In the last 10 years, fantasy writer China Miéville has written a noir crime thriller ( The City & The City ), a homoerotic Western ( Iron Council ), a sea-voyage epic ( The Scar ) and a children’s book featuring Ninja dustbins ( Un Lun Dun ).
It’s an oeuvre some might call “weird”. But it’s a label Miéville proudly wears—being one of the figureheads of modern-day “weird fiction”, a sub-genre that seeks to bend fantasy literature away from its dominant Tolkien image.
Noir world: China Miéville. Chris Close
The 37-year-old, London-based author was in India for a four-city tour before the May release of his next book, Kraken. Built like a bouncer, with an indefinite number of ear-piercings, he’s an unlikely geek and an unlikelier politician (he’s a member of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain). Edited excerpts from an interview:
How do you explain the difference between “weird” fiction and fantasy?
It’s a very big question. With the weird there’s a specific tradition of writing from the 1920s associated with people like H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a sort of slippery interface between science fiction, fantasy and horror that is associated with trying to invoke a radical kind of strangeness. That would be “weird” in its most overt form, I suppose. But you can see its tentacles stretch out to other forms and genres that are more or less associated with it.
You mentioned tentacles in your answer, so I have to ask —what can you tell us about your upcoming book ‘Kraken’?
Kraken is coming out in three months, and it’s basically an urban fantasy set in London, revolving around a giant squid.
So are the rumours of squid worshipping cults true?
True in the world or true in the book? In the book, certainly…and in the world, well who knows? I’m not enough of an archivist of the weird to know. But the giant squid seems to me an animal worthy of at least fascination, if not awe and worship. Though they’re not my favourite cephalopods. I’m more of an octopus man, myself.
You’re famous for that one quote about JRR Tolkien, when y ou called him “the wen on the arse of fantasy literature”. But you also wrote an essay defending him.
It was later pointed out to me that a wen traditionally is on the face. So not only was it a piece of provocation, it was also a medically illiterate one.
I don’t think Tolkien needs defending, really. That piece was an attempt to point out parts of Tolkien that are worthy of admiration. I’m endlessly fascinated by the assumption that it means that I’ve somehow changed my mind or recanted my opinion. It’s perfectly possible to admire aspects of a writer’s work but to not particularly like their fiction or have big problems with certain other aspects. It’s possible to both admire and argue with a writer.
Finally, a question about ‘Un Lun Dun’. Why did you choose to write a children’s book?
I had always loved children’s books. I’m a huge fan of young adult fiction. The quality is extraordinarily high, and it’s been a great pleasure to sort of tap into that. But mostly, I think I wrote Un Lun Dun out of jealousy for my nine-year-old self. There’s a kind of reading that you do when you’re a child that you can never do as an adult. No matter how much you love a book, you can never fall into it and inhabit it the same way you do as a child. I was really taken with the idea that a younger reader could inhabit a book I’d written in the same way.