April 6, 2015 by McDowski
China Miéville is a much acclaimed author in the rather vast field of Science Fiction & Fantasy (SFF). More precisely, he describes his own works as “weird fiction” and is part of a handful of authors whose works are classified as New Weird. What is New Weird? According to a quote from the Wikipedia article, the genre is broadly agreed to be one which “subvert[s] cliches of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends.”
This seems to be the consensus among fans, too. I was having a discussion on one of my favorite forums (over at Best Fantasy Books – definitely check them out) where a member wrote something similar when I mentioned that I didn’t like Miéville. He said, “Mieville can be quite devicive[sic], likely because he stakes out new ground and affronts the reader’s sensibilities.”
I disagree. That sounds to me the equivalent of that old job-interview cliché – when asked to name his area of weaknesses, the candidate replies with a non-weakness such as, “I’m too hard working.” Interviewers don’t like such an answer, of course, for the obvious reason that it isn’t really a weakness at all. It really is a way of complimenting yourself while masquerading it as a weakness. I feel the above quote is just as convenient.
My dislike of Miéville is simple and two-fold – First, I read novels because I expect to be entertained. Sure, some novels will be like the typical “summer blockbuster” with quick and mindless action, fun but not particularly smart or thoughtful and usually with a fair number of holes in the plot. The Maze Runner, a series I recently finished reading, comes to mind. Others will make you think, feel, wonder. It’s plain that these authors spent a great deal of time crafting their story, and they’ll stay with you a long time. (Think The Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire.) But, at the end of the day, I have to enjoy them. I didn’t enjoy Mieville’s books. Breaking new ground and thinking outside the box is all well and good, but not if it comes at the expense of an enjoyable and interesting narrative.
Second – and this might be a large part of why I felt as I wrote above – I find Miéville’s books to be very pretentious. From the language and words he uses to how he very deliberately attempts to “affront the reader’s sensibilities.” None of that seems to me to be part of the ‘flow.’ They weren’t by-products of the larger narrative. They were (in my opinion) carefully crafted to appear as such. The novel wasn’t the point; the attempt at uniqueness was the point. It just happened to be crafted around the prose of a novel, almost coincidentally.
It’s like he was hell-bent on impressing upon the reader that, “I am not your average Fantasy novelist! Don’t believe me? Look at this!” If he was an architect, his buildings would be asymmetrical trapezoids, with random protrusions that jut out of the facade, so there was no level or clean surface, and the main entrance would be in the back corner. And he wouldn’t do it because they had functional properties, or they were practical or environmentally superior, or they had a deeper/emotional significance, or even because they just looked good. He would do it purely because he wants to be seen as different. And I find that very annoying.
Where did I get the above impression from? I don’t know. It’s just this weird feeling I got that nothing about the book mattered. That there was no point to it. It just existed as a showcase for his ‘unique’ writing abilities.
I admit that Miéville’s imagination is definitely not in question. I have read too of his books, Perdido Street Station and The Scar. Probably his two most famous novels. Perdido? Not so much. I didn’t find that very imaginative, though I will fully admit that I found the novel so dull and boring that I barely remember anything about it. The Scar, though, was imaginative. I liked the idea of the floating, on-the-move city, as well as the… method they were attempting to improve their movement (trying to avoid spoilers). Too bad everything else about the book was forgettable.
In case my feelings weren’t clear, I am not a fan…