My First Mieville: The City and the City

The City and The City

Anybody who’s anybody in the field of speculative fiction knows the name of China Mieville. He’s only the winner of three Arthur C. Clarke awards, two British Fantasy Awards, three Locus Awards, one Hugo, and one World Fantasy Award.

His work in 2010 was The City and the City, a noir novel that has received high praise. It has won the Hugo for Best Novel, the BSFA for Best Novel, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and the Kitschies Red Tentacle, a prominent genre reviewer.

So you could see the anticipation I had coming in to this novel. I was sure it would be a masterpiece, called “second only to the great Peridido Street Station.” I’ve wanted to read that book by him as well, but decided to jump in on this novel first, if only because my library has a copy. That, and this has been said to be one of his more approachable books.

You can see my disappointment when I opened the second chapter.

The first chapter was great, an atmospheric set-up with police interrogations and whatnot. Later on, it didn’t go swimmingly.

Mieville is noted as a verbose writer, one who has to grab the dictionary every other page. I expected a smart read, not a simple attempt at hardboiled writing where the word “grosstopically” was used every other chapter. That is, to quote an old cliché, sloppy writing. It was worse than reading some YA writer’s attempt at literary fiction.

Characters were bland nothings. Simple as that. He tried to steer clear of the usual cynic, but left me seeing no personality. The main character was more a vehicle than anything.

Concept wise, Mieville scores his one and only point. But cool ideas don’t make a book.

The city is set on top of another city. Not like underground, you see; beside, but not. It’s unseen, not there. The people walk beside you, but they don’t. Two cultures have grown from some weird space time distortion, and Breaching between the two is worse than death.

I think this was his work on immigration. Don’t know. Don’t care.

It’s his politics that really made me hate the writing. (Yes, I’m going there.)

Mieville, besides being lauded as a verbose writer with amazing ideas and stuff is said to write left-wing politics so delicately that you’d never notice. I had an open mind about this, being on the other side and all, that is until we came to the meeting with a local head of the city’s conservatives.

The man was made out as an over-the-top bully, a big man who was antagonistic and probably wrong. The villain, you could say.

The Labor people? Nothing of note; nothing bad at least.

Cue the following conversation outside, using every profanity you could think of describing the Right-Wing Leader as the worst possible scum on the face of the Earth. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but you understand my annoyance. If this is what is taken as “subtle left-wing writing,” then I don’t want to see glaring works of art.

Having read only the first hundred pages of this book, I can’t say if it gets better. I can only say that the first third was unbearable, by one of SFF’s masters.

But some people who’ve read around Mieville have said this isn’t a great book by him, no matter if it’s the most award-winning of his ten or so novels. I’ll still try Peridido Street Station in the future. Maybe not near, but sometime. Hopefully.

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2 thoughts on “My First Mieville: The City and the City

  1. I don’t really have a problem with his politics, but when I read Perdido Street Station, I felt it was trying a bit too hard. So, I was disappointed – same as you – when I first read a book by Mieville. Great review.

  2. I usually don’t care if some author’s politics is different from mine. If it’s a good story, and just happens to have some of his beliefs in it (and who doesn’t accidently throw some in?) I won’t care.

    But this was blatant and aggravating, especially from how “subtle” I’ve heard him described as.

    Mark Charan Newton was the same, but at least his books had some interesting and hook-worthy moments. The City and the City was just bland.

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