- An Interview with China Miéville
Scholars entering the British Library in China Miéville’s novel Kraken (2010) might be alarmed by the large number of black cats outside the building. They seem to be gathering—marching, perhaps—with intent, while clouds of sparrows circle overhead in spookily deliberate formations. These are not stray animals but rather a crowd of familiars, the animals who serve London’s occult magicians; they are striking to protest their working conditions, led by an animate ancient Egyptian clay figurine.
Onboard the pirate city of Armada—comprised of thousands of commandeered vessels lashed together into a floating conglomeration—a young woman pauses in her work at the library, searching for coal to feed the combustion engine that has been grafted onto her amputated legs as punishment for some obscure crime, in The Scar (2002).
On a distant planet, far, far away, an alien creature with multiple eyes and two mouths struggles to say something that isn’t true, a formulation impossible within its unique language. A desperate human tries to teach it the idea of metaphor, in Embassytown (2011).
Welcome to the strange world of China Miéville, one of the U.K.’s most original and prolific writers. As these images suggest, his work fuses elements of science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, and magic with a commitment to leftist politics, a fascination with the workings of language, and an interest in genre. Michael Moorcock has called him “the current generation’s [End Page 417] finest writer of science fantasy” in the tradition of J. G. Ballard and M. John Harrison (Guardian May 30, 2009). Ursula K. Le Guin praised Embassytown, Miéville’s most recent novel for adults, as “a fully achieved work of art” (Guardian May 7, 2011).
Miéville is the author of seven novels for adults, two for younger readers, and a collection of short fiction. He also publishes literary criticism and journalism. His books have won every major fantasy and science fiction award: three-time winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, he has also won the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the British Fantasy Award. Miéville is best known as one of the leading authors associated with the New Weird, a literary movement distinguished by a signal blend of horror and fantasy, predominantly urban locations, and a rejection of some of the more conservative traditions associated with the fantasy genre. The City and The City (2009), a noir police procedural set in a world close to our own, where reality is tweaked just enough to take it into the realm of the fantastic, brought Miéville’s work to the attention of a broader readership, one that has come to include literary scholars and critics compelled by the aesthetic and political complexity of Miéville’s writing and his self-conscious interest in the workings of language and form.
China Miéville was born in Norwich, England but grew up in London, where he still lives. He majored in social anthropology at Cambridge for his B.A., and completed a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in international relations at the London School of Economics. His nonfiction book Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (2005) draws on his dissertation research, and he is one of the editors of the journal Historical Materialism.An active member of the Socialist Workers Party, Miéville ran for election as a Socialist Alliance candidate in 2001. Much of his work explores political themes and problems, or what Henry Farrell describes as “the tension between the political and the fantastic—how the fantastic imagination is trammeled by politics, tries and fails to escape politics, or, most rarely, reimagines politics” (n+1 March 2006).
Miéville’s fiction engages closely with genre in playful, sincere, deliberate, and experimental ways. It combines generic [End Page 418] cross-fertilization with deep respect for traditional narrative frameworks, particularly the “pulp” or lowbrow genres of sci-fi, horror, and adventure. Miéville has expressed frustration with the view, sometimes voiced by readers who value the sophisticated, literary elements of his writing, that his...