For those of you who may not be familiar with his works, Mieville is a writer in a literary movement termed “The New Weirdists,” utterly brilliant, not even my type but still totally freaking hot, and a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist. I think I fell in love with him when I learned about 50 new words from reading Perdido Street Station, and then went on to discover that he has a PhD in economics, wrote a textbook on theories of international law, and ran for Parliament on the Socialist platform.
(For new readers, Kraken or The City & The City are good ones to start off on, much more immediately accessible than his New Crobuzon books. DO NOT START WITH IRON COUNCIL. I personally preferred Kraken, hands down, but it seems that most other people thought C&tC was better.)
I haven’t read his newest book, Embassytown, yet, but I came across an interview with him in which he articulates a number of opinions about writing in general and fantasy in particular that make me go, YES. THIS.
In particular, his appreciation for nuance and complexity when it comes to world-building:
One of the things about genre fantasy that I loathe is that race becomes a pigeonhole for a character type. Your elf is kind of deft and mysterious, and your dwarf is always grumpy but the salt of the earth, and it becomes a way of defining character rather than actually dealing with culture.
What I wanted to do with Perdido was have a book in which the characters were much more malleable and culturally mediated. And what that meant was that cultures would not be distinct hermetic balloons, they were going to taint each other. And also, very importantly, that individuals of all races, not just humans, could reject their culture, could feel at odds with their culture, but are still going be to defined by it in some way.
One of the things that is dangerous about genre fantasy and science fiction is that ethnic stereotyping is true. It is absolutely the case that trolls are stupid and bad and like to smash things up. What I have tried to do in Perdido is have an idea of culture that is both constraining and enabling, but doesn’t describe you in cold genetic terms.
And despite being political, Ayn Rand he is not:
Just because you are a leftist writer doesn’t mean that you have to be into propaganda. I would never try to convince someone of socialism through my novels. It would probably make a very bad novel, and a very bad case of socialism.
Ending with an observation that lies at the core of my own feelings about literature:
One reason why I don’t like Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books is because they have no sense of narrative as being an organic thing created by the actions of individual people. It is all predetermined.