Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.
Like with Yagharek; within a few pages his victim just suddenly shows up out of nowhere, reveals to Isaac what happened, and then Isaac makes his decision after an incredibly short period of time after immediately believing her (I mean, dismissing a rape claim is a shitty thing to do, but can you honestly tell me the average person would unquestioningly believe the word of a total stranger that their friend has done something totally awful without even hearing what the friend has to say?). It turns what should've been an interesting moral question into something of a throwaway. I mean, what would you do if you found out one of your friends had once raped someone and been punished for it, assuming of course they felt genuine remorse and weren't about to go do it again? Can punishment and repentence ever truly absolve someone of that magnitude of guilt, or do all rapists deserve to be ostracized for the rest of their lives? Maybe they do, but it's a complex issue about the nature of crime and punishment that deserves real thought and could honestly have taken up the bulk of the book. But no, Isaac's just like 'later dude' and that's it.
I appreciate that Mieville can think up cool stuff, but it seems like he's just totally unable to leave any of it out. If he thought of something cool, he's damn well going to shoehorn it in there somehow. Like the scene where the mayor asks the demon for help, only for him to refuse; we didn't know about demons in Bas-Lag beforehand, and they're never mentioned again. It's utterly pointless, other than to be 'cool' (which it admittedly is) and to further imply that the Weaver is a really dangerous last resort. But they imply that anyway by being really scared of him and by trying other stuff first and then ACTUALLY SAYING he's a really dangerous last resort. OK, enough complaining about Mieville for now, I promise.
Mieville, to me, is at his best when he's just throwing crazy-cool ideas at the page (People with armor made from scabs! The Malarial Queendom! Nomad bird people with libraries strapped to their backs! Rocks that evaporate and condense together randomly! A magic order that works by sacrificing your own memories to feel your spells! Tiny dancing copper coin golems!) and not really caring too much about the plot.
I was like, I didn't know you could DO that in fantasy! I didn't know it was even allowed!
I suspect that makes a lot of the difference. If you come to Mieville having encountered any even vaguely alternative fantasy settings then you just don't get your mind blown the way he clearly wants you to.
Kraken, however, was much more interesting - but the ending was really ridiculous (and to me, rather insulting, though that's probably not a common reaction by most of his typical readers). I thought the worldbuilding had some good ideas, but was waaaaay too aware of how cool its ideas were - very self-satisfied. And rather slapdash - Star Trek magic alongside The City Horuspex (basically magic Batman) - and Squidianity. Just way too convinced that it was the best world ever. Made by 13-year-old dudes. Rather felt like subpar (as in less emotionally engaging but just as imaginative and lazy in follow-through) Gaiman.
And that one was supposed to be a more satisfying ending for Mieville. The reviews I've read (mostly Abigail Nussanbaum's) don't make me think that the tone of the worldbuilding or the quality of the story construction improve at all, really. While I love mysteries, The City and the City just seems to incredibly implausible and/or incredibly annoyingly symbolic for me to want to give it a try.
So, yes, I will jump on the "Mieville is not as good as he thinks he is" wagon. (Wait, am I a ferret or a lemming :-)
A lot about it has to do with reading fantasy that was basically either Tolkien or a reprocessed Tolkien imitation product, and then encountering Perdido Street Station in the library, and having my tiny teenage mind completely blown.
I was like, I didn't know you could DO that in fantasy! I didn't know it was even allowed!
I observe, interestingly, that there seem to be exactly four responses to Mieville (this is of course an oversimplification, but it makes things fit together neatly). Basically you either love the worldbuilding and hate the story, or love the story and hate the worldbuilding, or love both or hate both. I've often heard people complain that PSS has a wonderful imaginative setting hampered by a week story. I've rather more rarely heard people complain that PSS has a promising adventure plot hampered by too much self-serving world-wanking. And I've heard people praise both the setting and the plot for their depth and complexity, while I personally don't rate either.
I found the end of PSS pathetic in about six different ways. No, they can't leave hunting the slake moths to the proper authorities, because that would involve trusting The Man and it was The Man who got them into this in the first place (I appreciate that the guy's a Marxist, but I was fairly sure that Marx had very little to say on the subject of making a better monster-hunting squad). And they've got to sacrifice a homeless guy to the machine because that shows that they can make Hard Choices (because letting poor people die so you can play hero is totally the tough decision). And Lin gets brainwiped because that's what women are for, and Yagraek turns out to be a rapist because ZOMG you thought he was a good guy but he isn't!
The Yagraek-is-a-rapist twist particularly bugs me in retrospect because if you squint and close one eye, it could almost be making a point about Isaac's fundamental hypocrisy. He doesn't care what Yagraek did until it reminds him of something that happened to somebody he knows (and he ignores the victim's request to treat the crime in terms of theft of choice), and he makes no effort to reconcile his disgust at the practice of Remaking condemned criminals (which punishes crimes by mutilation and loss of freedom) with his belief that Yagraek deserved to have his wings cut off (which punished a crime by mutilation and the loss of freedom).
So yeah, generally didn't like it.
On a tangential note, I also understand that he's a twat IRL as well. I've got a friend who goes to a lot of cons, and apparently he's started off at least one meet-the-author session by saying "but I don't want to talk about my work, because that would be boring."
There's enough material there for a really tightly plotted short story, or maybe a short novel, but fluffing it up to 800 pages is an enormous exercise in puff and prevarication.
I also recently read The Night Circus. I liked the descriptions of a lot of the things in it, but which much rather have visited the circus than read the book, because the plot and central idea was so completely handwavey and vague even I eventually got annoyed with it.
An interesting bit came about I thought when another character confronts her as she's complaining yet again about not being in New Crobuzon, about how it's really incredibly selfish of her because a lot of the people (the mutants, whatever they're called) were actually treated as equals in Armada instead of slaves and it was a huge windfall compared to being shipped off to a colony to further slave away, much more significant to their lives than just 'not being home' was to hers. That could've been a catalyst to a change in her character, but she ends up being more or less cold and uncaring the whole time. I mean, it's not like every character has to change for the better, she could've had some sort of developmental arc where she starts to change but then tragically reverts to her original isolated and selfish ways; maybe the letter she was writing throughout the book could've been addressed to someone in the middle (or even more than one person, changing over the course of the book as her relationships shift), but then changed back to being addressed to no one by the end. But instead it's more like she never changes at all. See, I agree with valse de la lune that Bellis is a well-imagined character, it's just that after imagining her, Mieville doesn't *do* anything with her.
See, neither of us are published authors and we can both easily point out flaws in the book and propose changes that would improve it greatly; that's a big fucking problem.
I was expecting Bellis or one of the other main characters to get into the boat too, but then...they didn't.
That particularly frustrated me because from what I can remember Bellis' entire character arc consists of the following:
- Be rather unhappy about this and swan around observing things for the reader's benefit rather than doing anything proactive or constructive.
- Take the first boat home as soon as something becomes available.
- ...that's pretty much all I remember.
What I do remember quite firmly is putting the book down with the impression that Bellis hadn't really changed or grown as a person an awful lot during the book and on the whole the entire trip was a superwhale-sized waste of her time. And, since she seemed to exist solely to be a pair of eyes for the reader, the reader's time too.
It seemed transparently obvious to me that Mieville, having built up The Scar to this extent, realised he was completely incapable of coming up with anything interesting to happen which could possibly justify that buildup, and so deployed a mammoth load of cop-out, a heap of cop-out so dense that large boulders of cop-out got knocked off the pile and ended up falling on The Iron Council too.
It's been a very long while.