I have been waiting for the new novel by China Mieville for what feels like forever. Finally last week City and the City came out and I picked it up and WOW! You know how sometimes when it’s been a while since you’ve read an author and you worry that maybe the new book won’t be as good or maybe you just won’t feel the same about their stuff? Well, if you’re a Mieville fan there’s no need to worry here. If you’re not a fan you should go pick up Perdido Street Station. It is possibly the best Sci Fi/ Fantasy novel out there that I’ve read. Of course I’ve not read all that many, but this is because I tend to feel a little nerded out in the section of the book store with all those stupid dragons, swords, elves and spaceships on the books. That is because a whole hell of a lot of that section is written as genre-fodder and as such, well, kinda lame, eh?
Robert Jordan? Really?
Or what about those Dan Weber books? With covers like that why would I want to read them? I know, I know, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but with a lot of these you sure as hell can. The art is in place to let genre people know they are genre books. I’ve always dug more of the high concept stuff, and that is why when I mean Mieville is one of the best, he’s not one of the best out of that drek, he’s one of the best serious fucking authors that writes some seriously mindbending stuff. Reading Perdido was, well, the only word that ever comes to mind to even try and explain it is Phantasmagorical and the only experience similar was eating LSD.
It’s that good.
Perdido Street Station takes place in the author’s homemade world Bas Lag, as do subsequent (but not sequel) novels The Scar, and Iron Council. All three are thick tomes and a bit trying at times (not because the writing is bad or dry but because Mieville’s vocabulary will give that tattered copy of Webster’s Dictionary in the top drawer a serious workout) but very, very worth it. I’ve turned many people on to this guy and they all say the same: I didn’t know Fantasy could be good?
And how could you when most Fantasy authors attempt to exclaim, ‘I can do it too! I can do it too!’ as they re-read their Tolkien for the fortieth time and ante up their best attempt at affectionate imitation (it is the sincerest form of flattery Mr. Tolkien, he who writes from beyond the grave)?
City and the City does not take place in Bas Lag and, *hmmmph* MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW.
City and the City begins in our world but in a fictional city somewhere in Europe. It is a first person account of a detective on the City’s Extreme Crime Squad being called in as the police find the body of a young woman. A Chandler-esque murder mystery begins and at first the story seems fairly straight forward. But as with Mr. Mieville there are a few quirks here and there that you just kind of read, re-read and say, ‘Huh?’ before moving on with the major flow at hand. In this case the first ‘quirk’ is a woman in the distance of the crime scene who the detective first sees and then realizes he is not supposed to see, and so he ‘unsees’ her.
Later, the detective watches the elevated train pass by his flat’s window and references not looking at the people in the car (although it is close enough for him to do so) because the train is not in his city. Still again, not too long after this there is the cryptic remark that a local Cathedral’s spires stand ‘in the shadows of skyscrapers that are not there’. This was the one that pushed my brain out of the conventional story and into what is really going on here.
There are two cities, both occupying the same point in space but separate nonetheless. This building is in this one, that one the other.
Did I mention it is a point of international crime for anyone in either city to see or acknowledge (or technically, in a truly Orwellian fashion, think about) anything or anyone in the other?
This, to me was an amazing blossom moment for the book and I literally stood floored again by this marvelous author. The writing employed is a kind of sleight of hand – the busy hand (murder mystery) trudges along with gesticulation, demanding your attention because you think that’s what you are supposed to be seeing while the other hand works it’s magic in a subtler, more impressive fashion, to well up and astonish you later.
I’m only a little over 100 pages in and I can already tell you this is another masterpiece by a guy who, by my count, has done nothing but wow me from the start*.
* Okay, his debut novel, King Rat, is awesome, but it’s not awesome in the way his others are. It’s kind of, ah, secondary to me. Story’s good but it read a lot like a Neil Gaiman novel, which while that is not bad, is a bit off mark from the unique style Mieville has developed since. Start with Perdido, I’m telling you, it is INSANE!!!