Tag Archives: Embassytown

Weird Council: the writing of China Miéville

This post was written by Mark Blacklock, a postgraduate student in Birkbeck’s Department of English and Humanities. He also blogs at kulchermulcher.wordpress.com.

The Weird Council conference will take place at Birkbeck on 15 September 2012.

China Miéville is many things: a master teratologist, creator of arguably the finest monsters since H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu slithered through the pages of fiction; a Trotskyite and left-political theorist; a professor; a self-confessed geek and drum’n’bass-head. Most significantly, though, he’s one of the few novelists changing the future of the novel.

Since an issue of the SF journal Extrapolation was devoted to his work in 2009, Miéville has won the Hugo Award twice for novels that have had enormous fun with the elastic category of genre – so much so that mainstream critics have more than once mentioned his name in conjunction with the starriest of literary prizes, the Man Booker. From the scholarly sidelines, what is most exciting about this is that the novels in question – The City and The City (2010) and Embassytown (2012) – were complex narrative explorations of interstitial space and the intricacies of linguistic signification respectively. These aren’t the kinds of ideas that often win literary prizes in love with realism, lyricism and character. Miéville isn’t one of those writers.

His recent address to the Edinburgh book festival gives a good indication of the sort of writer he is. Steeped in canon-warping and lightly worn erudition, it considered not only ‘What is literature, and what do we want from it?’ but possible futures for the novel. He declared his ‘anguished optimis[m]’ for the survival of the form, aiming a well-judged swipe at the impressively advanced practitioners of what Zadie Smith terms ‘lyrical realism’ who so fear change in the market that has so well fed them that they also fear innovation, particularly as represented by ‘the dead hand of Modernism’. Miéville’s appreciation of the possibilities of the crowd-remixed and re-edited novel will surely not have provided much succour to such types, but from this perspective it makes for tremendously exciting reading. We are still waiting for the Plunderphonic of fiction, but when a piece of literature to match John Oswald’s brilliantly ground-breaking album of sample-based serialism emerges, it sure will be fun.

At the risk of simply compiling a bibliography of his recent work, of similar interest is Miéville’s web-essay dealing with last summer’s riots, ‘London’s Overthrow’, published in abridged form in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year. Here, Miéville’s political ideology informed a hybrid essay – not quite journalism, not quite psychogeography, not quite fiction, but something combining all three – to offer a more sympathetic consideration of the socio-political climate than could be found in most sources.

What was originally planned as a one-day symposium last year grew rapidly to two days, the opportunity to misread the author’s work in his presence too great for scholarly enthusiasts to pass up. The ideas in which Miéville works – weird fiction, monsters, left politics, hybridity,  space – will be considered by twenty six speakers, before the author himself takes the stage for a Q&A and reading. Those of us trying to conceal our fandom beneath the formalities of academic presentation, like meddlesome transdimensional tentacular outcroppings beneath long macs, probably won’t admit to looking forward to that session most of all.