What is it about China Miéville that makes him so good? Among other things: language, brothers and sisters, language. A recent article in The Guardian states, “Miéville has always worn his influences on his sleeve – Lovecraft, Peake, classic and new wave SF, fantasy, comics and the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing games he played as a kid.” Yep, he’s made of all the icky stuff we’re not supposed to take seriously, yet he serves it up as if it’s la grande cuisine. And while his use of syncretic use of genre is what appeals to his fans, his language skills take the right kind of risks that mark him as more than just a story teller.
The dramatic novel is supposed to be about story and readers’ emotional connections to story. And that’s all it’s supposed to be about. Anything that gets in the way we’re to spit out like a troubling fishbone. In fact, in the popular How to Write a Damn Good Novel, we’re explicitly told that English professors have ruined our expectations of reading and writing fiction because they’ve taught us to mine novels for literary symbols instead of looking for texts that transport us into narratives. In essence, elitist gatekeepers have taught us that good fiction does something else besides focus on story, story, story.
The problem with this story-centric line of thinking is that the reading experience is often much more than simply identifying with a character overcoming his or her core conflict to achieve resolution. While that central aspect of story is satisfying and should be what most dramatic fiction is about (because most readers want that), the splendid experience in reading something that jumps out at you and makes you pause is its own reward. In fact, it stops the narrative in its tracks because it’s so good that it demands you to take notice. I know; most editors cringe because this arresting of narrative is the very devil that seduces so many writers to punch out purple prose. In those cases, the pauses make us gag. But there’s something wonderful when story and language work together to create magic that resonates.
For example, Miéville’s writing is full of such gems. Granted, his narratives require work. They’re often highly textured, with odd references and, often, jarring imagery. (And, this is intended). The language is designed to transport the reader, sure, and Miéville does this well, taking us to an enchanted London or to Bas-Lag’s New Crobuzon. And his stories are thought-provoking as well. But the language emerges in a way that’s exemplary. For example, poetry abounds in lines such as, “the miasmic entities drifting at head-height like demon-faced farts” or “fields were full of the corpses of souls.”
Moreover, as I read Kraken (2008) his craft of painting a picture for the reader strikes me as a fundamental mechanism of how he uses language for effect. For example, in Kraken he writes, “The door to the bedroom opened and there was Dane, his fist clenched, dark as a man-shaped hole.” When I read “man-shaped hole” I stopped and lingered on the image as the scene sharply focused. It creeped me out. I could have kept reading, of course, but the effect was staggering. It’s why I read novels. He nailed it. The magic that happens with that most elusive of practices, poetry, occurred. I believe that’s exactly what Miéville intended (even though, I’ve been trained to think the Intentional Fallacy is sacrosanct). In fact, as a reader, I feel he crosses the great divide, taps me on the shoulder, and communicates directly to me. Literary theorists may debate whether this is possible. But, that’s a unique kind of channeling that goes beyond simply telling story in the most arresting way. It does this and more. It resonates.
I got my money’s worth on that one line.
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Curtis Hox scribbles science fantasy novels. He’s written six unpublished novels, which include his debut science fiction novel Bleedover and the forthcoming YA Transhuman Warrior Series. This article is part of the 2012 Bleedover Blog Tour. Check out Curtis Hox’s next tour stops and join the Bleedover Blog Tour Giveaway to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card. For more information, visit www.curtishox.com.