Octopuses, monsters, abandoned buildings
|May 24, 2011|
From London Intrusion, China Miéville, 2011
From The Guardian:
Miéville has always worn his influences on his sleeve – Lovecraft, Peake, classic and new wave SF, fantasy, comics and the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing games he played as a kid – but from the start his books combined this love of genre, geeky in its enthusiasm and scholarly in its depth, with an ambitious literary sensibility. Embassytown, published this month, takes that ambition to a new level. An investigation into culture shock and the links between language and thought, it’s the story of a backwater planet colonised by humans whose attempts to communicate with the alien “Hosts”, who have no concept of lying, go very badly wrong. But while the metaphysical implications of creatures for whom there is no gap between a word and its referent reach back to postwar linguistic philosophy, Wittgenstein and beyond, the original idea was of a dual-voiced alien, and it came to Miéville when he was 11. “I have incredible fidelity to my own obsessions, which is a dignified way of saying arrested development,” he says. “I recently found the exercise book in which I’d written an early draft of what became Embassytown a quarter of a century later. It’s amazing how much these things don’t change.”
Miéville was born in Norwich in 1972 but moved to the capital as a small child after his parents separated. His first memories are of London, which dominates his work: “I feel like London inhabited me from quite a young age as much as vice versa.” He still lives in the same patch of north London where he grew up with his mother, a teacher, and his younger sister. His father died when Miéville was 19; after the separation he met him only a handful of times, leaving “odd and discombobulated” memories behind.
Miéville’s passions crystallised early on: “Ever since I was two, I’ve loved octopuses, monsters, abandoned buildings . . . One gets asked, if you’re into the sort of thing I’m into, how did you get into it, and my response is always: how did you get out of it? You look at a class of six-year-olds, they’re all reading about witches and aliens and spaceships and magic spells.” He wrote stories and poems as a child, and remembers “self-consciously thinking ‘ooh, maybe this is what I could do’ when I was about 13″. Later, “I realised how lucky you would have to be. I never had an unthinking faith that this was what would happen.”
Miéville is often asked where his revolutionary politics and his fantastical world-building meet, but is wary of making too strong a connection between the two. “I’m not interested in fantasy or SF as utopian blueprints, that’s a disastrous idea. There’s some kind of link in terms of alterity . . . If you think about the surrealists, the estrangement they were trying to create was a political act. There’s some shared soup somewhere in my head from which these two things are ladling.”
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