Saturday, June 6, 2009


I've been reading up on sf book opinions from the hivemind and occasionally I come across a general consensus agreeing that China Miéville writes a lot of unnecessary filler. Well today I say: to hell with you, internet message boards.

The defense is normally along the rails of, "but of course PSS is long, the city is a character!" I also say to hell with you. The city is a setting, and Miéville does a nice job detailing it.

I'm not going to pretend that there aren't parts where PSS doesn't slow down, and I'm not going to pretend to be well-versed in the trilogy it's a part of, considering I've never read the next two books in the series (I do have The Scar on my shelf - the ever-knowing brain suggests that Miéville cuts down on the filler, but it looks just as long to me!).

So right now I'm going to talk about Un Lun Dun. ULD is a children's book that was published by Del Rey in 2007. It is Miéville's first (and only) children's book. It's a crazy, whimsicle story about two girls who are sucked into a bizarro London because there's some prophecy about how one of them is going to be the decaying world's savior in a war against an ever-growing mass of smog. The smog is feeding itself through normal London, and it plans on taking over the real world once it's through destroying the real-fake world.

I don't know how most people read it, but I found it to have a pretty strong environmental agenda. Un Lun Dun is littered with trash from the real world, except in this world the trash is alive (the main character is followed by a sentient discarded milk carton that acts like a dog). The standard of living seems way low, but the inhabitants seem fine with that.

One thing I've come to appreciate about Miéville stories is the imaginative detailing of his fictional worlds. One of my favorite moments in ULD is when the main party arrives in a place where the buildings are constantly shifting around like a slide puzzle. One of the characters who is well-travelled suggests that there are mailmen who are trying to track down homes to deliver mail to after years of searching. This is, unfortunately, a minor moment in the book, as it appears in one of the shorter chapters (although not the shortest by a long shot - one chapter is only a few words long). This is present in PSS, although we tend to spend more time exploring New Crobuzon as there are more minor characters that Miéville revists.

Un Lun Dun is something that I'd recommend to any sf/childrens' stories fan who wants a nice quick read to break up sessions of harder novels. Although it's not too quick - it's still a respectable length, and despite it being a children's book there were a good number of difficult words I actually had to stop and look up. 'It wouldn't be Miéville without some of that.

I read this book some time ago and I decided to revist it for a bit today, and it's every bit as magical as I remember it. "Magical" is probably the best word I can think to describe it despite it being somewhat improper; it's kind of grimey. Grimey magical. It's like a grimey, trippy and magical Alice in Wonderland. It's like Alice in Wonderland meets Alice in Wonderland. I think it even says that on the cover.

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