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review 2019-10-02 20:00
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
Un Lun Dun - China Miéville


Darkest London Square: Deeba and Zanna discover a whole new side of the city.


'Un Lun Dun' starts promising, but it overstayed it's welcome. It had an old-fashioned, episodic nature to it, much like 'The Wizard of Oz' or 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. Deeba and Zanna are drawn by circumstances to UnLondon, a bizarre reflection of London that holds most everything that was discarded from that city. There are many such 'abcities' that have a symbiotic relationship with each other.


UnLondon is under threat by the Smog, pollution incarnate, and all the prophecies point towards Zanna being the chosen one, the Schwazzy, and therefore the only person who can save UnLondon and perhaps all the worlds from disaster. And then something goes wrong....


This book is full of odd meta-detail and story deconstruction. It's fascinating the way Mieville subverts expectations of what Destiny means, the nature of the heroic quest, and other tropes get thrown into a blender. That is supposed to be fascinating for me, but after a few hundred pages I just wanted it to be over. There were even a few bits of genuine horror thrown in with no apologies, but it wasn't enough. At least there were lots of disturbing illustrations.


Poor book. I didn't give your second half the attention it deserved. 

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review 2018-09-06 21:00
Free Square
Perdido Street Station - China Miéville

This is a re-read for my RL book club as well.


This is the second time I have read Perdido Street Station.  I enjoyed it far more this time.  The first time I read it, I gave it three stars.  Now, it's four.


It is a weird novel that would also work for the cryptozoologist square.


It traces the paths of scientist in a city.  He is hired to make a winged being fly again, but he then gets caught up in rebellion.  The world building is wonderful.  It is like a cross between Dickens and Dr. Who.  There is much in the book about government and rights, and class, and moths, and bugs, and icky stuff.


I do wish, however, that the central female lead didn't disappear for a large section of the book.

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review 2018-07-31 17:00
Why not both?
The City & the City - China Miéville

Mr. Ceridwen once had a very large public tizzy about how irritating this book was to him, I'm sure made all the more irritating because I had also just publicly declared my enduring love for Mr. Miéville. That was probably like a dozen years ago, which is apparently how long it takes me to get over my amusement at Mr Ceridwen's annoyance. Far be it from me to actually read the book in question, because I might actually agree with him, and then a very good source of bickering would be ruined. That whole anecdote is probably more illuminating of my marriage dynamics than I would prefer.


But then it turns out I earnestly have no idea what his problem was! The eponymous cities of The City and the City are Besźel and Ul Qoma, which are something like Buda and Pest: cities divided by a river and topography, but ultimately bound together into Budapest. Except entirely opposite of that: Besźel and Ul Qoma occupy the same land, the same space. People can be walking down a street in one city and dodging people in the other. But this seeing and in seeing cannot be done obviously or delibrately; the cities unsee each other. The borders are fiercely maintained even though they are diffuse and internal.


The plot follows Tyador Borlu, a detective from Besźel, who picks up a murder case that appears to be a matter of breach: her murder appears to puncture the inviolate membrane between the city and the city. Breach is one of those things that terrify the denizens of those cities, and it's hard to tell if it's social prescription or semi-mystical woo-woo -- and this is what irritates Mr. Ceridwen. Borlu in his detective plot moves through both cities and between to find the girl's killer.


My take is more ¯_(ツ)_/¯. Why not both? The social contract is rigidly enforced in just about any city, be that city authoritarian or boho. People have hundreds of internal rules -- thousands -- about who they interact with and how, who they see and unsee. Its both entirely mundane and semi-mystical. To misquote a favorite poet: we live in imaginary gardens with real toads in them.

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review 2018-07-01 23:01
The City & The City - Why is Miéville ignored by some literary circles?
The City & the City - China Miéville

This book... oh dear. It's quite good and it's very hard to explain. What starts off seeming like a noir-ish crime novel or police procedural opens up and allows the reader to sort of play with what's happening in the reality of the story. Two city-states, somewhere in Europe, live within each other. Citizens from one are not allowed to "see" the citizens from the other - even if they're on the same street! It's not like Berlin used to be. There's no wall, just a map and laws and a history of strife between the two cities.


So is it fantasy, or is it a meditation on our current cities, where we go around "unseeing" all sorts of things? Miéville leaves this question wide open for the reader. I started to think about all of the ways we divide ourselves in our cities and how the entire novel could be a metaphor for things like race, class, religion, politics, you name it. Everywhere in real life, there are places some people go and places other people don't. There are things we see - even celebrate - and other things we pretend not to see, and put out of mind almost automatically. We're very good at dividing ourselves up in so many ways. Citizens in one city know not to tread on "the other city." 


The book takes us into a mystery about the cities themselves, all while continuing along the crime narrative. It's sort of brilliant, and very different from any other book I've read before. It's fantastical, but it could be quite realistic. I have to wonder, once again, why some authors (Miéville, Neil Gaiman, even Stephen King) are not even considered in these lists of "important" books. King appears sometimes, but far too often I think these writers tend  to be shunted off into "genre writing" and hence considered simply not worthy of being noted by certain publications and literary circles. I'd love someone to tell me why this book is somehow less inventive/important than Thomas Hardy's 8th or 10th book? (Not just Hardy - I'm thinking now of those lists of books that have changed or disrupted the novel's form or literary prizes that always seem to go to the same people or if they go to a newcomer, we're told it's because the book is somehow inventive. I've read the most recent Pulitzer. I liked it, but it wasn't more inventive than this one.) When I read a book like this one, all I see is invention and imagination and certainly breaking the usual laws of novels.


I've tried to read The City & The City before and was distracted by work and life. I'm thrilled I finally found the right time for me and this book because it is fantastic - in every sense of the word.

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review 2018-03-15 21:44
Review: The Last Days of New Paris, by China Miéville
The Last Days of New Paris - China Miéville

It is 1950 in Nazi-occupied Paris. Clearly, we are in a reality alternate to our own.


If Germans were the only invading force, that would be bad enough. But Paris is also overrun with nightmare visions plucked from the imaginations of surrealist writers, painters, and sculptors who believed that art could conquer fascism. And there are infernal invaders too, strange demonic entities vomited up from the bowels of hell - it seems that they are allied with the Nazis, but only to a point. For the citizens trapped within the city limits, it is safest to avoid all three types of monster.


Our protagonist, Thibaut, is a member of La Main à Plume, a splinter group of Surrealists who stayed behind in Paris, while André Breton and many of the movement's leading lights fled to safety in America. Thibaut's group patrols the city streets, in wary coexistence with the manifested art, holding the Nazis just barely at bay.


After several of his friends are killed in a raid gone wrong, Thibaut teams up with an American woman, Sam, whose cover story (she says she is shooting photos of the strange manifestations in Paris for a book) seems a little thin, but whose cunning and street smarts are a valuable asset. Together, Thibaut and Sam seek the source of the surrealist manifs and the secret of the rumored German superweapon known as Fall Rot - desperate to turn the tide of their supernatural war before this new horror swallows art and humanity alike.




I went into this book fully expecting to not understand it. I had heard that it was essentially a love letter to the Surrealist art movement, and - aside from a vague mental image of Dalí's floppy clocks - I knew almost nothing about Surrealism. Given China Miéville's towering intellect and exhaustive knowledge about his many obsessions, I figured this book's insights and allusions would breeze right over my head.


Thankfully, I was only half right. Although I would have had no idea how to envision the manifs or interpret their significance from the novella's text alone, Miéville was kind enough to include an appendix of endnotes, giving philistine readers like myself the tools to track down images and background info on Paris's living oddities. There's a pretty decent compilation of them here.


So this rapidly became a very bumpy, stop-start reading experience, where I'd read a sentence, flip to the endnotes for a citation, spend 20 minutes falling down a google hole, and come sputtering back up for air having completely forgotten what was happening in the narrative. I read most of these chapters three times through or more, carefully knitting art and context to the characters' experiences. With many other authors, this would have exhausted me, taken me completely out of the story. I've never been particularly interested in art history, anyway.


But here, as usual, Miéville is a wizard. He never tells the reader why Surrealism is fascinating, and he never infodumps a bunch of names, titles, or doctrines. He just writes a gripping story that threads in hints of the movement's history and influence, and lets the reader do the rest on their own. This is my favorite way to learn - from watching somebody else love something, and being compelled to discover why they love it so much.


But I don't recommend The Last Days of New Paris just for this didactic aspect. If the thought of learning about Surrealism vaguely bores you (as it did me!), that's no reason to avoid this book. It's also a fast-paced urban fantasy, a fascinating alternate history of World War II, a gritty survivalist tale reminiscent of the best of the postapocalyptic genre. Its characters are believable, but have enough Miévillian weirdness to keep you guessing about their outlook and motives. Its horrors are beautiful and strange and terrifying. You could - maybe you should - plow through this in one satisfying sitting, and only tuck into the endnotes later.


It's an engrossing reading experience, either way.




Despite this novella's ultimate idealism, I'm too much of a cynic to believe that art will actually save the world. But I can't help agreeing with Miéville's avatar in the Afterword:

Perhaps some understanding of the nature of the manifs of New Paris, of the source and power of art and manifestation, may be of some help to us, in times to come.
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