Games writers play

‘Left attracts more attention'   | Photo Credit: Photo: Bhagya Prakash

Fantasy fiction writer China Mieville does a waltz with words while MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER listens entranced

Talking to China Mieville is like doing a ballet with words. The London-based fantasy writer uses words with joyful abandon tempered with extraordinary eruditeness. The word play starts with his name. “My parents were hippies and named me after cockney rhyming slang,” he comments. Since my knowledge of cockney is limited to Mind Your Language and My Fair Lady, China elaborates.

“The rhyming slang for stairs is apples.” I am completely mystified. “The phrase is apples and pears, which rhymes with stairs. So you knock off the rhyming part, pears, and apples equals stairs. Similarly, China plate rhymes with mate so you remove plate and are left with China for mate. Though not used very often now, you do find people referring to their old friends as ‘my old china'.”

For a reading organised by Toto Funds the Arts, China gamely spoke of the political slant in his writing. “People imagine there is some alchemical way in which politics is merged into my writing. For me it is a non-issue. There is no juggling. I have been on the Left for a long time, so it is only natural that my novels would have a political texture. I see the world politically. However, I am passionately devoted to telling a story and for those who are not interested in politics, the story has to sustain.”

The award-winning writer admits that being on the Left attracts more attention. “Coming from the Left, one tends to stick out more as you come with a critical attitude, of the world not being okay. Walter Benjamin's concept of rubbing history against its grain comes into play. As opposed to a conservative writer who might be very good, but would try to defend the status quo and rub more smoothly with the grain.”

Rather than a rebel without a pause, China describes himself wanting to be part of “a movement that would end the need for movements.”

The 38-year-old writer has been very vocal about the tyranny of genres but has also commented on how he would like to write a novel in every genre. “See the oppression of the Internet! I have effectively given myself a stick to beat myself with! I am interested in generic protocols. I have no problems with quick and dirty classifications. What I am opposed to is a hermeneutic approach. I think all genre classifications are crudifications. ”

Genre readers, China admits, are the “most rigorous. They would say the book cheated if it did not strictly adhere to rules, which I find a fascinating concept. How can a book cheat?”

In his latest book, The City & The City, China turns the police procedural on its head. “I have obeyed the rules and then twisted it. When I set out to write ‘The City', I read a whole lot of detective fiction and then saw how I could push the envelope. I don't think there is any moral demerit in breaking the rules. For instance introducing the killer in the last 10 pages of a whodunit is against the rules but writers do it just for the fun of it. I approach genres with great respect for the literary tradition and form.”

The two-time winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, says “fantasy, science fiction, and horror, is my home. I grew up loving monsters. I love the grotesque, I love the technique of jamming two things together, randomised cross fertilisations. I believe monsters are not just metaphors but rather all metaphors are monsters.”

China's fantastic creatures come from far and wide, including Garuda from India. “With cheerful piratical abandon and a creative philistinism, I have stolen monsters from all over the world. I am a student of anthropology but I have literalised the monsters. Rather than go into the sociological significance of Garuda, I have used it because a birdman is cool.”

About the theory of creating monsters as a kind of exorcism, China says “That asks as many questions as it answers. Take Stephen King's ‘It'. Two questions, why is King afraid of killer clowns and did he get over that fear after writing ‘It'? The answers would be ‘I don't know' and ‘no'. So while monsters are a way of thinking about societal and personal fears, we are also attracted to monsters — in a subliminal way they are our libidinous thoughts.”

China's Bas Lag trilogy has hoards of devotees. On returning to the world, he says: “I will return to Bas Lag but only when I can do so in a way that does not undermine it. The problem with returning to a world is, it becomes more known, familiar and domesticated. I don't want to turn into a Bas Lag factory.”Fans are awaiting China's “Kraken” (an Anglo Saxon myth; a giant squid) with bated breath. The book will be out in May this year.

In India as part of Lit Sutra, China is going to stick to his promise of one book in every genre. “If you were to ask me what about pornography, I would have to say I am not that kind of man! Or who knows, I might have already written one under a pseudonym!”