China Miéville is my new boyfriend. I mean, look at him:
Hubba hubba. I mean, I've always had a thing for guys who have had their noses obviously broken at some point, but this man is just wicked attractive. Now that I've been super lame and girly about this authors merits, I do want to say that I love you for your mind, Mr. Miéville, your hot, hot mind. And the fact that your name is weird. And you've got those little French thingees over the e that I can't get my word processor to do. (I roll with cut-and-paste; it's a kluge, but it gets the job done.)
I'm too young to have this be emotionally real for me, but one of the reasons Hitchcock's “Psycho” was so upsetting is because it discombobulated the viewers notions of main character. Hitchcock spends all this time documenting Marion and her crime and escape, lavishing scenes on her switching cars, chatting with the bf, all that. Then she checks into a motel, has a little dinner, dips into the shower and SWINK SWINK SWINK end of story. Like, WHAT? I imagine everyone in the theater thinking. You just killed off the main character! In steps Lila, Marion's sister, and we all kind of breathe a sigh of relief, but it just has to be said: Lila's not as interesting. Norman is, though, and then you realize that the story's about him, and he's a bloody killer.
But maybe that's not even it, maybe it's that we can't trust Hitchcock anymore because stories should be about one thing and not another, one person and not another, and we like it when character is destiny, but more importantly, we like it when characters have destinies, because, like, isn't that the point of fiction? Fiction winds up these little marionettes who trundle forward in little dioramas, and maybe the fictions are more or less life-like, maybe the dolls have real silk dresses, or the walls are actually lathe-and-plaster with horsehair and newspapers from the turn of the last century as insulation, but it's still fiction, which means there's a simplicity at its soul, even when it's complicated – there's just no way to make a 1-to-1 model of everything. We root for main characters, even when they suck and are terrible, because we are main characters all; I don't care how much empathy you have, you simply can't know what goes on in another person's head, anyone's. So Hitchcock kills his main character, and we all start, because, holy wow, man, you just killed us.
Anyway, Miéville does this with the concept of Destiny and I just want to give him a big smooch for it. (Well, okay, for other reasons too.) A pair of girls fall into the Un Lun Dun/unLondon of the title. UnLondon is just fantastic, not entirely because it's trying to be fantastic, but because it isn't, sort of. Man, that didn't make any sense. Okay, here's an example: our protagonists run in with folk called the Roofrunners, who seem like those sort of aggressively clannish Klingon types who are always crowing about how no one has stepped onto the ground in three generations and wear a lot of leather. You can see where this is going, right? Some Roofrunner is going to have to step onto the ground at some point very soon to Save Them All, but then, when it actually happens, turns out the roofs are false roofs, just sitting there on the ground with no houses under them, so all they really have to do is STEP DOWN. That is so freaking funny! I mean, it's all fiction right? The roofs, the city, the people inside, why not have the roofs on the ground? Why not make the danger something that comes from the stories these people told, and not the imaginary gravity of their imaginary environment? Whoa. I just freaked myself out.
There's other sublime weirdness as well: a school of fish in a diving suit who constitute a sentient entity, or a bird in a robot man with a birdcage for a head, or any of a hundred other frightening or comic people and things. There's pictures too – little pen and ink sketches by Miéville himself – more swooning – that aren't obnoxious or distracting, but help catalog the oddments without interrupting the narrative. He has the good sense not to interfere with my notions of how the main characters look, instead stuffing the peripheries with the ideas I might miss out of the corner of my eye.
BUT, all soul mates have to have their their first fight, and here's my opening salvo: sometimes puns just piss me off. There should never be places called Webminster Abbey...made of webs! Inhabited by the Black Window...who is like a window with spider legs! It's just, you know, lame. (Although, the actual descriptions of the Black Windows, even though just typing those words made me die a little bit, was unsettling and powerful.) Gaiman's Neverwhere gets mentioned a lot with this book - I think it's mentioned by and Miéville himself - I had the same problems with that one. Additionally, one of the reasons I didn't groove on Neverwhere like some of Gaiman's other stuff is that Richard Mayhew is milquetoast as all get out, and his problems with his gf were kind of stupid, Sex and the City style antics, and he just needed to sack up, in general. Deeba is similarly unrealized, in some ways: I don't have a good sense of how she is when she's alone, but at least she didn't have a harpy-ish girlfriend who seemed like a sexist caricature.
Sorry Gaiman! I still love you too, but I'm throwing you over for this Miéville fellow!
Cross-posted on Readerling