Wednesday, 30 October 2013

China Mieville

I have just come across a new writer - to me that is.  China Mieville (excuse me, but I can't get the "e-acute" I require to spell his name properly) is already a multiple award winner in the genre of SciFi.  This does not even do him justice though, because his books defy being put in one genre.  In fact I read somewhere that he once set out to write a novel in each of many different genres.  What put me on to him was a recommendation to read "The City and the City".
This is a detective noir novel with a difference set in a divided city.  It could be reminiscent of Nicosia, or Berlin, or Belfast, but it is a deeper picture than those cities.  In China Mieville's book the city is not split in half geographically - it's two communities live cheek by jowl and totally intermingled.  How such existence has been made to succeed is that one community deliberately "unsees" the other.  Your next door neighbour may be from the other city, but you don't "see" him, and to go to his house you have to go through an immigration point in the centre of the two cities, at which point you are allowed to "see" the other city to your own.  This apparently satisfactory means of living together is strained when a murder takes place in one city, and the body is dumped in the other.
Mieville's books stretch the imagination, but uncannily still give a believable picture of the possible result of human stupidity (or is it ingenuity?).  I have just finished my second book of his - "Embassytown".  This novel examines the impact of human culture on a totally alien culture by means of a scifi setting.  It is a challenging read that portrays a completely different culture where the beings have two mouths and so speak in a way impossible for a human being.  Though twin ambassadors are created to overcome the problem of communication, things go terribly wrong as the Host (so called) become addicted - or corrupted - by contact with human speech.  The novel deals with language and its complexities - the Host speak Language, and cannot lie.  But once they become intrigued by the possibility of telling untruths, they are on the way to a crisis in their culture.
I am looking forward to reading more of his books, and his extraordinary imagination.  Try him yourself.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


In the UK we have a government funded recompense scheme for authors whose books are borrowed from public libraries - Public Lending Right.  It's a small amount of money each year, but nonetheless welcome for all that.  The thing is, about a year ago, the present government decided it would be good publicity to get rid of all those useless quangos (quasi-autonomous, neo-governmental organisations) that spend taxpayers' money without being responsible to the electorate.  The trouble is that, despite the public's dislike of quangos, many of them carry out useful functions.  Like PLR.  It's a small unit in Stockton-on-Tees that performs efficiently and hands out money to authors on time every year according to figures estimated from samples of library loans.  The government ran a consultation exercise (so-called) which raised a lot of protest from authors, predictably to no avail.  The PLR organisation was to be subsumed into the British Library, and authors were left fearful of the consequences.  In a way we need not have worried, because PLR now tells us that, although now being part of the British Library, the office remains in Stockton-on-Tees and the staff remain the same.  No cuts then.  Which only goes to show the government's 'big idea' of cutting quangos was just smoke and mirrors.  I have no doubt that some organisations disappeared, some maybe had funding cuts, but I would bet most of them were simply hidden away in another organisation with the same funding and staffing.  Just to give the impression that the 'big idea' had been carried through.  Pull the other one, Mr Cameron.