starlady: (the wizard's oath)
Miéville, China. Railsea. New York: Del Rey Books, 2012.

China Miéville is one of the authors I consider a must-read, and I heard a lot of good things about this book before I read it. I was not disappointed! I don't think this is as good a book as Embassytown, but it is very, very good, and I certainly enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Embassytown and Kraken. Like Kraken, it is at times laugh outloud funny; like Kraken, it is not afraid to quarrel with literature--I particularly liked the bit towards the end when Robinson Crusoe was summoned up and dismissed in the space of two paragraphs, and as much as Moby-Dick is being put in the blender in, intermittently, the fore and background, there are hints of older narratives in here too, such as the Odyssey.

I wish I had finished the book in time to copy down some of the passages I dog-eared, because one of the pleasures of this book, as always, is Miéville's flair and verve with language, particularly his willingness to hack and poke and remake English into what he wants it to be. The book follows one Shem ap Soorap, a listless youth whose cousins get him a post as an apprentice medic on a moletrain, riding through the railsea in search of the giant mouldywarpes. (My sister, when I was trying to explain this to her: "How was I supposed to intuit the giant moles?") Shem's captain is searching for the great custard-yellow ivory mole that took her arm, Mocker-Jack; it is her Philosophy, and she is its, and like all captains of moletrains she dreams of fulfilling her quest and recording it in the Museum of Completion. Shem, an orphan, however, finds an artifact in the wreckage of an old moletrain that leads him down a different path, into the acquaintance of the explorer children, Caldera and Dero Shroake, who are determined to follow the traintracks of their lost parents.

This being Miéville, there is a lot in here about narratives and stories and intermittent passages in which the narrator addresses the reader directly, and this is the sort of thing that I eat up with a spoon; if all this metafictional meditation on story and fiction isn't to your taste, you may find yourself disliking the book. But I thought this was a great novel, and I loved the great and unremarked-upon number of female characters, and I really enjoyed the ending. (It doesn't hurt that I have a thing for trains in SFF novels, obviously.)

Has anyone been reading Dial H?
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
Miéville, China. Embassytown. New York: Del Rey, 2011.

This is, unequivocally, Miéville's best book yet.

I've loved most of Miéville's other novels, mind you, which is part of why this book was even more of a revelation to me. For the first time, all of Miéville's bowstrings are twanging in concert, and seeing all of his impulses and talents working in tandem to an end throws into relief how, in almost all of his earlier works--Kraken, I think, being an important near- or partial exception--he was clearly, fundamentally at war with himself. But peace has broken out now, and this book, much as Miéville's language in others was revelatory for other reasons, is, even on the level of prose, beautiful.

The girl who ate in pain what was given her )

This is a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant book. As [personal profile] rushthatspeaks rightly notes, the sheer brilliance of the language Miéville uses may be the single most dazzling aspect of this book, but the plot is brilliant too, and consistently goes places you don't expect. Miéville zigs when you think he will zag, and this ingenuity extends to the characters--they are consistently three-dimensional, far more than the clichéd stock type you would expect from space opera. As usual, Miéville tosses off more brilliant, innovative ideas on one page than most authors have in a whole novel. The Hosts, too, alien though they indubitably are, eventually come into focus as agents in their own destinies, as does--not against her will and her learned habit of "floaking"--Avice too.

So, in short: go read it.
starlady: A can of gravity from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (in emergency break seal)
Miéville, China. Kraken. New York: Ballantine Books, 2010.

It's getting down to the end of 2010, and I have to say, this is one of the best books I've read all year. Why have I not seen it tearing up the internet? Because, seriously, it's so hugely awesome.

So. Our protagonist Billy Harrow is an unassuming curator at the Darwin Centre of the Natural History Museum in London, where our story takes place (because understand this: there is no other city like London). Billy had the singular indistinction of being the lead preserver of the museum's Architeuthis (i.e. giant squid) specimen, and he has the singular dishonor of being the guy leading the tour group who discovers that the squid has been stolen, tank and all, out of the center of the Centre. This impossible fact is the catalyst by which Billy discovers a whole other London, a Heresiopolis, which is peopled by people and beings with knacks for all sorts of knacks, from teleportation to Londonmancy, as well as cultists for gods of all kinds, including a sect that worships kraken and who think him their prophet, and a particularly unorthodox branch of the Metropolitan Police including the awesome and foul-mouthed witch Constable Collingswood.

I can't really say too much else without massive spoilers, but let me just say: this book is amazing, and it's really funny. Details, not spoilers per se )

Anyway, so much for Miéville does Lovecraft. Next up is Embassytown, which is apparently Miéville does space opera, and I can't wait.
starlady: (abhorsen key)
The consensus seems to be that this Friday was less than pleasing. I hope my sister doesn't catch hypothermia at her NIN concert (lawn tickets in the rain at 59º F, natch). At work an incident happened demonstrating how being part of one group does not give a person a magic ability to empathize with all other groups (also the shortcomings of [mostly white male] nerd culture from an ethical perspective). Anyway, there's books to talk about, let's do that instead of brooding.

The New Weird. Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2008.
Miéville, China. The City & the City. New York: Del Rey, 2009.

The New Weird is one of those anthologies that actually manages to have not only a purpose but also a point: to explicate the much-debated term "New Weird" and determine what it is, how it is, and whether it actually is at all. After reading this anthology, the closest I can come would be to say "Urban. Weird. Possibly nauseating. You know it when you see it." (Which is why I'm not sure the story "Watson's Boy" by Brian Evenson belongs here. Also it was excruciatingly boring, and reminded me of "The Cube," and I didn't bother finishing it.)

It's probably a strength of this collection, though, that almost all of the stories in here could be argued about as New Weird per se, particularly the entries in the "Precursors" section: we all create our own geneaologies of interest and influence, whether as writers or as readers. What makes this anthology a tour de force, though, is its contextualizing New Weird along multiple axes: historically, by including precursors to the mode, and diachronically, by reprinting an Internet discussion begun by M. John Harrison (apparently archived at K@thryn Cr@m3r's website, but I'm not going there) as well as several essays by participant authors and critics, and most intriguingly, a round-robin story by writers who don't write New Weird, including Sarah Monette and Hal Duncan, taking their own crack at interpreting what it means to them through their art.

I liked the round-robin story, "Festival Lives," quite a lot, especially by the end, but I was disturbed in how closely art seemed to anticipate life in that the story is very much a New Weird-ish take on the Mumbai terrorist attacks last November...which of course hadn't happened when the story was written. With the exception of Evenson, all the stories presented as "Evidence" are excellent (and the China Miéville story, "Jack," has a lot of detail on Half-a-Prayer, as well as on that perhaps quintessentially New Weird concept, the Remade). Some of the stories I did find faintly nauseating, which I tend to regard as a mark of talent, since only one book prior to this has induced nausea in me (Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) and which I think is a very interesting effect for a writer to aim to have on a reader, almost political, certainly polemic. I also particularly liked Darja Malcolm-Clarke's essay for her mentioning the grotesque vis-a-vis the New Weird, which I think is very important for understanding it.

China Miéville, of course, is the quintessential practitioner of the New Weird, but as his new book makes clear, he has left it behind, or perhaps it has moved on without him, and that's not a bad thing. The City & the City is set in the coexistent but divided cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, somewhere in eastern Europe, and it is blatantly a noir story: a pretty young woman turns up dead, and it's up to the hard-bolied but effective Tyador Borlú of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad to find out the truth of her murder, whether those in Beszel and Ul Qoma, and especially in Breach, that keeps the border between them, want the truth known or not.

I got an ARE of this book for free thanks to a contest on the Suvudu website (and in style: it turned up FedEx the day after I learned I had won), and I was particularly touched by the story of its genesis: Miéville's writing it for his dying mother, who loved detective fiction but didn't like the monsters in his earlier books. In a weird way, I kind of feel that my own mother arranged for me to receive the book, but that is immaterial to the fact that Miéville has written another awesome novel. He certainly does detective fiction proud, and at the level of story, it's excellently plotted, but of course what really makes it great are Miéville's characters and concepts. I'm not sure I can describe the truth of Beszel and Ul Qoma, of Breach and possibly Orciny, in any way that makes them intelligible, except to say that no cities are closer to each other and no cities are so far apart. Borlú and especially his assistant Corwi are awesome, and Miéville salts his narrative with enough telling details to make the reader thoroughly convinced that, if one does book a flight to Athens, one could come by plane or train eventually to Beszel or to Ul Qoma. I particularly want to read the Palahniuk novel he mentions, Diary of an Incile, but of course I can't (unless by chance I come to the Library of Dream), but surely the next best thing, or even better, is to read The City & the City.

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