January 12, 2005

Crooked Timber on China Miéville

Crooked Timber is having a Festschrift on China Miéville, including author response. It's worth reading and it's a reminder that I ought to reread Iron Council a bit more closely.

Alas, I have a Dutch test tomorrow and thus can say very little, except that he is one of a very small number of authors for whom I am willing to truck my fat ass down to Waterstone's and cough up hard currency for new novels in hardback (as opposed to my standard practice: paying in soft currency for paperback on Amazon.com.) I am not a big fan of fantasy in general (the wife is into Mercedes Lackey, Elizabeth Moon, and Anne McCaffery - I've taken to calling her books chick fantasy) but I'm begining to take the genre seriously again after starting to read Miéville.

I'm one of those who think that there is a well-founded - although often fuzzy - distinction between fantasy and SF. I just don't think it has much to do with science. SF deals in the possibilities of the world, drawing on our ignorance of it to speculate on what might be. Fantasy deals in the impossiblities of this world, drawing on our knowledge of the world by denying elements of it. Miéville clearly falls on the fantasy side of that line.

This analysis leads to some contradictions that I'd try to write about, if I could do so in Dutch. Maybe later.

Posted 2005/01/12 13:40 (Wed) | TrackBack

I think your SF/fantasy distinction holds up. Years ago, when I was writing a piece of SF, it occurred to me (not an original thought) that SF is fundamentally about wonder: the amazement and fear and awe and confusion which follows scientific breakthroughs, whether real or imagined. I think this maps onto what you're saying: "What might be?" is a cool but also terrifying question, and SF (as originally conceived, anyway) plunders that. Whereas fantasy, while not necessarily escapist, isn't about wondering about the direction or trajectory of our or some possible world, but rather begins with what we "know" to be impossible, and goes from there.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox at January 12, 2005 14:05

The contradictions arise when you start to take a look at our ignorance of the world: it is almost complete. No act of magic cannot be explained by a technological device created by sheer stipulation. I posted once speculating that Miéville intends to ultimately tell us that Bas Lag is really Earth after some cataclysm of the sort he describes in The Scar. Henry Farrell responded that Miéville had told him it wasn't so, and if Iron Council is the last New Crobuzon novel, then obviously he's right. But an analysis of fantasy and SF where an author can change his mind about which he's writing later on - as McCaffery did with the Dragonsong novels - isn't a very good analysis.

Also, alternate history fiction might be qualified as fantasy in this sense, since it starts by the denial of the world as it is. Or perhaps those are just the fuzzy cases. I'm still of two minds on the issue.

There are moments when "I don't know what it is, but I know what I like" is a very tempting line of reasoning.

Posted by: Scott Martens at January 12, 2005 14:21

Scott: like you, I've decided--after reading what the CT mini seminar has to offer--that I have to go back and reread what I've read so far of IC more carefully.

On another note: congratulations on your alt.muslim nomination for best post.

Posted by: pedro at January 14, 2005 4:35

Thanks Pedro. I just saw last night on Crooked Timber that I had been nominated. I don't think I ever would have thought of myself as a part of the Islamosphere, but what the heck.

Posted by: Scott Martens at January 14, 2005 10:05
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