Friday, July 13, 2007

n+1 Article on China Mieville

Not sure when this article was published, but it is an excellent overview of Mieville's New Crobuzon novels by Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber.

Mieville's works are powerfully imaginative, embracing both steampunk and horror as a way of expressing his social, literary, and political views. What Farrell highlights is the way the novels attack and rework the genre's root conservatism, in the mode of Tolkien's anti-modernism, and escapism, in the mode of the fantasies and aspirations encoded in our consumer culture.
In [The Scar], we see the city from the outside, through its colonial relations and its willingness to use military force to secure commercial interests. Much of The Scar is set in the pirate city of Armada, and MiĆ©ville riffs on the glamour of swashbucklers without ever forgetting the relationship between high-seas adventure and the desire for economic gain. In The Scar, the yearning for fantasy always betrays, either by cloaking relationships of imperial exploitation in the spurious glamour of adventure, or by becoming an endless, ineffectual form of escapism. Either way, it’s a trap.
In this view, the romance of fantasy fiction blinds us to the political and social realities of both the time-periods we're idealizing (Feudal Europe, Victorian London, etc.) as well as the present day. We opt-out of reality rather than participate in it, and ignore the economic exploitation and political will to power around us.

In the Bas-Lag novels, the power of fantasy fiction is realized in its ability to remake the world and undermine these power structures:
For MiĆ©ville, fantasy shouldn’t merely justify what is, in the service of a self-defeating escapism or consolation; to the extent that it does, it’s merely remaking our political world, not Remaking it. Instead, fantasy should become a way of arguing about our social condition, of re-presenting our dilemmas, and creating a space for the imagination in which we can identify new possibilities of action. Fantasy can have a kind of political force that the ‘realistic’ novel can’t, precisely because it doesn’t take the real for granted.
The goal for all horror, fantasy, or science fiction should be to take us out of the comforts and escapist urges of familiar genre conventions. It should do more than rehearse and repeat the stories of the past (no matter how much we like them). Instead, we should always be mindful of what is real and use literature to strike a dagger into the hearts of the powerful. Writing should always be a political act of radical imagination.