Playpen

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.

at 18:33 on 06-03-2012, Arthur B
I have The City and the City on my to-read pile (and it's terrible of me to have had it waiting there so long since it was a present from someone), and I'm actually impressed with how thin it is - I'd say it's safely out of brick territory by most reasonable standards.
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at 18:29 on 06-03-2012, Andy G
Anything less is merely a pebble.
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at 18:29 on 06-03-2012, Andy G
In fantasy terms, a brick is anything longer than the entirety of The Lord of the Rings.
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at 18:27 on 06-03-2012, James D
Some bricks are pretty small, though! And I have plenty of books larger and thicker than bricks. What is that? A double-brick? Brick-and-a-half? This system is seriously flawed.
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at 18:00 on 06-03-2012, Robinson L
I'd classify anything over 600 pages as a brick, 500-600 is dangerously-close-to-brick, 400-500 is not quite a brick, but still a daunting commitment unless I already have a compelling reason to read the book in question.
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at 16:12 on 06-03-2012, Ibmiller
Robinson - what qualifies as a brick? I mean, the two Mieville books I read (Un Lun Dun and Kraken) both weren't terribly long - I wouldn't put either of them over 400 pages.

And after looking them up, I am so wrong I am boggled. Both over 500 pages. How did they feel so short? Perhaps it was how short I thought the story and characters deserved? My bad.

However long they are, though, they aren't super difficult to read. Just super annoying.

Jamie - your skill with titles leaves me in awe. However, it seems that Mieville is more likely to write "Something Completely Different But Actually Very Similar" or "Something Nostalgic That Hates What It Imitates." At least, that's what reviews tell me.
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at 09:16 on 06-03-2012, Jamie Johnston
Oops, formatting fail, sorry. I guess I used p-tags rather than I-tags round that second pseudo-title. I plead 'small phone big thumbs'.
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at 09:14 on 06-03-2012, Jamie Johnston
Not sure where I lie in the Hemmens classification of Miéville-feels. I read Perdido Street Station and neither hated it nor found it greatly satisfying. I'd read something else by him if it came well recommended or if someone gave me a free copy.

I probably slightly preferred the world-building to the plot and characters, or at any rate I'd be more likely to read Some other people do stuff in that city than

The further adventures of those same characters in various different places

. But I'd be still more likely to read Another Miéville book with a new and equally / more interesting setting and also a plot and characters that are generally said to be rather good.

Regrettable he doesn't seem to have written books under any of those titles.
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at 07:32 on 06-03-2012, Arthur B
I think the difference there is that on the whole I think Lin Carter enjoys precisely the level of recognition and respect his writing deserves in the wider SF/F community, whereas Mieville is loudly celebrated to an extent his work doesn't really merit.
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at 01:58 on 06-03-2012, Michal
I came to Mieville with my expectations lowered by Ferretbrain and absolutely loved him.

I think this is the case with a good many of us; I like a few authors that have been utterly dumped on in Ferretbrain articles, while I have a sort of seething resentment towards Michael Moorcock, who is held in pretty high regard here (ditto Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber, unfortunately, and probably worst of all...Jeff Vandermeer).

However, as for Mieville, I've voiced my opinions often enough, I think. He's at once an interesting author and a highly irritating one. I actually got angry at The Scar because it felt like the book would just never end. And Perdido Street Station...was a 200-some page pulp novel that somehow mutated into the montrosity that it is. I also don't appreciate adjective-loading as a cheap way of being "arty", which early Mieville did. A lot.

Essentially, if I see a book of his at the library I read it, but I would never buy one. And even this isn't quite true, because I borrowed The City & the City and didn't get more than a few pages in.

HOWEVER, he is an author who causes strong reactions, which is far better than a mediocre author who only musters a "meh". I mean, the mere mention of his name seems to have set you all off. If I mentioned, say, Lin Carter, the only reaction would've been some pointing and laughing.
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at 00:15 on 06-03-2012, Robinson L
Mm, so do I; didn't take the TeXtFactors to tell me (though they certainly did their part). Maybe that means I should get around to actually reading Mieville one of these days. Hmm. Has he written any non-bricks? (I'm cool with Really Long Books - provided I can obtain them on audio from the library and have someone else doing the bulk of the work for me.)
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at 00:13 on 06-03-2012, James D
Well what the fuck does "the literature of ideas" mean anyway? A good character is an idea. A good plot is an idea too. There's a difference between a 'fluff' idea, a one-off detail that only serves to flesh the world out a bit (like flavor text on trading cards), and a major idea that is central to the story. I don't know if speculative fiction is 'the literature of ideas', but Mieville writes the literature of fluff ideas.
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at 22:44 on 05-03-2012, Axiomatic
Daniel, the TextFactors have established, to my satisfaction, that I have low tastes in literature.
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at 22:31 on 05-03-2012, Arthur B
Yeah, this is why I'm embarrassed by buying into the idea that speculative fiction is "the literature of ideas", and hence crappy plots and dull characters are OK. If ideas is all you've got you've got a pretty impoverished literature right there.
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at 22:22 on 05-03-2012, Dan H
I just can't hold "having more ideas than he has plot for" against a writer.


I can. Maybe I'm a horrible, soulless person, or perhaps I just hung out with the wrong kind of RPG nerd but I'm extraordinarily uninterested in ideas, because ideas are easy.

The thing about tiny dancing copper coin golems or people with armour made of scabs is that there is nothing else to add. Once you've written the five or six words it takes to convey the idea to a third party, you have nothing else to say.
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at 22:15 on 05-03-2012, Arthur B
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.

Proposal for the ideal China Mieville publication format: a box of index cards, each card containing Mieville's writeup of a single idea from whichever fictional universe, world, or London he is playing with right now. Story and worldbuilding are for the reader to infer as they shuffle the cards.
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at 22:09 on 05-03-2012, James D
Usually I wouldn't either, but in this case the ideas are so many and the plot is so weak that I just have to.
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at 22:08 on 05-03-2012, Axiomatic
I just can't hold "having more ideas than he has plot for" against a writer.
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at 22:01 on 05-03-2012, James D
Er, my post was directed at Dan's. Took too long to type it out and other people snuck in there!
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at 21:59 on 05-03-2012, Andy G
I came to Mieville with my expectations lowered by Ferretbrain and absolutely loved him. Perhaps because of the lowered expectations! I've only read The City and the City of his novels but I really like his political stuff, including that article which sparked this whole discussion!
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at 21:53 on 05-03-2012, James D
Well, put me in the first camp. I agree with your criticisms of the story for the most part, it seems like he set up a few major events (the big reveal about Yagharek at the end, Lin getting kidnapped) and then just wrote the book as a series of 'and then this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens'. No real flow or coherence to it, which made the 'big events' really lackluster when they happen because there was no appropriate build-up to them.

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.
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at 21:52 on 05-03-2012, Axiomatic
Sure, but it's not the ONLY reason why I like him.

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.
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at 21:32 on 05-03-2012, Dan H

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.
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at 21:27 on 05-03-2012, Ibmiller
Valse - I had much the same reaction to Kraken and Un Lun Dun as well :-) Though I actually finished Kraken, since I was using it for my "let's see if Mieville is worth reading without having arthropod squick all over the place." Un Lun Dun - Marxist (but the political message is confusing in the end) Narnia/Discworld. And not nearly as interesting or original as either of those.

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 :-)
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