Dispatches | February 07, 2012
Notes from an Interview: David Naimon on China Mieville
David Naimon interviews China Mieville in our Winter issue. He sent us these comments on the experience:
I felt nervous before meeting China Miéville. He cut an imposing figure on the internet.–shaved head, multiple piercings, a prominent brow over eyes that I imagined didn’t blink. He often sported a tight black t-shirt shaped by the contours of his muscles, a shirt that only partially hid the huge skull tattoo spilling tentacles across his bicep. He did not look like any geek I knew, nor how I imagined a science fiction and fantasy writer. A mixed martial arts fighter, a bodyguard, a bouncer—yes—or like someone who would have beaten me up in Junior High School, the last time I was rolling ten-sided die, crushing out on Princess Leia chained to Jabba in her gold bikini, and regularly reading science fiction and fantasy.
We met in the studio of KBOO 90.7 FM, on an unseasonably cold spring day in Portland, Oregon, and to my relief, his in-person persona was much softer. Personable and polite he immediately put me at ease. When he spoke, he considered his words with a measured, gracious, almost formal tone, much as one might expect from an academic. And indeed Miéville studied social anthropology at Cambridge, received a PhD in Marxism and international law at the London School of Economics, was a fellow at Harvard, and even ran for the British House of Commons as the Socialist Alliance candidate in 2001. This dissonance, this defiance of categorization carries over into Miéville’s career in a big way. At the forefront of the New Weird movement, China Miéville is a self-professed geek, a lover of cephalopods, and someone who cites Dungeons and Dragons and comics (along with Jane Eyre) as influences. Miéville has risen to the top of the genre having won nearly every prestigious award in the field—some two or an unprecedented three times—along the way. Yet due to the depth of his imagination and the height of his erudition, his prose has caught the attention of non-genre publications from the New York Times to the Guardian, heralding him as a writer who has transcended the genre from which he arose. But unabashedly proud of his field, Miéville doesn’t what to transcend. He believes Weird Fiction holds distinct advantages over literary fiction, which to Miéville, is merely a genre like any other. He prefers to see himself as a conduit to a world of writing that, in his mind, is best equipped to address the issues of the day.
If China Miéville were to pick one of his books for someone who doesn’t read sci-fi he would choose his Hugo Award winning novel, The City and The City. And by chance, my first exposure to China Miéville’s work was this very book. I was hooked by the spare noirish prose, a style the Los Angeles Times described so wonderfully as if written by a love child of Philip K .Dick and Raymond Chandler who was raised by Franz Kafka. Just as Miéville would have hoped, The City & The City led me deeper into the genre, to his latest book Embassytown, a work both more fantastical and more philosophical, one that grapples with the nature of language, the power of stories, and starring a species who literally become addicted to words. Just like these creatures, I have become hooked on this Miévillian cocktail of philosophical insight and intergalactic adventure, as insightful and thought provoking as any literary fiction.
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