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What I’m reading

November 28th, 2004

The Scar by China Mieville. Slightly out of order as I read Iron Council first, so I could write a review as part of a mini-symposium that will be held at Crooked Timber Real Soon Now. This is quite an exciting venture for me, both as something relatively new in blogging and as my first move into full-length fiction reviewing.

Coming back to The Scar, I found it, in many ways, the most enjoyable of Mieville’s books considered purely as speculative fiction. There’s something about sea voyages[1] that works really well in this context and Mieville characteristically takes it to the limit with the idea of a giant floating city. And given that much of my work lately has dealt with issues of possibility and probability, I particularly liked the Possible Sword. On the other hand, I missed the political and social layers of the books set in New Crobuzon.

fn1. When I was young, I really loved CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for example, and of course most of space fiction is in this genre.

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  1. John Quiggin
    November 29th, 2004 at 06:44 | #1

    I saw Iron Council in Dymocks not long ago, warbo. Thanks for the pointer to Banks and Macleod, I will follow it up.

  2. Warbo
    November 29th, 2004 at 08:05 | #2

    Thanks for the update. One for Santa’s letter.

  3. dylwah
    November 29th, 2004 at 16:16 | #3

    John have you read Neal Stephenson’s “System of the World” trilogy? Cyberpunk historical fiction mostly set around Europe from the return of the Stuarts to the arrival of the Hanovers. lots of science and politics and a little bit of economics and magic. goes very well with Nick Cave’s rescent dissenter like sermons as a soundtrack.

    dylwah

  4. November 29th, 2004 at 20:18 | #4

    I’ve read quite a few Macleod books by now, interesting in their exploration of still realistic science interacting with still realistic people – traditional hard SF, if one is willing to upgrade the definition and open up one’s expectations. He’s a lefty of a specialised sort, one of the quite common examples of people with special interests who are yet broad enough to have other interests and be interesting when off their pet topic and wise enough to be aware of the risk of driving away their audience. (This also applies to right wingers, e.g. Heinlein – and of course such people can’t really be categorised like that anyway.)

    BTW, I came across Macleod via Brad DeLong mentioning him, and no doubt I shall get to Mieville the same way. Macleod has a blog of his own, on which he has mentioned Mieville himself in the past.

  5. November 29th, 2004 at 20:39 | #5

    BTW, where would people recommend I start with the Mieville opus, not from any personal taste point of view so much as to avoid starting in the middle and missing things that need other books to fill them in?

  6. Tony D
    November 30th, 2004 at 14:34 | #6

    Perdido Street Station would have to be one of my favourite’s – it induces such bad dreams the like of which I haven’t experienced since picking up Lovecraft for the first time ;-) P.M.Lawrence, you should start here with Melville’s work.

    As for Bank’s & Macleod – if you haven’t read them, then get thee to the bookshop. I love Macleod’s work, great writing, great character’s, and the way he contruct’s the different societies in the books is facinating and wonderful.

  7. November 30th, 2004 at 22:04 | #7

    Thanks. I hope you recover from your bad case of the apostrophe’s [sic] :)

  8. Jackmormon
    December 1st, 2004 at 04:41 | #8

    I would have compared The Scar to Melville rather than Lewis, personally. Melville, like Mieville, is interested in the entanglements of power as they relate to the quest. (Lewis doesn’t engage this so much.)

    One of the things I like about Mieville is that his three different New Crobuzon books frame authoritarian power in subtly different ways. In Perdido St. Stn (which, for the poster above, is the one to read first), the power is distributed secretly, with everyone afraid of everyone else. In the floating city, power is necessarily concentrated for communal safety, but the dictatorship’s benevolence is easily abused. And in The Iron Council, which I think I need to reread, power is much more naked, inviting more clear forms of revolution (and then the interior dynamics of revolutionary movements are also explored.)

    While I so far like the Scar best (is it the piratical aspect or the cold female lead I identify with?), he is definitely improving as a writer. I look forward to that Crooked Timber symposium!

  9. December 2nd, 2004 at 10:50 | #9

    Well, I’ve dropped into Minotaur and bought Perdido Street Station (and also Terry Pratchett’s “Monstrous Regiment” while I was about it).

    I also got Mieville’s first book, King Rat. Can anyone say anything about it before I get stuck into it? It’ll probably be the last of the three I get around to.

  10. Warbo
    November 28th, 2004 at 20:50 | #10

    I preferred Perdido Street Station over The Scar, perhaps simply because I found it easier to relate to the idea of a static terrestrial city rather than a mobile aquatic one. But I enjoyed both a great deal.

    I’m waiting for Iron Council to be released here. I think you downloaded it and read it on screen: not my cup of tea.

    Can you explain the CT symposium? Is it just about China Mieville novels or broader?

    Incidentally, have you (or any of you commenters) read any Iain M. Banks or Ken Macleod, two Scottish SF writers who approach the genre from a decidely left-wing perspective? (I’ve just started The Algebraist, the latest in Banks’s Culture series.)

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