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.
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Beszel and Ul Qoma feel like they’re in Eastern Europe. Is that what you intended?
At that time I was reading a lot of literature set in central Europe – Prague, the Czech Republic, Poland, Austria – and I wanted to construct a place that had those kinds of resonances but that very deliberately did not pin itself down to geographic specificity. So there’s lots of hints about where it may or may not be. It was quite important to me that it not be pinned down so the sense of it would be that it’s just around the corner, in the real world somewhere, but if you actually had to drive there you’d be a bit confused. It’s not as if I have a map in my head and there’s a red X on that map marking this place off. That would be too reductive for me as a writer, personally, to find interesting.
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“The City & The City” is sometimes called a metaphysical novel? Do you embrace that label?
Sure! Yeah! Personally I don’t like it when writers become excessively proscriptive about the way that people read their books. Certainly I have my own sense of what I wanted to do. And certainly I agree more with some people’s interpretations than with others. But I do think it’s important to remember that writers do not have a monopoly of wisdom on their books. They can be wrong about their own books, they can often learn about their own books. I love it when people want to interpret my books. And I certainly see why the label “metaphysical” comes along. People talk about Kafka and Calvino and [influences] like that and they certainly are there. I find it difficult to imagine being anything other than flattered by that label and particularly because that does not preclude other interpretations. There’s no contradiction between being a metaphysical book and a political book. A book can absolutely be both. It can be metaphysical and also be a kind of ripping detective yarn.
“The City & The City” very definitely works as a detective novel. Are you a fan of crime fiction? Who do you read and who do you admire?
I couldn’t have written “The City & The City” if I didn’t intend it not just to be an homage to police procedural novels but really to be a police procedural. My home genre has always been fantastic literature but I have always read crime fiction and my mother was a very big reader of crime fiction and she used to always throw books at me and say, “Try this one” and “Try this one” and so I learned about crime fiction from her. And then when I decided that I would try crime fiction. I wanted “The City & The City” to be a very faithful crime novel so that crime novel readers with a bit of interest in the fantastic could pick it up and read it as a completely faithful and respectful crime novel. I didn’t want them to read it as if somehow I was an outsider coming in and not showing civility to their protocols. So I read a lot of crime and went back to a lot of favorites. I would say that for me, among the ones that loom largest, there’s [Raymond] Chandler above all. I also like a lot of the kind of bleak European crime writiers. Martin Cruz Smith is one of them – I love the Arkady Renko novels. And some of the kind of oldest European noir, the French noir, is something I really like.