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China Miéville
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Mailing Date:
31 October 2006

Locus Magazine
China Miéville: Fabular Logic
China Miéville grew up in London with his mother and sister. After boarding school he worked in Egypt and Zimbabwe for a year before attending university at Cambridge in 1991. He has degrees in Social Anthropology, International Relations, and the Philosophy of International Law, the last completed in 2001 from the London School of Economics.

His first novel, King Rat, a dark contemporary fantasy set in London, appeared in 1995, followed by Perdido Street Station, the first book set in his dark, sprawling fantasy world of Bas Lag, which won the 2001 Arthur C. Clarke Award and British Fantasy Award. The Scar (2002) was set in the same world, and won a British Fantasy Award, a Locus Award, and a Philip K. Dick Award special citation. His novella The Tain (2002) was set in London, but he returned to Bas Lag with Iron Council (2004), winner of the Clarke and Locus Awards. His forthcoming novel Un Lun Dun is a YA set mostly in a strange alternate version of London.

Photo by Amelia Beamer

Website: Unofficial Home Page (out of date)
Never a prolific story writer, most of Miéville's short work was collected in Looking for Jake (2005), including Locus Award-winning novelette "Reports of Certain Events in London". Miéville was a leading writer and proponent of "New Weird" fiction, though he now thinks the term has outlived its usefulness. He is active in politics, and in 2001 was the Socialist Alliance Candidate for British Parliament from the Regents Park and Kensington North constituency. His non-fiction book Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law appeared in 2005. He lives in London.
Excerpts from the interviews:

“YA is a ridiculous category (it's ridiculous to treat marketing categories as if they were aesthetic categories), but if they want to call Un Lun Dun YA that's fine by me. Obviously the ideal is to write a YA book that adults can also enjoy, but this is unabashedly a book for children -- nine to 11-year-olds, I guess, since my heroine is at the top end of that.

“Interviewers always ask who your influences are and I've been trotting out the same answers, but later I think, 'What about Joan Aiken? What about Michael de Larrabeiti? What about Lewis Carroll?' I never mention these people, not because they're not influences, but because I think through them -- they're too influential for me to remember. In my mind, they're not part of the furniture; they're part of the substratum. If that kind of writing hits you at the right time when you're a child, the impact is like nothing else ever. Maybe it's pure ego, but there's something incredibly intoxicating about the idea of trying to do that.

“There is something about the book that is self-consciously a post-fairytale, post-Lewis-Carroll book for children: a certain type of fabular logic which allows you to do things you can't do in a book not consciously aimed at that audience, even though it may be read by people of the same age. Whether in science fiction or in fantasy, there is a certain type of rationality, of coherence, where things have to make sense within that universe; whereas in this kind of literature they can make sense strictly out of a sort of fabular logic. For example, in my book there's a very fleeting character whose head is a bottle of ink. I couldn't do that in fantasy -- though technically in fantasy you can do anything you want, there's a sense that this is the wrong kind of logic -- and I couldn't do that in science fiction. And being able to do that was really fun!”


Un Lun Dun is a YA with a sort of complicated etiology. In one sense I'm a bit shamefaced, because I know everyone's doing YA these days and so maybe this looks a bit bandwaggony, but I've always wanted to write one and I've had these ideas for a long time. There's a group of characters I invented 24 years ago when I was ten! So it's very nice to finally be able to do something with them, and to draw them. I'm illustrating the book (in black and white, pen-and-ink drawings and some charcoal). I've been drawing for many years, but never professionally before. It's a lot of work, but it's fun. It's also terrifying. I was nervous writing YA because I hadn't done one before, but to some extent I feel I know how to write, while I've never tried to do anything with pictures for a mass audience. Though there are many illustrated books I love, when you do illustrations you lose the complete freedom for the reader to have their own interpretations. That's why I'm not doing any illustrations of the protagonists, because I want the young readers to do a certain amount of projection. Mostly it's just an excuse to draw monsters!”


“With all sincere respect to Jameson, Suvin, and Friedman, I don't think 'cognitive estrangement' is the differentia specifica of SF. SF and fantasy are inheritors of visionary literature, and science fiction is simply one fuzzy set of that modern pulp wing of visionary literature which describes its vision through a sometimes spurious, sometimes accurate vocabulary of scientific rationality. But SF is about is that kind of ecstatic vision. That is why 'sense of wonder' (for all it's been kicked around) is not entirely useless, and that is why John Clute's redefinition of horror is actually a way of reintegrating horror into that same tradition. As he says, horror has to do with the numinous, the uncovering of the terrible truth that is there under the everyday. That is only another articulation of uncovering the transcendent truth under the everyday.”


“The next book in the Bas Lag series is still a couple of years away. I've also been working on a non-series science fiction novel, though there may well be other things that come out first. Having spent a lot of time reading (and writing) SF when I was younger, and then moving away from it, it's quite nice to try to come back and establish a working relationship with aspects of the field that I haven't indulged for a long time. Trying to stretch yourself as a writer involves doing the same thing as a reader. Any book I write, I try to do some research in the field, because I don't want to reinvent the wheel. I've been reading a lot of science fiction for the first time in ages -- in a lot of cases remembering why I don't really get on with a lot of it, but in some cases saying, 'I see, this is really interesting. I wouldn't have thought to do it that way.' I want to write some horror as well, and I've been reading quite a lot of that recently, after not reading any straight horror for a long time. Much of it is rubbish, and some of it is brilliant.”


“One of the things I like about artistic movements is that any act of artistic labeling is as much to do with reclamation as with categorization. To look at past writers in a new way, to reclaim writers who have been forgotten, to announce the necessary forgetting of writers who have been remembered -- this is part of the process. It is as much argumentative archaeology as it is ongoing taxonomy.

“I got very frustrated when the whole debate about New Weird was going on. If it doesn't work, if it's a stupid category -- fine, let's talk about that. But people often say any act of pigeonholing is bad. That is absurd, for we do it all the time. It's not like labeling in geology, saying 'This is this type of rock' and that's the end of the story; it's a tool, and you use it as long as it's useful. I liked New Weird because I thought it illuminated something, not that it was some kind of abstract truth. And at the point at which it became a self-parody and/or unuseful, I stopped.”

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