[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Henry Farrell, Host:
China Miéville is perhaps the most interesting and influential writer to emerge in science fiction, fantasy and horror (genres that he brings together under the title ‘weird fiction’) over the last fifteen years. His breakout book, Perdido Street Station blended fantasy, horror and science fictional elements, in its depiction of a corrupt and fantastical city, part London and part Buenos Aires, under threat from escaped ‘slakemoths.’ Its sequels, The Scar and Iron Council revisited this city and the world surrounding it. His recent book The City and the City, which brings together noir detective fiction and a very particular kind of fantasy, won the World Fantasy Award. The New York Times ran a good profile of Miéville a few weeks ago.
His newest book, Kraken isn’t as literarily ambitious as The City and the City was. What it is is hugely enjoyable. In some ways, it’s a return to the early New Crobuzon books, where the sheer exuberance of Miéville’s imagination, and delight in creating new monsters rubbed up against the general grimness of his imagined politics – but this time with most of the grimness leached out. There is politics there – but it is for the most part in the background. This is a book that reads as though it was enormous fun to write. It certainly is enormous fun to read. To cite just one among many scenes, the moment where two of the most thoroughly unpleasant villains that I’ve ever seen in the genre) emerge for the first time is dazzling – but to reveal exactly how they emerged would be to spoil the surprise.
This is a more general problem for people (like me) who want to talk about the book to people who haven’t read it. Miéville pulls surprise after surprise out of the book, like a conjurer pulling coloured scarves, then ping pong balls, then bunny rabbits, and finally a couple of surprised and rather indignant elephants out of his sleeve. Telling you about the elephants in advance would ruin the trick. I can say that among many other things, the book discusses a kidnapped squid, a curator in search of same, unusual (and ultimately quite unpleasant) forms of origami, the labor relations between magically animated helpers and their creators, talking Captain Kirk figurines, visceral prophecies, and the historical importance of Charles Darwin. As well as many, many cults. To find out more, you’ll have to read it.
Some questions and topics for China to get the ball rolling:
Religion is a major theme of the book. You’re an explicitly irreligious writer, but (with one significant exception), you seem quite sympathetic to the various religiously inclined characters. This is an issue where there’s a lot of disagreement among atheist and agnostic lefties, liberals and sort-of-liberals – some people (e.g. Richard Dawkins) saying that you should make a strong and uncompromising case for science, and against the irrationality of religious belief, others advocating various forms of accommodation, respect, or at least engagement. Obviously Kraken isn’t setting out a political position on this question – but I imagine that it’s at least a little bit influenced by your own thoughts on how to talk with religious people. How do you think that atheists and agnostics ought to talk to those who believe in God or Gods? Should they be talking at all?
An observation leading on from the first question – when I read about the various sects in the book, with their clashing understandings of when and how the end of the world was going to come about, I was reminded of the world of small socialist groups, factions, parties and tendencies. You see the same sorts of rivalries over how the end (of capitalism – not of the world) is likely to come about, mixed with an implicit recognition that the groups have a lot more in common with each other than with the society that they work in. This is a world that you’re very familiar with (as well as being a Socialist yourself, you’re fascinated by leftwing groups with unusual beliefs (such as Juan Posadas’ mix of saucer cultism and Marxism). Are there connections there, intended or unintended?
Can you expand a bit on what you once wrote for the Guardian
When I was moving into my new house a few years ago we were having all our kitchen stuff delivered and my then-partner got off the phone, turned to me and said ‘the fridge men are coming,’” explains Miéville. “Now, it seems to me that there are two kinds of people: those that hear that sentence and think ‘oh good, delivery of the white goods’, and then there’s those people who imagine a kind of enormous cyborg thing…”
I read Kraken as having a lot to say about this – I’m not only thinking of your use fridge-men style literalized puns (such as the knuckleheads – men who have allowed themselves to be transformed so that their heads are clenched fists), but your suggestion that the hidden economy of London runs in part on the exchange of original and off-kilter metaphors (the bit where Billy Harrow sells the key). How does this broader theory of the imagination tie into the specific things you are trying to do Kraken?
A variation on the hackneyed ‘what are your influences’ question. If you think about Kraken as a move in a conversation with other writers inside genre and outside it, who are the writers (if any) who you are using it to talk to? And what are you trying to say to them?
That should do for starters …