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 16:52 on 05-03-2012, Jill Heather
Past the Bas-Lag books (and excluding Un Lun Dun, which I thought clever and fun though ultimately very light), I read The City & The City, which I loved for reasons that have little to do with the quality of the book (unsurprisingly, the book can be summed up as setting=great, plotting=terrible; as I am a sucker for a good setting -- this is why I enjoyed The Night Circus despite it lacking anything in the way of having a plot or characters -- and as the cities reminded me of mid-90s Montreal, I cannot really separate my response to the book from my relief at no longer being in the mid 90s minefield). I enjoyed Kraken when I read it, though I don't remember much about it except the origami person. There must have been squid in it, too. I tried to read his new one a few times but never got very far because it was so boring.
at 16:50 on 05-03-2012, James D
Oh, OK, I thought you meant it literally 'unhappened' rather than making a joke, since there was that probability drive thing. Yeah, I agree with your general assessment. I was expecting Bellis or one of the other main characters to get into the boat too, but then...they didn't.
at 16:07 on 05-03-2012, Arthur B
That's exactly what I meant by unhappening.
The entire novel builds up to people reaching the Scar. Reaching the Scar is the entire reason the floating city was put together in the first place. Spontaneously people decide not to go to the Scar, the city is dissolved - and since we had no clue of its existence before this novel, this returns the world to the state it was in on page 1 - and the characters who decide "fuck this, we're going to keep going and actually get some of the payoff these hundreds and hundreds of pages have been building up to" end up doing it offscreen.

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.
at 16:05 on 05-03-2012, valse de la lune
The Lovers really creeped me out, btw. I've forgotten many details of The Scar, but those... cling.
at 16:00 on 05-03-2012, James D
she and a handful of loyal followers take the necessary equipment in a boat and keep going, while the city goes back. Bellis gets put on a boat and sent home for some reason (probably just to give the illusion of a satisfying conclusion).
at 15:52 on 05-03-2012, valse de la lune
Been a while for me, as well; the female half of the Lovers ends up going off on a sailboat on her own? I think?

It's been a very long while.
at 15:40 on 05-03-2012, James D
Hm, it's been a while since I read The Scar, but I'm not sure I remember it the way you do...
I definitely don't remember anything 'unhappening', the city just ended up revolting against the Lovers and their single-minded quest for the Scar, (thanks to the machinations of what's-his-name). That was kind of a cop-out, though. The whole book is hinging on this quest, and we don't even get to see what happens when it's completed. I guess the status quo was kind of upset in that the entire power structure of the city shifted, but that's probably not the kind of "delicious chaos" you're envisioning. If the city had started exploding (or whatever) as it reached the end of the world, Bellis might've finally had some action to take and there would've been a satisfying conclusion.
at 15:16 on 05-03-2012, Arthur B
I got very annoyed at the end of The Scar when it seemed like something big and important would happen which would actually shake up the status quo of Mieville's lovingly constructed fantasy world, but then
someone pulled out an infinite improbability drive to make it all unhappen

Imagine my annoyance at The Iron Council when, rather than having his revolution pull off an unlikely success or suffer a realistic defeat, Mieville has a character
pull out a time hole so that Mieville is saved from actually having to resolve anything.

The whole thing revealed a distasteful fondness for deus ex machina and an equally distasteful tendency to set up situations which look like they are about to degenerate into delicious chaos and then not allowing chaos to happen.
at 15:00 on 05-03-2012, James D
Well, I liked The Scar overall, and I thought Bellis was a good character too. The problem was, she just didn't have a whole lot to do. She had very very little control over her situation and, as such, few interesting choices to make and not much of a *story* to her. She's essentially an observer of a story that has very little to do with her (beyond using her as a tool). Aside from finally getting to go home (the reason for which seems rather strained, given the importance of the city's secrecy), the plot's outcome affects her not at all. She didn't really change a whole lot over the course of the book, either. Now, I thought the setting was amazing and I've always liked Mieville's style. I certainly wouldn't have picked up The Scar after reading PSS if I didn't enjoy reading him. I just have some big problems with him as well.
at 14:49 on 05-03-2012, valse de la lune
Mmm, I don't prioritize plotting in quite the way you do and thought The Scar was fantastic (grimdark rapeyness off-screen aside, and some issues with Bellis--though even so, she's a gorgeously-drawn character).
at 14:46 on 05-03-2012, James D
He has... issues, but generally he's quite a smart man.

But do those books have better plotting? Or are they just more mediocre stories with awesome costumes and amazing sets?
at 14:42 on 05-03-2012, valse de la lune
I dunno, I'd say he's tried out a lot of different things--The City & The City and Embassytown say are very different from his Bas-Lag books. He has... issues (women in some of the books, and in Embassytown there's iffy colonialism baggage), but generally he's quite a smart man.

Let's agree never to speak of the unspeakable things we did in the time bubble. Even though it means I have to forgive Dan for shooting me in that timeline.

I feel like I'm in a Marvel superhero comic. R-r-reboot.
at 14:32 on 05-03-2012, James D
I've read a little about his more recent books and apparently some of them are even worse in that department, I really get the feeling he got way too much success way too fast and never had any incentive to improve as a writer. Which is a shame, because I think he's really really good in some respects. PSS would've been so good if he'd just ditched the monster plot altogether (or made it extremely minor) and just focused on a character-driven story. I genuinely liked the main characters, Mieville did a quite decent job of giving them a little depth, and reading about their trials and tribulations in that bizarre city would've made for a much better book.
at 14:23 on 05-03-2012, Arthur B
I haven't read any of his more recent stuff but PSS/The Scar/Iron Council are obscenely overrated, for the reasons you point out.
at 14:13 on 05-03-2012, James D
Is it just me or is China Mieville kinda...overrated? I've read Perdido Street Station and The Scar and while both were good, they both had large flaws going hand-in-hand with his undeniably awesome worldbuilding and excellent style. His main problem, as I see it, is his woefully poor plotting. Perdido Street Station was, at its core, a monster movie with a tremendously dull central conflict, and The Scar's central conflict didn't even personally involve any of the main characters. Mieville is great at thinking up cool stuff but not good at all at thinking of a good story to put them in, at least in those two books.
at 12:25 on 05-03-2012, Arthur B
Let's agree never to speak of the unspeakable things we did in the time bubble. Even though it means I have to forgive Dan for shooting me in that timeline.
at 11:35 on 05-03-2012, Wardog
Time Crisis over! That was exciting!
at 05:45 on 05-03-2012, Michal permalink
at 20:56 on 03-03-2012, James D
Well at least it's explicitly marketed as fetish stuff, rather than trying to pass the sexual aspects off as deep or meaningful. People get off on some weird shit.
at 20:33 on 03-03-2012, valse de la lune
Okay so, according to a friend, the book in question contains bestiality. And not in the sense of "people have sex with a catboy," no. We're talking (trigger warning)
a catboy being raped by dogs repeatedly

This may be the nadir after all.
at 17:14 on 03-03-2012, valse de la lune
I don't think this is even the nadir either. I'm sure I could find something worse, given a bit of time, and I never did find out whether the one with the yeti involved, uhm, yeti intercourse.

What am I even typing.

Excerpt from the neko thing: The neko was young, barely past adolescence, hairless save for the grey fur of his tail and that of his sensitive, cat-like ears.
Dharsha was sold again, this time for far, far less than his original price to a woman with a taste for exotic young things.... The first time she called him to her chambers, he was amazed. For females were mysterious, wondrous things that he had little experience of, but had mused often enough about, as most young males did.
"As I promised, I've a neko slave to sell."

"No! You bitch!" Dharsha cried, betrayed, furious, aghast. How could she after sharing her body with him? After teaching him the wonders of sex?

You can read more. If you want to. And I'm sure you have every reason to want to!
at 17:00 on 03-03-2012, Wardog

God, where ... how ... why.

And I thought those gay vampire dentists you found were some kind of nadir.

at 13:14 on 03-03-2012, valse de la lune
Oh, to contribute to the nightmare quotient, take a look at PL Nunn's M/M fiction. NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

The neko are a cat-like race that live separate from humans.
at 12:33 on 03-03-2012, Axiomatic
In the immortal words of Zecora, WHAT EVIL HAVE I SEEN / ON MY COMPUTER SCREEN?