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China Miéville: Messing with Fantasy March 2002

China Miéville (pronounced mee-AY-vill) grew up in London, went to boarding school, worked in Egypt and Zimbabwe for a year, and then earned degrees from Cambridge and the London School of Economics. His first novel, King Rat (1998), was a dark urban gothic take on "The Pied Piper of Hamlin". It was followed to much acclaim by Perdido Street Station (2000), set in the imaginary, grotesque world of New Crobuzon; the book won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Award. His latest book, The Scar, set in the same world, will be published in 2002. He currently lives in London.


Photo by Beth Gwinn

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I love fantasy. I've never agreed with the idea that there's this rigid distinction between fantasy and science fiction and horror. To me, they are part of the same tradition, which I generally call 'Weird Fiction.' Although it's quite easy at the edges to say Isaac Asimov is SF and J.R.R. Tolkien is fantasy, what are H.P. Lovecraft or David Lindsay or Clark Ashton Smith? It doesn't fit neatly. I'm interested in real conflicts – social, political, personal – and resolutions, although not generally neat resolutions; but I'm not trying to do the political novel or the relationship novel with a gloss of fantasy. I'm a genre writer and deeply proud of that. I love the tradition. And I can't sustain interest in writing unless it has a fantastic element.’’


‘‘The idea of consolatory fantasy makes me want to puke. It's not that you can't have comfort, or even a happy ending of sorts, but to me the idea that the purpose of a book should be to console intrinsically means the purpose is therefore not to challenge or to subvert or to question; it is absolutely status quo oriented – completely, rigidly, aesthetically – and I hate that idea. I think the best fantasy is about the rejection of consolation, and the high point of fantasy is the Surrealists – which is a tradition I've read obsessively, and am a huge fan of, and see myself as a product of the 'pulp wing' of the Surrealists – that is, using the fantastic aesthetic to do the opposite of consolation.’’


‘‘For The Scar, I wanted a very different aesthetic from Perdido. Whereas in Perdido I was luxuriating in the scale of the thing and going off on side tangents and doing exploratory stuff, The Scar is much more austere. Going back and cutting down the manuscript actually worked. Although it's difficult to cut something you really love and you think, 'Oh, I want to keep that because I like the writing,' you start to realize, for the integrity of the book, it would be better if it goes – and I can use it for something else. So I'm very pleased with the third (and final) draft.’’


‘‘I thought the mainstream artistic reaction to September 11 in Britain was really shameful. We had a mass of newspapers printing 20-page special supplements, 'Five Famous Writers Tell Us How They Feel After September the 11th....' If you have an analysis, or you have some new facts, tell me, but don't tell me how you feel. It becomes a kind of pornography of mawkishness. We got so many pieces: 'New York Two Days After', 'New York Three Days After'. It's disaster porn. There's an element of relishing or fetishizing the disaster. I think the only dignified response is to shut up until you have something of value to say.’’

The full interview and biographical profile is published in the March 2002 issue of Locus Magazine.


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