China Miéville on politics and fiction

I just finished China Miéville’s The City & The City and enjoyed it a good deal. Today, I read an overview of a talk that he did about politics and fiction at IndyBay. Make sure to get all the way to the bottom where China responds to the article, but it’s very much worth reading.

One genre convention that particularly ticks Miéville off — and which he’s deliberately tried to avoid or subvert in his own work — is the notion of the “Chosen One,” the one hero uniquely fitted to the task of redeeming the human race from the peril the author has invented to jeopardize it. “The schtick [of Un Lun Dun] is that the Chosen One fails, and the funny sidekick has to take over — and succeeds by cheating and skipping to the end,” he said. “As a kid, I always hated books about the Chosen One because that implies all the others are not chosen, and that’s fascist. I always was drawn to the sidekicks.”

Though Miéville tries to avoid blatant political propaganda in his books — like most artists with strong political leanings, he’ll drop the politics if it means the books will be stronger as art — he’s quite open about analyzing other writers’ works in the light of his Leftist beliefs. “Not all my favorite writers have my politics,” he acknowledged. “I’m a big fan of H. P. Lovecraft even though he was a fascist and anti-Semite” [though in his last decade Lovecraft largely abandoned the racist beliefs he’d held earlier]. Noting that American science fiction has a reputation for being Right-wing, Miéville said he thinks that’s unfair because the U.S. has also produced authors like Ursula LeGuin and Judith Merril, “progressives writing deliberately in the political milieu.”

Indeed, one of the things he likes about science fiction and fantasy is how well they lend themselves to what Lenin called “Aesopian language” — coded messages about the world of the present couched in terms of the world of the future. He thinks that’s what science fiction writers in the Eastern Bloc were doing under Communist governments: sneaking in social criticism they couldn’t have got published in direct terms. On the question of whether there’s something inherently radical about science fiction as a genre, Miéville said, “I go back and forth on that. The idea of something that starts with radical thinking lends itself to political thinking — not necessarily progressive political thinking — but certainly the overlaps between political geeks of both flavors and sci-fi geeks is interesting.”

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