Welcome China Miéville, and Host Henry Farrell.

[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 …

100 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes China Miéville, Kraken”

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Hi China and others. When I wrotw those questions a few weeks ago, China had not yet won the Hugo for Best Novel (together with Paolo Bacigalupi. Yay China!

egregious September 26th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Welcome to Firedoglake – glad you could join us today!

BevW September 26th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

China, Welcome to the Lake.

Henry, Welcome back and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

dakine01 September 26th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Good afternoon China and welcome to FDL this afternoon and welcome back Henry and nice intro

China, I enjoy sic-fi and fantasy though usually not so much on the horror side of things but Kraken was a great read. There seemed to be a number of conventions that got a bit twisted such as the city/place of power as an example of this

Can you see a series of books in a similar vein using the older cities around the world as locales for variations on this theme or is it a one off?

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Thank you very much to FDL for having me, and to Henry for his generous introduction and questions. Brief answers to those, to get the ball rolling:

As you infer, I have very little patience with the Dawkins/Hitchens/et al position that posits religion as an intellectual error, though I’m not a person of faith myself. I know they see themselves as the heirs of the enlightenment, but I would see that approach rather as a degraded parody of the best aspects of that tradition, stripped as it is of sociological nous or human empathy. The specifics of how I view religion we can get into, if people are interested, but the short answer is I have respect for it, I’m fascinated by faith, and the main thing is I’m interested in how people behave, not, on the whole, on what they believe *in isolation*, abstracted from their behaviour.

I know several people have seen comparisons between the cults and the left wing groups in London – I guess micropolitics are similar across different arena, but it’s a comparison I think risks being simplistic, and it wasn’t deliberate (which isn’t to say it wasn’t there, necessarily, of course).

The question of metaphor is huge, and maybe I can say a bit more about as we go on.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:06 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 5

Last quick response to Henry for now – which authors is this a conversation with? The main one that I’m conscious of straight off the bat was Pynchon, and it was largely a respectful homage to his notion of ‘kute korrespondences’ – the economy of metaphor, that I wanted to literalise as magic.

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Thank you, gentlemen.

This is a wonderful, spectacular novel. The world you’ve created is extraordinary. Can you type a little about how you invent such a world for inhabitants of your fiction? Is there a big org chart somewhere in your work room, showing who all these players are and how they know one another and have interacted over the years?

I especially liked Ms Collingswood — will she appear in another effort of yours, do you suppose?

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:09 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Hi dakine01,

I’m very glad you liked the book. I saw Kraken, at least consciously, as a one-off, in terms of the specifics of this book’s universe, because it already jostles quite a lot, I think- it’s an undisciplined book – and I think I’d be exhausted, as would, perhaps, readers, to continue such crowded urban fantasia and viral it around the world. But then, the thematic of hte city as a setting for the magic (of metaphor) is obviously something that shares across a lot of the stuff I do, so at that larger thematic level, certainly there will be more cities, more of these dream-logics. Plus, at a simpler level, the response to (in particular) Collingswood has been so positive, there is a temptation to bring her back, I confess. She might go travelling. I’ve learnt never to say never.

dakine01 September 26th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 8

Yeah, Collingswood does seem a character that could both cause and get into a lot of mischief in a lot of different places

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Yeah – I’m conscious of the need to avoid spoilers, but there is a key figure in the book who seems like a bizarro-world Dawkins – someone whose need is not necessarily to believe anything in particular, but to have something to believe. I’ve just been reading James Scott’s “The Art of Not Being Governed,” which has a chapter on the ways in which millenarian movements in South-East Asia serve as a means of social mobilization among people who have few other tools to organize themselves.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:13 pm
In response to Teddy Partridge @ 7

HI Teddy Partridge,

Thank you, I’m delighted by your response, and yes, you imagine exactly right – there is a big chart on the wall of my room, when I’m writing a book like this. All the books differ in various ways, including, largely, the questions of the systematicity of and boundaries of the magic. This one in particular was always conceived as very full, very fecund, I guess, not really in thrall to the idea that less is more, so it was very sprawling and took a lot of scribbles to keep track. I never just write without knowing where I”m going – the narrative was pretty rigorously planned in advance (whether that shows is another question).

And that’s funny you say that about Collingswood – she’s the person on whom there are most possibilities for returning. As I’ve said before, though, while I certainly don’t nix the idea, I am made very anxious by geek culture’s tendency to undermine the stuff it likes by refusing to leave it alone, by constantly going back over old ground, by writing *too many* bloody books in a favourite setting. (The Boba Fett Syndrome – he’s the most popular because best character, so you keep putting him in more films until he’s *ruined*…) So while I might go back, I’d only do so if I thought it wouldn’t undermine what was already there.

dakine01 September 26th, 2010 at 2:14 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 10

Same problem – I love the fiction but struggle on how much to give away.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:14 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 10

Hi Henry,

Yes, again, without spoilers (I don’t know how to render certain names etc invisibly behind a cut, or whatever), you are precisely right. I know exactly which character you’re talking about, and you are quite right, s/he is a broken-mirror reflection of Dawkins in my mind.

Siun September 26th, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Welcome to FDl China.

It’s a particular treat to have you here as your books are at the top of my lists of favorites.

I liked Henry’s religion though immediately thought that throughout all your work I see a considerable sympathy for the human and the variations of such you create.

I’m curious whether you see Kraken as the romp many reviewers identify it as – it certainly has tons of fun but the dark is there as well?

dakine01 September 26th, 2010 at 2:15 pm

China, the ending seemed both an embrace of redemption and a running away from it. Was that your goal or am I an idiot?

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:17 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 10

I just find the whole notion of picking at people’s beliefs at the very minimum rude, and at increasingly concrete levels i) disingenuous (there are plenty of, including secular, beliefs, that are absurd to those who don’t share them), ii) cherry-picking (there are *always* certain belief-systems singled out for particular opprobrium, like Islam at the moment), iii) unhelpful, and iv) not just theologically but sociologically illiterate. Religion consists of truth claims, certainly, but the notion that they’re *the same kind of* truth claims, simply, as those of science, and that therefore when those are disproved one can treat religion as an intellectual error is just startlingly ridiculous to me.

September 26th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Given giant squids and (ir)religiosity in the book, PZ Myers surely had something to say about it!

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:19 pm
In response to Siun @ 14

Hi Siun, & thank you –
Sure, I think of it as a comedy, a romp, a shaggy-god story – but an apocalypse one. A dark one, certainly. Bleak-but-fun? Millennial Yuks? Something like that. And lots of the ideas in it are, I hope, serious and thoughtful and so on, if prodded. (particularly the religion/faith stuff, and the metaphor stuff.) There’s no contradiction there, of course.

Rayne September 26th, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Thanks so much China and Henry for being here today. I’ve not read any fiction for quite a while; this was a wonderful break from my rather dry and desperate streak of non-fiction. Thank you, China, for the rescue.

I think this is a book I will read out loud with my teenage kids; they have been standing over my shoulder wanting at this book since I got it, eager to read it. They’re rather piqued with me at the moment for having mentioned Leon’s “disappearance” in chapter 9. It’s rather nice to find a book which excites them about speculative fiction.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:21 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 15

Dakine01, well, my intention, while not unimportant, I hope, is hardly the whole story (intentional fallacy, &c), but fwiw, Yes, absolutely you’re right, I hope the ending is very much an (anti)redemption. And a sympathetic one – the book teases a lot of stuff, but I hope sympathetically.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:21 pm
In response to Rayne @ 19

Rayne, of course I’m delighted to hear it. It’s quite swear-y. I hope that doesn’t bother you. I grew up with a potty-mouth and a fairly laissez-faire household (on that axis, if not all), so I am afraid my filter on such is weak.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:23 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 17

Hi Kelly, ooh, interesting. I don’t know. It’s amazing how many cephalopod geeks there are out there. (Speaking as one I can say that, in solidarity.) Every time there’s any squid/octopus/cuttlefish/nautilus/argonaut-related story in the news ever, at all, I get a thousand emails pointing me to it in my inbox. It’s very sweet. I have my friends well-trained.

Siun September 26th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I’m still giggling over many of the puns and references – and realizing I missed many as well since I know London little but even more I loved a number of the characters – like Teddy, Kath is marvelous – and Marge feels so close to many of us perhaps who feel a bit dragged into the political and seeing how bad things are, just keep going even if it’s not the work we would have chosen.

Rayne September 26th, 2010 at 2:24 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 21

Um, your characters swear nowhere near as much as I do, China.

My daughter found fault with John Travolta’s acting in a recent role because of the way he dropped the F-bomb. Not convincing, she said.

I think she meant he was less practiced than her mother.

That said, you and I both cannot swear as much as the average American teenager in public schools today. Send Collingswood to school and see what she picks up. Yeesh.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:25 pm
In response to Rayne @ 24

Well there is a section later where she and others engage quite explicitly in a swear-off. I love swearing. I think it is hilarious and delightful.

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 2:26 pm

On Collingswood – I remember that you once mentioned that an early draft of Iron Council had a militiaman character, who you abandoned because he was _too obviously_ an attempt to show that there were human beings on the other side of the struggle you were depicting. Collingswood seems to work pretty well though (and not only because the rozzers aren’t the New Crobuzon militia) as someone who isn’t entirely a nice person (you see why she ended up in the police force), but who ends up being an attractive and interesting character nonetheless.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:27 pm
In response to Siun @ 23

Siun, great to hear. This book was much sillier than a lot of my others, at least in my head, and part of the pleasure was precisely playing fast and loose with ridiculous puns. That said, there’s also a sense in which some of those puns – the knuckleheads, for example – are a way of ruminating on and riffing off the theories of metaphor that Henry’s already hinted at, and that really underpin pretty much the whole book for me.

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

PZ Myers (as China likely does not know) is a prominent science blogger (and mate of Richard Dawkins) who takes a strong and uncompromising view on the religion question. And is big into squids.

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 2:28 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 26

Kath’s attitude toward her boss gave me hope for underlings everywhere.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:29 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 26

I’m glad to hear it. I like her – I hope she’s rendered so that she’s hard not to like – but she’s, as you say, not particularly nice, though nor is she particularly ideologically driven, one way or the other. Her and the other cops in the book weren’t rendered for any explicit attempt to ‘show both sides of the story’, in particular, as because this book – in stark contradiction to the one that went before – was one in which points-of-view(s) viral, so it would be illogical to keep them out, and because from the point of view of narrative we gained a fair bit from seeing from within their offices, etc. But yes, that meant considering these people whose structural positions were neither my characters’, nor mine.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:31 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 28

Pshaw! Not know who Myers is indeed! When it comes to the philosophy of science, I am far more of a Steven Rose-ite than a Dawkinsian (I think Lifelines is one of the most absolutely beautiful expositions of emergence, scientific complexity and emancipatory reason I’ve ever read, and his more polemical political science books are great barbed interventions, too) but that wouldn’t preclude reaching out to a fellow ceph-geek in our admiration for the tentacular.

September 26th, 2010 at 2:32 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 26

…someone who isn’t entirely a nice person (you see why she ended up in the police force), but who ends up being an attractive and interesting character nonetheless.

But isn’t that a hallmark of craft on the part of the writer? To my mind characters are more compelling when they’re more real, and as is generally the case the good guy has some faults, the bad guy has some virtues.

Particularly when they are “multi-dimensional” so to say. :)

Siun September 26th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

You mentioned growing up – and I have to say that from the time I discovered Perdido Street Station – and as someone who writes myself (here at FDL – on Iraq and such) and the mum of a good writer – I keep being amazed at how your brain much work (or flow?). I read mostly SF (KS Robinson, Banks, etc)so speculation is not alien to me but rather comfortable – still, when I read your works, I keep repeating “how did he imagine this?” Which is a roundabout way to ask if there were influences in your childhood or such that made your imagination so agile?

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

(I should say that judging by the recent exchange I saw on youtube, Rose and Dawkins are, if not mates, certainly respectful and amiable-enough interlocutors. The disagreements are political and theoretical, at least ostensibly, rather than personal. Of course, they may just have been making nice for the cameras.)

BevW September 26th, 2010 at 2:32 pm
Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

And on the cephalopod stuff – when I emailed Paul Krugman to chat about this book, I titled the email ‘squidporn.’ He immediately presumed that the message had to be about Goldman Sachs. There’s a story in there somewhere – H.P. Lovecraft meets the genuinely nameless and inimical entities at the heart of global capitalism …

Siun September 26th, 2010 at 2:35 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 36

Now that is too wonderful for words!

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:35 pm
In response to Siun @ 33

Siun, I suspect I’m uniquely badly placed to judge, to be honest. I mean, I’m sure there were such influences, and my Mum was always completely supportive of pretty much whatever I was interested in, but I’m not very able to trace those influences back beyond a certain point. I always loved Lovecraft, for example. Always? Well no – from the point I read him. So why did I love him when I read him, instantly? No idea. I can attempt post-facto theorising, but the fact is there’s always a kind of irreducible black box to our predilections. One thing that I suspect distinguishes geeks is that we have great fidelity to our interests. I found a box of pictures and poems I’d done when I was very young the other day – like 3 years old. And they were the exact, exact same stuff I’m into now. Octopuses in space. (that’s a literal description of one of the pictures). And my mum, while not antipathetic, was largely amiably bemused by such stuff. Why and how I got into it really truly originally, I’ve no idea.

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I should have known that you would have recognized Myers’ name – forgot that you’re an occasional participant in the blogosphere.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:37 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 36

Cephalopods have always been astonishingly and uniquely polyvalent symbols. See the magnificent website for scads of fabulous examples. See also this, for my favourite recent example, a supposed dis this particular ceph-fan would wear happily.

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 2:38 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 38

You acknowledge someone named Jemima Mieville — is this a sister, I wondered? And how did your parents come up with such cool names?

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:38 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 40

oops, sorry, missed my links. They were this and this.

Rayne September 26th, 2010 at 2:39 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 25

Oh lovely, I’ll look forward to it as I am only about 1/3rd of the way through the book. My son will commit it to memory when he reads it, I’m sure.

I did want to say that the squid-god had an emotional appeal based on my ethnic heritage. Hawaiians revered the squid god, who was aligned with or a subset of the great god Kane. Although I should point out that this lesser god was associated with darker forces, a shadowy figure.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Jemima is my sister, yes. My mother and father were hippies, and they picked names on that basis. Jemima isn’t as unusual as China – I guess they’d calmed down a bit by then (she’s slightly younger). My name is cockney rhyming slang for ‘mate’ – as in ‘China Plate = Mate’. You still, very occasionally, hear older Londoners call each other ‘my old China’, though it’s pretty antiquated these days – though still au courant, I believe, in South Africa.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:41 pm
In response to Rayne @ 43

Is that Kanaloa? I’m very interested in those cultural traditions that riff off the octopus and the squid, but in truth part of what I love about them is that in my own cultural tradition, they have very few folkloric resonances at all, which is, I think, what made them such fecund figures as they got introduced into literature in a big way from the late 19thCentury and on

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:43 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 39

Hardly really a participant, my own online presence is minimal-to-nil – but I do read a lot of blogs, including (though not regularly) Myers’.

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Maybe you can talk a little more about those theories of metaphor. Not to say that the book is ‘about’ anything, any more than any book is about anything, but it did seem to me that this was an especially important set of themes running through the book, and that there was some significant degree of authorial intent to that …

Rayne September 26th, 2010 at 2:47 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 45

Yes, Kanaloa, but if memory serves there are other names or references. He’s supposed to be cited in the epic Hawaiian poem the Kumulipo, the equivalent of the Book of Genesis.

I think the challenge is the identity of squid versus octopus; there may be different names depending on which form the god takes.

The god has revealed a secret to me. Kanaloa makes a mighty tasty sandwich at the Kona Inn in Kailua-Kona. All hail the crispy deep-fried sweet flesh of the god on a homemade bun!

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:47 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 32

Kelly, I’m interested in the idea of characters being ‘real’. I don’t think I mind necessarily whether or not characters seem real – I certainly don’t mind if I understand them! I do care if they’re uninteresting. (of course sometimes that dovetails nicely with ‘real’, but not always (cf Beckett, for eg.))

Siun September 26th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

If not too off topic, China, could you comment on your politics and where you see us as sitting these days? Apocalyse seems way too close at the moment and I’m curious if you see next steps for activists such as FDL readers?

As Americans, we’re of course trapped in a two party lock which leaves little room for change.

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 2:50 pm
In response to Rayne @ 48

That could make a mighty appetizing squid-host at communion-time indeed.

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 2:52 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 49

Byrne was the character I had the hardest time with, I think, since I couldn’t understand her motivation, other than love. Not to give too much away, but how does a woman get herself in such a quandary, do you think?

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:52 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 47

Henry, yeah, I’ve been very interested in metaphor for several years, and it’s been cropping up in the books (and does in ones not yet out). I don’t know that I can say that much super-rigorous about it, but basically I got interested in, in distinction to some of my other ‘fantasy’ novels, the idea of magic as a literalised metaphor, which means that it’s not subject to an external system of rules, but instead becomes about a constant sense of making connections. The making of those connections being the point, rather than the excavation of existing ones. And I like that because it’s an exaggerated and literalised model of what the human mind does all the time. Sympathetic magic is the logic of simile – this is like that. Do something to this, it will have an effect on that. Transformative magic seems to me metaphoric – this becomes that. Sometimes these metaphors are very obvious – the comb becomes the forest. Sometimes they demand a moment of decoding – Achilles is a lion. and sometimes their lack of obviousness is the point. However, for the most part, as they say in Kraken, given that these work by persuasion (of the universe), their logic tends to be a bit trite. And this kind of rather lumpen comparative logic seems to me at the heart of much fantasy, in a literalised way, and also of enormous wads of ‘literary’ fiction, though not literalised – instead, at a plodding organisational formal level, in which activity X in the book (often excitingly ethnic and othered) becomes, crash, ‘a symbol for’ something else. Often the protagonists life, or whatnot. This is what I think Pynchon was teasing with Kute Korrespondences, and it was something I wanted to play with.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:54 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 47

I can easily say more about this, but for the moment suffice to say that I find metaphor endlessly fascinating and undertheorised – and unlike, insofar as I understand it, Deleuze and Guattari, I see no need as a Leftist to disapprove of or stand in opposition to metaphor. Rather the opposite. But that doesn’t mean not teasing it. Nor surrendering to the nostrums that surround it. I’m a big fan, for example, of mixed metaphors, which seem to me to get a very hard time, unjustifiably. I also think – but I”m treading on my own toes, because some stuff coming out next year goes over a bit of this in a more systematic way and less playfully/teasingly.

September 26th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 49

Certainly. One dimensional characters are/can be quite uninteresting.

It must be fun to put warts on characters, or make an otherwise good guy do something completely dastardly. Or draw some halo on Cthulu.

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 2:56 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 36

You know Atrios (Duncan Black at Eschaton) calls Paul Krgthulu, right?

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I’m not sure I’d say anything, or meant anything, about how ‘a woman’, qua woman, gets herself in this situation. In the case of Byrne, I conceived of the situation as one starting with intellectual fascination with a certain set of problems combined with professional respect, which then segues into a kind of love. I’ve been interested for a while in the surrender to service that characterises a kind of abject loyalty. I don’t like it, but I”m interested in it.

Whether or not it’s presuasively rendered, of course, is a totally different question.

Rayne September 26th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I think that’s why the Hawaiians “made” so many of their most familiar and most often eaten prey into gods. They respected these creatures who gave them sustenance; every meal literally was communion since they lived so closely in tune with the sea and the land.

But that’s pretty common among indigenous and pagan peoples.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:01 pm
In response to Siun @ 50

Not sure if this is off-topic either! I really couldn’t and wouldn’t presume I know enough about FDL readers to offer ‘advice’ in that way. It’s true that I see the two-party system as massively detrimental to activism in the US. My own politics tend towards grass-roots activity. Which means picking the most important wedge issues and intervening as hard as possible. At the moment, my own feeling about US politics – and I say this, of course, as someone who’s not there all the time – is that the key issues I’d want to intervene in at a grassroots level are the Mideast issue, and the unbelievable wave of racism against Muslims. To this end, I see the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ issue as probably the one that has most galvanised me recently – and it’s one in which, of course, the Dems have hardly covered themselves in glory. Harry Reid, for my money, should not be allowed to forget this particular complicity with bigotry. And in turn, Obama’s respectful reaction to Reid was not ok with me.

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 3:02 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 57

Of course it’s persuasively rendered, that’s what made me so unconfortable with her, I imagine: she was all-in, in a way that I also dislike in its abjectness. That surrender to another seems to dehumanize, and discount the potential contributions of s/he who so surrenders.

Can’t say much more without spoiling things for others, I suppose, but Byrne was the character I carried away from the book noodling over more than any other. Thanks for that.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:02 pm
In response to Siun @ 50

I’ll just add that for me, I find this a pretty bleak time politically. I’m feeling more embattled now than I did under Bush/Blair. More pugnacious too, and certainly not without hope – but hardly dancing a tarantella either.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

That’s great to hear, I’m truly pleased you thought so.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:07 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 55

As I get older and write more, certain aspects of writing become more interesting to me, and some less. You can never do without plot or character of course, except in some really ostentatiously avant-garde writing (with which, I should add, there’s nothing wrong, and which I often enjoy reading, but which I don’t think is my own metier). But I’d be lying if I said they were my key draws. I think about character and plot at a later stage of invention – I start with images, emotional tenor, setting, and grotesquerie, then overlay other stuff.

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Another question about working habits, if you don’t mind?

Along with the character chart, do you work with a map on the wall, or do you know London well enough to write about it from the map in your head? Does anyone check your geography for you, as characters go from here to there?

Siun September 26th, 2010 at 3:11 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 61

A very apt description of how many of us feel here at FDL I think …

the intensive racism of the Mosque issue is rather stunning – and quite a sign of how far we’ve moved from even minimal lip service to some form of civilized tolerance …

since the Mideast is my “beat” here, I’d agree but also point to FDL’s great work on marijuana legalization which is moving in rather fascinating ways outside the party frame to draw in many who have been disillusioned on the activist front

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:13 pm

For this book, I referred reasonably often to a map. But I refer a lot more to maps of the places I invent (maps I draw), because there’s more chance I’ll get that stuff wrong. In some books that question of ‘internal rigour’ is very important. In others less so. Personally I think the London of King Rat is a lot more ‘real’ than the one of Kraken, which, though there are no obvious inventions or flaws in, is I think more ‘dreamlike’ than the former.

I’m also, increasingly, symptomatically or diagnostically interested in the anxiety some readers have about this issue of ‘coherence’ and rigour. I like the way M. John Harrison provokes such readers in his Viriconium books by, for example, changing the maps midway through a story, or changing the very name of the city. As if demanding people ask themselves quite why a hankering for unchanging systematicity in an invented, non-existent place is actually a desideratum. It’s a very intriguing question to ask.

Rayne September 26th, 2010 at 3:13 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 63

Ah, that’s fascinating, that’s why the access to archetypal themes like the squid-god — images and emotion are deep in bone, in the genome.

But I personally think that’s where religion comes from, too. It melds memetics which serve to keep us safe from the things we fear at our most primal level with memetics that serve as our human operating system (i.e., culture and ethics).

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
In response to Siun @ 65

Heh. As one thoroughly uninterested in marijuana for personal use, I’d say avanti and good luck, and no thanks, I’m good.

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 66

Well, maps are rules; all universes (books) need rules.

Or do they?

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 3:17 pm

The one thing which I think that people in the US do not appreciate is how much the anti-Muslim wave is happening across the advanced industrialized countries. Obviously in the Netherlands with Wilders – but also the French right (where it blends in with anti-Roma sentiment), and Germany where I suspect we are going to see CDU dissidents start up an anti-immigrant party in the very near future, which in contrast to others in the past, may escape getting banned.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:18 pm
In response to Rayne @ 67

Truth is that I’m not really a believer in archetypes. Certainly not as pre-existing or procrustean beds on which culture is wedged.

That doesn’t, of course, mean scepticism towards memes, which are clearly vastly important and formative. Just, perhaps, a certain set of theories about whence and wither such memes.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I think they’ll tend to generate at least protocols, if not rules. But there’s no necessary reason those rules should be fidelity to invented maps. It’s the opening up of that question that I like, whether one likes such fidelity or not (I’m agnostic – it depends, case to case, for me).

September 26th, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Same thing with Symphonies. While one plays them.

Where do they go when they’re not being played/read, these symphonies and maps and characters and books?

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:20 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 70

Yeah. I’m always vaguely intrigued by the way someone who’s been a political activist for 25 years can still be politically shocked. And the tenor of the despite towards Muslims at the moment I find incredibly shocking.

Siun September 26th, 2010 at 3:23 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 70

The dramatic shift in western countries is striking … I thought we have moved a bit beyond our desperate clutch on the belief that our countries were as they appeared on tv in the 50s but it feels like a desperate last gasp (one hopes)

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

On rules and maps – I remember M.J. Harrison getting enormously offended at one point when some poor unsuspecting bastard wandered onto the old TTAPress boards and asked him if he had ever considered licensing a Viriconium role playing game. While you’ve occasionally pulled the piss out of roleplayers, you seem to quite like the idea of someone doing a New Crobuzon rpg. So do to ask the coherence/rigor question another way – do you ever see yourself writing a book that _couldn’t_ be turned into an RPG.

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

And I’d personally be a bit less hopeful than Siun at 70. There were a lot of people in 2008 who thought that the economic crisis might make way for another FDR. Instead, we seem to be getting some of the less pleasant bits of the 1930s.

felixh September 26th, 2010 at 3:27 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 73

Maybe, if there are flaws or insconsistencies in the rules of a fictionary universe, we’re afraid the characters we grew to love by reading the book / watching the show don’t have a proper place to live when we close the book / switch off the tv…

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:27 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 76

I like the idea, certainly. I was always interested in experimental writing, and that’s an interest that’s grown in recent years, and I’ve been reading a lot more of it. Thing is I also come out of pulp (indeed out of roleplaying), and end up triangulating or oscillating or slipping or [fill in preferred metaphor for movement here] between them. But I like the idea of doing something very evasive of the way that kind of systematisation would work. But not as a point of principle – only insofar and because and if what that gains you in terms of fiction and writing and its effects and the way it works is worth it. But certainly I’d be interested in trying to stretch some of those possibilities, whether from ‘within’ Bas-Lag or not.

Siun September 26th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Not so hopeful Henry … but after a lifetime in this activist mode, gotta keep going, eh?

which is why I like Marge so much!

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:30 pm
In response to felixh @ 78

I think that’s very perspicacious. Which of course just kicks the issue back one level. They never had anywhere to live! They’re not real! Which is why the idea of characters ‘making sense’ or ‘being believable’ or, my personal favourite, being ‘understandable’ is so absurd to me. I don’t ‘understand’ my own motivation, half the time, much less that of my friends, let alone strangers in the street. Try to ‘understand’ the motivation of a completely invented function is a category error, and that anxiety you describe isn’t a given – it comes from somewhere, and we feel it for reasons to do with the politics of narrative. What those reasons are, how far back they go, how manipulable they are, are open questions.

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 3:31 pm

China – what is happening with anti-Muslim politics in the UK? I get the sense as an outsider that it has not become a source of political mobilization in the same way as in other countries, although there is clearly a certain strand of intellectual life (i.e. Amis, Hitchens etc) which has gotten very nasty. And which brings us back in a roundabout way to the anti-religious tendency.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:38 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 82

My schematic response would be that it’s not as utterly and overtly toxic as it’s become in the US, and that intellectual strand of bullying that you describe is defensive enough that it constantly represents itself as being ‘under attack’ (generally from, say it with me, Political Correctness Gone Mad(tm)) and thus a rather racy and daring saying of the unsayable, rather than as an absolutely everyday and default prejudice recited with tedious abandon in every pub. There’s still a great deal of pathologisation of Islam and Muslims, and it remains a prejudice which soi-disant liberals can (and do) get behind. Where it gets more overt and nasty in the UK is in our right-wing press.

However. The big shift recently has been the (resistable and resisted but nonetheless ongoing, if not without countervailing tugs) rise of the EDL, the English Defence League, who are an amalgam of football thugs and fascists who are mobilising very explicitly and distinctly as anti-muslim streetfighters, and who purport to have no problems with any other ‘ethnics’ or indeed other minorities (they claim to have a gay caucus). Of course, on demos many of their members forget these claims in their exuberant hatemongering chants. But the point is that the EDL are a very clear attempt by a wing of the far-right nostalgic for streetbattles now the BNP’s gone all electoral and civilized (that was sarcasm, to be clear), to mobilise numbers, to do it violently, and to do it by reference very specifically to Islam (and its ‘assault on Englishness’, etc etc, repeat to fade. You know the drill).

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 3:39 pm

And one very mildly hopeful moment in the anti-Muslim surge was the well-deserved kicking that Martin Peretz has been getting for his bigotry (including some reasonably serious protests at the ceremony supposed to honor him in Harvard). This is the first time to my knowledge that anyone has suffered at all for expressing this kind of bigotry (which fact is also obviously a source of pessimism as well as optimism).

felixh September 26th, 2010 at 3:41 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 81

I guess it’s just that people like some kind of (actually, probably more like a lot of) orderliness, be in their own lifes or in the lifes of the persons they “create” by reading a novel. That’s probably why people get uncomfortable by the idea of something like quantum physics – a cat that’s alive AND dead at the same time? It just doesn’t fit with your everyday experiences, just like Captain Picard being Borg in one episode and in the next being alive and well and in love with Cmdr. Crusher… it’s just inconsistent. Now, you could transfer this idea to a political level and consider the human strive (obsession?) for orderliness/fear of change as the root of conservative ideology/ideas, but that’s just an idea…

Siun September 26th, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I have to run but thank you Henry and China for a good time … and China for another great book (with mentions of “more to come” noted!)

Firepups – read Kraken, then read the rest – a wondrous body of work!

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:44 pm
In response to felixh @ 85

Maybe. Or more likely, maybe sometimes, but not others. Sometimes reaction rules through terror and contingency, and fables of stability, rules and predictable narrative might have emancipatory kernels. Or not. Or something in between. Etc! I do think that the insistence that a story, as a matter of policy, ‘reflect’ real life, in the sense of ‘appear to us to be a recitation of something plausible’ is just bizarre and question-begging.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:45 pm
In response to Siun @ 86

Siun – thanks so much, and thanks for coming.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:49 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 84

Yeah. I mean, I’m glad it’s kicked off somewhat. It really does feel, though, like a contest to see how far one could go, with Peretz discovering the limit point and getting a little – let’s be clear, totally inadequately – spanked, rather than any systematic outrage at the unbelievable racism of it. So I mean – thankful for small mercies. I’m with Glenn Greenwald on this, as with on so much recently.

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Back to the book – are there any jokes or references in Kraken that people haven’t gotten yet, or at least haven’t told you if you’ve gotten them? And if so – any hints?

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:51 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 90

Ha. Good question. I can’t recall exactly. I sometimes forget what I put in. So far as I know only one person’s pointed out the sustained riff on William Hope Hodgson.

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
In response to Henry Farrell @ 90

If anything it’s more of a negative – people point out comparisons I don’t see. I’m happy to cite Gaiman as an influence, for example, and have done more than once, notably in Un Lun Dun, where he’s thanked by name. But I’ve seen several reviews that have compared Kraken to Neverwhere, and that, honestly, astonishes me. And the claim, as part of that, that Goss & Subby are like Valdemar and Croup – well, I get that there are two of them and they speak slightly funny, but I don’t see it as a comparison myself at all. There is a long, long tradition of weird, vaguely unreal villainous duos, especially in fantastic fiction. This isn’t meant as disavowal, please let me stress, and nor am I saying I’m the repository of wisdom about hte book – I’m only saying that to me, this doesn’t feel at all, and wasn’t in any conscious level at all, a Gaiman-ian book, let alone a riff on Neverwhere. And were it, I’d be proud to say so, honest to god.

BevW September 26th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

China, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending your evening with us discussing your new book.

Henry, Thank you very much for returning and Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information,
China’s website
Henry’s website

Thanks all,
Have a great week!

China Mieville September 26th, 2010 at 3:56 pm
In response to BevW @ 93

Thank you enormously much for having me, to Henry for his questions and MCing, and to everyone else for coming by. It’s been a great pleasure and a privilege to come along.

Rayne September 26th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Thanks again, China and Henry. I’m very happy to recommend this book to all my reading friends, has been a treat to read so far and am looking forward to more from China.

Phoenix Woman September 26th, 2010 at 3:57 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 91

Ah, The House on the Borderland!

Have a good night’s sleep, China!

Henry Farrell September 26th, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Many thanks China (and Bev for putting this together).

felixh September 26th, 2010 at 3:59 pm
In response to China Mieville @ 87

Thanks for a very interesting discussion @ China, Henry & everybody else. Still have to finish the book, though. :) Cheers from Germany!

Teddy Partridge September 26th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Many thanks to host and author-guest, and to Bev for these wonderful Salons.

To all: This is a book you should buy and read if you haven’t. It transported me to a place and way of thinking I’d never experienced before. Highly recommended.

egregious September 26th, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Wonderful salon – thanks all!

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