True Story: The first in-depth article I read regarding China Miéville was a NY Times article about The Kraken, his latest novel (2010). I found this article because (of course) Neil Gaiman linked it in his blog. (Or maybe on twitter, since I can’t seem to find it on the blog.) It was this article, along w/Neil’s recommendation, that got him on my list of authors to check out. After The Scar, I knew I’d be keeping track of his work. But I just finally read The Kraken, after four other books by Miéville. And I’d forgotten that the article was about this one until I went looking for a pic for this blog.
The Kraken is my favorite so far, though I’ve loved everything I’ve read. Here are today’s reasons why I am in love with China Miéville:
1) I don’t always understand what the heck he’s talking about. This is rare, especially in a work of fiction.
2) Even when I don’t understand exactly he’s talking about, I’m not irritated by it. It’s not bad writing, it’s fantastic writing that comes across as reality – we don’t always know what the heck is going on! I’m right there with the rest of the characters. Most of them manage to muddle through somehow, like we all do.
3) He loves to play with words. He makes up words for concepts that don’t currently exist (in mainstream culture, at least) and plays with the language while labeling them.
4) He’s not ashamed of his geek flag, and slips his pop culture references in with originality and tons of humor.
5) I’ve yet to guess more than 50% of any story (of his) that I’ve read (4 novels & one short story collection), and never been disappointed. Many of his plot twist are not just surprising, but truly mind-blowing. As in: I have to put the book down and marvel at the new place he’s taken me in my brain. He doesn’t take things to the next level – he skips 100 steps and lands somewhere much more shocking, and rearranges everything you just read into something new and even more impressive. All without breaking the tension.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned China Miéville before – here, in fact – a new speculative fiction love for me. Since picking up The Scar, I’ve read Perdido Street Station, Looking for Jake (short stories) and now Un Lun Dun. And TheKraken is sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to finish Middlemarch.
Un Lun Dun (UnLondon) is an ‘other-London’ in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland, Neverwhere (and various other stories, none of which I can recall right now) where there’s a whole other city/place below/between/just-out-of-reach of the real city, where freaks or aliens or whatever live, and everything is just a bit different than the city most people live in.
Miéville grabs with glee this license to mess with the world. He is a meticulous world-builder, and never misses an opportunity to add a bit of crazy fun to every situation the intrepid heroes are faced with. He gives us things like upside down cars that are used as boats (which are called ‘car’ but with the word upside-down on the page, it sounds something like ‘rack,’ but the best way to pronounce is ‘turn your head upside-down, then say car’), trash is alive (and can be pets), librarians are explorers, houses are made from defunct technology, and giraffes are the scariest animals. And – my personal favorite – the binjas. Seriously. Trash cans (bins in the UK) which are actually ninjas. They keep their weapons inside their cans and have the perfect camouflage. Binjas. Freaking. Awesome. The illustrations are also done by Miéville, quite the talented guy.
Miéville wrote this book aimed at a YA audience, so – at least in the beginning – it doesn’t have much depth. But stick with it, it will be worth your while. There’s a video interview (which you can see here, sexy & smart – woohoo) where he talks about the book -why and how and stuff. This book interrogates the quest model so common in sci-fi books (whether for kids or adults) and pokes some fun at it as well. The best thing about this book? It’s fun. He’s clearly having a blast writing it, and it is fun to read it.
If you love sci-fi/fantasy books, and you’re looking for a light read that isn’t boring and lame – or you’re looking for a way to ease into the dark craziness of Miéville – read this next.
You may have heard of Mary Roach. She’s the woman who wrote Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (of which I have heard great things but have not read). It became a best seller – so clearly this woman knows how to make the strange accessible to the masses. I found Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex on the sale table at Borders and grabbed it.
I don’t remember the last time I laughed so much reading a book. Bonk is not a book about sex, it’s a book about the ridiculous situations that arise when you are trying to study sex scientifically. Hamsters are wearing polyester pants. People are having intercourse inside MRI machines. Roach has a fine sense of the ridiculous, and the skills to let all of us in on the joke. Roach travels the world to witness first-hand (whenever possible) the studies that tells us what we know about bumping uglies.
One of the most interesting things in the book was finding out how little is really understood about the physical realities of human sexual intercourse. And the most interesting stuff seems… well, rather explicit for an open forum such as this. Instead, I’ve decided to share the topics of a few of the footnotes, to give you an idea of the randomness of the world and the breadth of her topic.
In no particular order (I can see my spam folder filling up now):
the sale of soiled panties in Japan
premature and retarded ejaculation
copulation rates of primates
the maternal fastidiousness of earwigs
the passage of flatus at coitus
artificial insemination of dogs in the 18th century
boar odor spray
the odor of the flowers of the Spanish chestnut tree
the great-grandniece of Napoleon and her gay husband
the Personal Pelvic Viewer (PPV for short).