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Interview with China Miéville, author of 2010 Hugo Award-winner "The City & The City"

China Miéville talks about "The City & The City," his sci-fi/fantasy/detective novel which shares the 2010 Hugo Award for best novel.

By / September 10, 2010

China Miéville is a self-described practitioner of "weird fiction."

Kate Eshelby

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Talk about genre-busting: When a classy, classic detective novel with heavy Eastern European noir overtones is set in a pair of overlapping city states whose citizens – for political reasons – must learn to “unsee” one other, what label would you apply? Fantasy? Crime? Sci-fi? Poli sci? Pick one and/or mix and match?

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The judges behind the prestigious Hugo Awards for the year’s best best science fiction or fantasy work were obviously eager to claim The City & The City by British writer China Miéville as one of their own. Earlier this week they named “The City & The City” (in a tie with Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl”) as recipient of the 2010 Hugo award for best novel. Miéville talked with Monitor book editor Marjorie Kehe about “The City & The City.”

How does it feel to win a big prize like the Hugo Award? Does it change anything?
Does it make you feel different about the book? No – except that you’re aware that people are looking at it differently. It certainly doesn’t make me go back and think, “Oh maybe this book is better than I thought” or whatever. But it certainly makes a difference in other ways. The thing about prizes is that you can be quite cynical about them and quite aware of how contingent and subjective they are, and yet still be quite moved to have received them, especially when it's one that’s part of your field and something that you grew up with and something that meant a lot to you. When I was a kid I didn’t exactly know what the Hugo Award was but I did know that it was sort of this very opaque, glamorous thing that some of the writers that I loved best had on the covers of their books so [in that sense] it means a great deal.

Your work is often described as “weird fiction.” How do you see your genre?
“Weird fiction” is a term that comes from the 1920s and the work of writers like HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. If I and others call my stuff “weird fiction” it’s in homage to and [in recognition of being] inspired by that tradition of that somewhat grotesque, horror-tinged, blurred line between science fiction and the fantastic. But if I’m talking to people that don’t particularly know the field, then I tend to say that it’s science fiction, because that’s simpler. I’m not someone who gets their knickers into a twist about the specificity of these labels.

The premise of the two cities – Beszel and Ul Qoma, physically overlapping and yet legally and culturally divided by some terrible, forgotten act of history – is so intriguing. Where did it come from?
What happened in my head was the literalization of a fantastic idea of cities that overlapped and that became more and more set in the real world. The real-world ramifications and metaphors came after that. But once I had decided that I wanted to set it in the real world you begin thinking about how the real-world logic works and it came to me quite quickly that this was a real-world logic dictated by social filters and borders and [legal codes] and national boundaries – exactly as in the real world but just exaggerated. As is always the case with most of the ideas that you have as a writer of the fantastic, it’s very hard to pin them to an exact spot. It’s only in the second or third phase that that kind of reflection kicks in and you start to think about it.

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