Mieville’s novels always feature brilliant ideas, and he uses what a friend calls the ‘wring every last bit of emotion out of a scene’s’ technique incredibly well. Thoughts:
- I sometimes get bogged down in the plots, and perhaps that’s because his characters feel sort of cold to me. I think that Perdido Street Station is still my favorite because the characters were so odd and yet so tinged in a 1930sish steampunk ecosystem that I felt their cause. New Paris and City and City didn’t quite involve me in the same way. The fact that Mieville’s novels tend to be short might be his own interest in not worrying about world-building but instead focusing on the possibilities of literature and fantasy and science fiction.
- That being said, this is a far different alternative WWII text. It moves between two narrators, and an American who goes to a meeting with surrealists (Andre Breton is there, among others) who are trying to figure out what resistance means in their ideology, creates a device that harnesses their energy, and then sees that device stolen and sold in Paris. It explodes, transforming Paris into a place where art comes to life, and surrealist art comes to life in frightening ways.
- Some resistance fighters (not Free French, who are too committed to the status quo) are manifestation (manif) friendly, and have figured out how to work with them. True to their ‘nature’, these manifs are not all that interested in anything but destruction.
- Of course, it’s the surrealist art that fights Nazis. The mainstream stuff only serves to uphold the status quo.
- And, in a twist that I’m not sure about, the Nazis – trying to fight the manifs – somehow work with an evil Catholic priest to involve the forces of Hell.
- Greil Marcus also had this fascination with Dadaism and the Situationists, and Mieville’s obsession with ways to remake our culture more humanely wanders off on all kinds of paths. I feel this same push-and-pull, and I struggle with it – disruption comes with costs, and sometimes the disruptionist occupies a privileged position that allows them to avoid consequences.
- One of Gibson’s Neuromancer trilogy posited this directly. I think it happens in Count Zero, but a hacker destroys a banking system, in the name of both disruption and stealing money, and subsequently devotes all his time to helping people after watching news reports of the civil wars those banking failures caused in the developing world.
- Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon also queries this dilemma. In it a group of hackers form a data haven that makes them a lot of money. Pure criminal situationist disruption, right? But they actually use the money to create an anti-genocide force, one that hearkens back to the Good War (WWII), and thus at least demonstrates an awareness of the fact that disruption has consequences.
- Mieville is clearly aware of all this as well, and my guess is that’s why he includes the forces of hell, making sure that at least one of his signifiers is clear.
- Another fascinating (to me anyway) feature of Mieville’s fiction is his interest in flesh/machine/digital/chronological borders. What we think of as monsters are not necessarily monsters in his created worlds, and in this novel the manifs are only monsters if you are not one of them.
- As with all utopias (or even dystopias), none of this can last. The cataclysmic event at the end of the novella dooms New Paris, and even the appearance of a manifested Hitler (he loved pastels) cannot stop the Surrealist revolution from imploding.
- One more contradiction that Mieville seems to delight in is his love of the city. The fact that he does not romanticize urban areas leads him to dance along the edge of reveling in the spectacle of crime (for instance) and even idealizing the urban poor’s ability to survive economic hardship without (again) worrying about the consequences. Clearly I am concerned about – one might say a bit obsessed with – consequences, and subsequently, I guess, I admire Mieville’s approach while worrying about the joy he takes in the spectacle.