1990s) literary movement that takes inspiration from the Weird Fiction of early and mid XX cent., the likes of Lovecraft and Peake. Definitely not mainstream fantasy, new weird is, in my limited experience, an aesthetic that leads to unorthodox works in many subgenres, most often urban fantasy, horror or steampunk. In a way, I see it as an analogue of what grimdark did to epic fantasy. It plays with clichés, takes reader out of their comfort zones, and kills a larger percentage of protagonists that used to be the norm.
Ok, a quote, from Jeff VanderMeer, a wiki-quote, but originally from the introduction to excellent anthology titled simply The New Weird (haven’t read yet, but it’s on both my TBR & TBB):
a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy
I don’t know about his other work, but both Railsea and Kraken fit that description.
Apart from New Weird, he is also heavily influenced by Michael Moorcock and his anti-Tolkienian views (Miéville’s most famous quote:
“Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature.”
Initial source is hard to track, so let me link Guardian profile, recommended supplementary reading for this post anyway).
Ok, enough about the guy, now – his stuff.
Railsea is a novel about, well, trains sailing the post-apocalyptic waste. It’s a Moby Dick / Fallout crossover, slightly fanficky at times 😉
A world of scattered, ramshackle settlements connected by a dense network of train tracks, a railsea indeed. A sea where giant moldywarpes prey, monsters that people hunt from trains sailing this great waste. People like one armed Captain Naphi (rings any bells?), obsessed with the biggest monster of them all, fierce and ivory (not white 😀 ) Mocker Jack. Only it’s not so simple, Naphi isn’t just “Ahab on train”, his obsessions and her philosophy are not quite the same, but let’s not spoil too much.
Ok, just a little spoiler – in the age where fantasy and mystery infiltrates literary fiction deeper and deeper, Miéville’s explanations are often beautifully materialistic (even in Kraken, where magic is common, but Darwin is there as well) and, well, befitting somebody of his political views. But if I can enjoy it – it clearly means it’s subtle enough 😉
The main character is a teenager, Sham ap Soorap. We follow his development, training, falling in love, his search for self-knowledge, etc. Pretty typical, but cool. The worldbuilding though! Simply amazing.
Oh, and it’s apparently a YA, but still a good book, don’t worry 😉 Funny, smart novel for people of from all age groups.
Kraken isn’t YA. Violence gets pretty graphic and grotesque. Language? F*ing c*s all over. Sex? You’re safe, nobody has time for sex, the world is coming to an end. Ends really, plural, there are several on the horizon. Somebody stole a specimen of a giant squid from a museum in London and it’s rumoured that it might bring the end of the world. For it’s not just a big underwater creature, for many it’s a god, for others – a powerful magical resource that brings power to whoever controls it. But who knows where it is? Neither the police, nor various bosses of magical London, not even our protagonist, cephalopod specialist Billy Harrow.
Kraken itself and various other powers are clearly lovecraftian. Cthulhu sleeps and his believers relish in the knowledge that he doesn’t care about them. The London below is Gaiman, significant parts of the book are definitely a tribute to Neverwhere. Like Croup and Vandemar analogues. Very, very similar. And lots of other references, there is even (spoiler alert) a working Star Trek phaser!! How cool is that? Very!
Oh, and the book shares my opinion on why the teleporation would suck, and I like it so much I’ll quote in extenso:
“This is why I wouldn’t travel that way,” Dane said. “This is my point . For a piece of rock or clothes or something dead, who cares? But take something living and do that? Beam it up? What you done is ripped a man apart then stuck his bits back together and made them walk around. He died . Get me? The man’s dead. And the man at the other end only thinks he’s the same man. He ain’t. He only just got born. He’s got the other’s memories, yeah, but he’s newborn. That Enterprise , they keep killing themselves and replacing themselves with clones of dead people. That is some macabre shit. That ship’s full of Xerox copies of people who died.”
Much of my favourite urban fantasy is about, or at least heavily features, police dealing with the supernatural. Aaronovitch, Cornell, Butcher… Here – we do have a special squad, but not very likeable and rather inefficient. During the climax, they arrive too late only to arrest wrong people 😉 Ok, they try, there is strong female character doing her best… but she’s annoying.
Oh, I haven’t mentioned Wati, ancient Egyptian ghost and labour organizer, leading strike of wizards’ familiars and other magical workers 😀
It is not perfect. Fun? Hell yes, and it’s obvious the author had lots of fun writing it. But at times it’s pretty chaotic, too much stuff, too many characters and subplots and only some of them get developed enough. Hmm, it was published two years before Railsea, but 12 years after author’s début…
You may get lost now and then, but it’s a funny journey in an amazing version of magical London. Highly recommended.
Well, in 2015 Miéville might not be very new, but he’s definitely weird, in a good way. Give him a try!
5 thoughts on “Introduction to China Miéville – Railsea (2012), Kraken (2010)”
Heh, I’ve no idea what he looks like, but I wanted to read his books for a while now – when I read about his books, with the Lovecraftian, Moorcock and steampunk references, somehow I thought he was a much older and long-present author, whom I simply haven’t heard about before 😉
I finished Kraken and agree with Piotrek’s score – it started great, slightly sagged in the middle, and ended with an anticlimatic, unsure “is that it?” I loved a lot about this book, London queerness, weird magic, the sense of fun, but a vague feeling of witnessing how the author is being swept away by his own work was building in me from somewhere around the two-thirds of the book. And the ending confirmed that – it seemed rushed and without a clear idea how to wrap it up. Still, a fun romp all around! 🙂
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