The China Mieville Interview!

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

Knivesout no more
Nov 11, 2003
Bangalore, India
Here it is! I finally spoke to Mieville for an hour on Tuesday night. I've tried to ask as many of the questions you contributed as I could, but tried avoiding questions that you can find the answers to in recent interviews, I forgot a few and a couple I just made up on the fly.

Without further ado, here it is:

JP: When did you start writing, telling stories, possibly with the aim of being published eventually?

China Mieville (CM): I always loved writing, but it was when I was about 15 that I decided I'd like to do it professionally. I sent off some stories to Interzone, the British SF magazine, in my late teens, but they were all (quite rightly) rejected. Then in my early 20s I started getting much more serious, and set out on writing my first novel, King Rat. That created a real sea-change in my writing.

JP: So it wasn't a case of working your way up with short stories at first (I haven't read anything except your 4 novels, forgive me if I'm missing something obvious)?

CM: No, I wasn't one of those writers who made their way through short stories. Technically my first ever publication was a short story in an anthology, but it came about after I'd sold King Rat, just before it came out. Since then I've written several short stories and one novella, and they're going to be published as a collection next year, but for me, it was the experience of writing a novel that made me a writer in any serious way, I think. The quality of my short stories, for example, improved exponentially having done the novel.

JP: I was actually planning to ask you if your short fiction would be collected anytime soon. Could you tell me a bit more about this collection?

CM: It'll be published more or less simultaneously in the US and in the UK. It'll contain I believe 11 short stories, plus the novella The Tain. I'm tremendously proud of all my short fiction, paradoxically because I'm not a natural short story writer, so I work at them very hard and don't publish most of them. The throw-away rate is very high. What that means is that the ones I do publish I'm very proud of. I won't tell you the title just yet - I'm a bit superstitious about titles of works in progress. I'm just writing the last short story now. The book'll contain at least two short stories that haven't been published ever before.

JP: I do know that some of your short fiction has appeared in Horror anthologies, and I'd like to know more about this aspect of your writing - your horror influences, your take on what makes for effective horror.

CM: Well, for me, horror and SF and fantasy are all just different accents within an overall field of Fantastic Literature. I love horror, particularly classic horror (late 19th early 20th centuries), particularly the weird fiction horror of people like Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, et al. Most of the sf/f/h I'm interested in is about the numinous, the transcendent erupting out of the everyday, and ironically, horror does that particularly well (though it's concerned with the Bad Numinous). I don't particularly love the newer 'splatterpunk' stuff but I think it's ridiculous when people go on about how 'the best horror never shows you anything, it's all implied'. Sure, *some* excellent horror does that very well, but I don't think you can set out to create a policy about it. For me, the horrific, in the shape of the dark uncanny, the monstrous, the unholy, is one of the most fascinating aspects of fantastic literature, and it's for that reason, I think, that though I'm not normally thought of as a horror writer, I'm a writer of SF and fantasy heavily influenced by the weird, grotesque horror tradition.

JP: Sort of related to your point about not drawing lines with regard to explicit gore, you cross a lot of lines in your novels, generic and otherwise. Is there any line you won't cross, anything you would not want to allow into your fictional visions?

CM: That's an interesting question. Nothing occurs to me right now. Which isn't to say that I revel in transgressing all boundaries - I mean, for example, if you read the descriptions of violence in my books, they're not coy, certainly, they don't shy away, but they're quite detached and briskly descriptive, there's none of that pornography of gore that you read in some 'splatterpunks'. Similarly sex - I depict a reasonable amount of fairly alienated and sad sex, and I do it fairly openly, but not graphically. It doesn't interest me to depict that stuff more graphically - not because I disapprove (I don't) but because for me it wouldn't add anything to my books. But as a point of principle? I can't think of anywhere I wouldn't go. Perhaps someone could suggest a boundary that I'd agree with, I don't know.

JP: How much of what you describe is influenced by folklore and legend? There are elements in King Rat, and Iron Council that I could relate to real-world folklore, but there's always a certain sense of second guessing, as a reader, as to how much is derived and how much is Mieville's Merry Madness?

CM: I like Mieville's Merry Madness, thank you. Folklore and mythology is very important, but not as an influence so much as as a pantry to raid. My relationship to legend, religion, mythology, folklore, is tremendously disrespectful. Take Perdido Street Station, for example - there are creatures derived from Russian folklore (Vodyanoi), but they bear absolutely no relation to anything that a Russian folklorist would recognise. I just run around cheerfully stealing from world folklore and doing whatever I want with it. Khepri was an ancient Egyptian deity, depicted as a man with a giant beetle for a head, who symbolised rebirth, so naturally some people have seen the 'khepri' species in my book as symbolising rebirth. In fact, I was just thinking - 'someone with a beetle for a head. Cool!' King Rat, obviously, is the most 'folkloric' book I've written, but while I did enjoy it and I am proud of it, it's slightly anomalous in drawing more directly on that tradition. If/when I write another book set in (supposedly) 'the real world' I may end up doing the same again, we'll see. But even then, it's much more interesting to not straightforwardly replicate a myth, than to just update it.

JP: Ah, this brings me to a more specific question! A lot of people seem to be particularly horrified and curious about the anopheli, the mosquito people. Was there anything more to their creation than 'a mosquito man. Cool!'?

CM: Or, strictly speaking, 'a mosquito woman. Cool!' That, incidentally, is because it's only the female mosquito which sucks blood. In answer to the question: most people, of course, hate mosquitoes. I pathologically, utterly, profoundly, viciously, excessively hate them. I am violently reactive to them - their bites last for more than a week on me, and are agony. They are drawn to me like something you wouldn't believe. Everywhere I go where there are mosquitoes, I end up feeling like I'm a kind of Mosquito prophecy - for generations they've been telling each other that one day I will come, and then I arrive, and the little bastards flock to make their bloodthirsty obeisance. All of which long-winded neurosis is by way of saying that I can't think of much I hate as much as mosquitoes, so the idea of making them into a monster was tremendously cathartic.

JP: So you're the Lord of the Mosquitoes?

CM: That is my cross to bear. You can hear them when I get out of the car. 'Lo! He... He has come! He of whom it is written! He with the blood like nectar!' etc.

JP: I'm also curious about the weird science in your books - how much of a role does research into 'real' science play in this, and is it generally before or after the broad conception of these elements?

CM: I do a lot of research, most of which, of course, ends up being unnecessary or unusable. When I was writing The Scar, I ended up downloading schema for oil rigs, for example. But in terms of the science, I tend to do enough research to make the thing plausible, but I don't need or want to do enough to make it accurate. As long as it's believable, it is accurate *in the world of Bas-Lag*, and that'll do me fine.

JP: Will we ever see more of Uther Doul?

CM: I never say never. The problem is that if you go back to characters you run the risk of undermining what you did with them in the first place, and I'm very proud of the way Doul was dealt with in The Scar, so I'd only reintroduce him if I could stay true to that. However. Never say never.

JP: Do you see yourself as in any way bringing a postmodern approach to fantastic fiction? This is actually in relation to a larger debate, which fortunately I don't seem to have the time to bore you about.

CM: Ha. Short answer - no. Longer answer. Nooooooo... OK, seriously. I'm not a postmodernist, I'm a Marxist, though I'm very interested in various aspects of postmodern theory. One of the things I slightly resent about postmodernism is the way that as a body of thought it seems to *claim* certain approaches - an interest in interstices or marginality for example - and claim that any such interest is therefore postmodern. Not so! There are plenty of other theoretical approaches interested in such things. (Think Walter Benjamin, for example). So I am very interested in radical theory, and I do approach writing fiction with certain philosophical ideas in mind, but they don't tend to be postmodern ones.

How's that?

JP: Neat! Lots to think about there, and I have been thinking that the postmodern label is being flung about a bit freely. Well, it looks like we're done, now.

CM: Thanks so much.

JP: Thank you for your time!

CM: Cheers!

Good job, JP.:D Good questions, interesting answers.

I especially enjoyed his comments about mosquitos. I feel his pain - if there is a mosquito within a mile of me, it will find me and bite me. I think that's why I reacted so strongly to the anopheli. I just have this horror of the buzzy little creatures. Looks like I'm in good company.

Mieville sounds like an interesting guy. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this thread and his comments to your questions :) For an author with such a vivid imagination he seems to get is ideas from the most ordinary places :)
JP: ...I'd like to know more about this aspect of your writing - your horror influences, your take on what makes for effective horror.

CM: Well, for me, horror and SF and fantasy are all just different accents within an overall field of Fantastic Literature. I love horror, particularly classic horror (late 19th early 20th centuries), particularly the weird fiction horror of people like Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, et al
I assume I'm right in guessing who provided this question? Much obliged m'lord :)
Very nice interview. Like LittleMiss, I can really relate to the mosquitophobism. I think I must be one of the lesser critter gods because after the hurricanes we've been inundated by the nasty little beasts but the only one who gets their blood sucked out is me. Bites lasting a week? I've still got some from the aftermath of Charley...

Anyway, it was extremely cool of Mr. Mieville to consent to this interview and I envy you the chance to chat with the author.
JP - His answer to the po-mo question is what I would have expected. In fact, both Matt and I said similar earlier on in that dead cities thread. If all fantasy is a response to modernity, as R.S. Bakker asserted, then that seems to ignore the problem that socialism is an ideology firmly located within the project of modernity. I would have liked him to go further into his relationship with po-mo, because he's certainly influenced by po-mo writers (Harrison), but I think he was trying to avoid coming off as a ******. Perhaps there's an unfair assumption to equate all radical literature with post-modernism?

Nice interview.


Similar threads