(urth) the problem with gaiman, mieville, and pullman

Matthew Malthouse matthew.malthouse at ntlworld.com
Tue Nov 30 12:16:59 PST 2004

At 23:07 29/11/2004, Dan'l wrote:

[On Miéville's viewpoint and politics]
>He might well. I'm not saying that there is no serious political
>content; I'm saying that I'm not finding it. The internal politics
>of Bas-Lag seem sufficiently alien that I don't find much, as
>Tolkien called it, _applicability_ - let alone allegory! - to the
>"real" world.

I wonder if this might be because Miéville's political activity is in a 
minor left-wing British party that simply isn't recognisable (or even 
recognisable as politics) divorced from it's context.  The printing of 
subversive pamphlets and broad sheets, the workers movements and conflict 
that appear both in Perdido and Iron Council scream (simplistic and 
quasi-violent) politics to my English sensibilities.  They're the idiots I 
went to college with who'd swallowed the implausible logic of the party 
leaders wholesale.

A couple of months ago, immediately before I read Iron Council, I attended 
a bookshop reading where Miéville answered questions.  Two things he said 
stay with me.  First that he said of himself that he's a literary 
kleptomaniac, coming across an idea or thing he fancies he'll work it 
in.  Basilisk? Nice, have some of them. Golem? Spider? space warp? memory 
drug? mechanical intelligence? thow 'em all in.  And you can see it, pick 
out the "cute ideas" if you want to.

The other was that he wrote Iron Council because he wanted to write a 
western (cowboys and indians) but as a fantasy because verisimilitude 
wasn't his thing - the myth of the Wild West was something he wanted to use 
but not a genre he wanted to enter directly.

Having heard that I recognised it.  But I don't know if I would have done 
otherwise.  The religious impetus of the builder to drive across Bas-Lag in 
place of the capitalist expansion only makes a good metaphor if you agree 
with his political position that capitalism is inherently destructive.  The 
Lone Ranger subverted is a twist, if an implausible one, on the myth.  The 
hero against all odds shouldn't lose.  The uprising doesn't have a 
place.  The mayoralty of New Crobuzon is an inadequate allegory of East 
Coast politics unless your own view places you so far outside of that 
politics that you can't examine its detail so fall back on defining it as 
evil without explication.

I like Miéville; I like what he writes albeit Iron Council was rather less 
fun than either Perdido Street Station or The Scar.  But they are fun 
rather than great.  He isn't nearly such a good writer as he'd like to 
think he is and extending his kleptomania to Tolkein or Peake isn't 
sufficient to put him in their league.


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