China Miéville and Comic Con: two great tastes that go great together.
During Comic Con I was lucky enough to get to see China Miéville in two very different panels. The first was “SFX Presents The British Invasion” along with Dan Abnett, Paul Cornell, Kieron Gillen, Toby Whithouse, Pat Mills, and Dave Bradley, and the second was the “Spotlight on China Miéville” panel.
The former mostly discussed the state of British SFF, while the latter was all China all the time. Now, I haven’t been a fan of his for that long. I had heard of him prior to Kraken, but not really known anything about him. But I started reading all these reviews about the book and suddenly he was everywhere and now I’m desperately trying to catch up. Kraken is first on my list of his works to read, mostly because I managed to buy the last signed copy in the whole of Comic Con, but also because I know it’s going to be epically awesome. And I like epically awesome, especially when that awesome comes in a funny, clever, witty, handsome, and British package.
The first panel allowed China to explore his political and socio-cultural sides by discussing what he thought about the notion of the current state of Britishness-ness in SFF. Given his über-political background it was both unsurprising and fascinating to hear him opine on such topics. (He’s a member of the British Socialist Workers Party, has been a Marxist since university, wrote Between Equal Rights which proposed something about legal theory and international law that goes way beyond what my brain-bone can comprehend, and stood unsuccessfully in the 2001 General Election as a candidate for the Socialist Alliance in Regent’s Park and Kensington North.)
China said that “[t]he thought that we (white males) are under threat is one of the most ass-achingly ridiculous...mean-spirited, vile ideas out there.” That quickly spun into a monologue—a lovely, beautifully spoken monologue—about the concept of “otherness” in SFF, why SFF is so heavily dominated both within and without by western white males, what can be done to change that, and how the collapse of the British empire has fueled creativity and altered the concept of what it is to be British.
He had similarly complex reasons behind why the most favorite characters that he’s written are Inchman and the Remade. Though, to tell you the truth, by that point I was lost in his eyes and had temporarily forgotten how to write. I perked up when he brought up the now cancelled issues of Swamp Thing that DC had hired him to write. In case you don’t already know, China had created a 15 issue “epic” arc, using both original and canon characters, that was a direct challenge to Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. He was pointedly vague as to whether or not the five issues he had completed would ever see the light of day, leaving me hopeful that a deal was, if not already on the horizon, at least possible.
The second panel opened with a reading of his short story The Rope is the World. It is a tale about crumbling technology, isolation, and ignorance and how we as a society both perpetuate and rally against these things. The jump quote came from this story; the Rope was one of eleven space elevators built up like spokes on a massive wheel, populated, then left to decay into obsolescence as newer and shinier technology drew away attention. It is not a story of frenetic action, and the only character in any real sense is the Rope, but it is haunting and moving and left me dying to know about the millions of people left to die abandoned and alone thousands of feet above the Earth.
Some newsworthy-ish facts popped out during the Q&A: he’d like to write historical fiction and a military thriller but with science fiction/fantasy elements, as well as something set in Providence, RI as his girlfriend lives in said city and he spends a great deal of time there. Embassytown is set to be published in the summer of 2011, as is an RPG, the short story Looking For Jake is verbatim a dream of his, there is more YA fiction in the pipeline, several of his works have been optioned but nothing is set in stone yet, and his current literary obsession is White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeymi.
The Q&A also brought out some intriguing conversations. While discussing his place in SFF he mocked himself by proclaiming, “I am the Neil Armstrong of fantasy! See my footprint!” Later he expounded upon that, “I am often asked is [my work] science fiction or fantasy and my answer is usually ‘Yes’.” He considers himself not limited to writing in a specific genre but writing in many genres while using tropes and tricks from SFF, something I think many writers try to do and most often fail at. When asked if he planned to reuse any characters he said, “One of the things we do in geek culture is ruin the things we love by going back to them.”
This led into a fascinating diatribe on the nature of writing and creating characters. “Most people have more ideas than they realize...I think most people batten down their ideas because they’re socially programmed to do so.” China lets the idea happen, lets it fester until there’s something there, and out comes the book. It’s a similar notion behind world-building. He doesn’t do battle with his characters or treat them like real people that he must “talk to” or “discover.” I agree with him that there is no reason a character has to be “believable or understandable,” they just need to be what they are and play their part in the story. Trying to picture King Rat ordering Chinese in Milwaukee or Borlu shopping for jeans at the mall is missing the whole point of fiction.
He wasn’t entirely self-serious, though. In response to an invite to a hotel party that night he quipped “Will you be playing Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’?” as he pointed to his ringless finger. Another convention-goer tried to engage him in a serious conversation about inspiration:
Conner: “Who would your ideal teacher be for a 13 year old you?”
China: “Probably someone really hot.”
Conner: “Who would [have inspired] you?”
China: “Probably someone really hot.”
China Miéville is like a walking dictionary. Just hearing him say the words “spurious,” “rancour,” “jingoistic,” “recherché,” “ossified,” “minutae,” “perspicacious,” “coagula,” “autotelic,” “languor,” and “phantasmagorically” was aural nirvana. He has this manner of speaking, of engaging with his audience that is so Neil Gaiman-esque that it rather frightens me that two such creatures can exist simultaneously. How such a small nation produced so many people who have managed to turn the English language on its head is a mystery to me, but, gods willing, there are more Austens, Wodehouses, Shakespeares, Chaucers, Orwells, Waughs, Atwoods, Gaimans, and Miévilles to come.
Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare...