To mark the BBC adaptation Miéville’s The City & the City, here’s a quick run-down of his oeuvre so far. All opinions my own.
- The City & The City. If one definition of great art is that it changes the way you view the world, then this is great art. Inspector Tyador Borlú investigates a murder in Besźel and Ul Qoma, cities which share the same space but where to acknowledge the other’s existence is a crime. Along with Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, this is my favourite work of 21st-century fiction.
- The Last Days of New Paris. Maybe not to everyone’s taste, this tale of resistance and survival in the days following a Surrealist apocalypse is a source of constant wonders. Artworks come to a weird kind of life – with all which that entails – and move with what Miéville beautifully describes as “dreamlike specificity”.
- Kraken. One of our cephalopods is missing. Octopi London. When a giant squid is kidnapped from the Natural History Museum, inter-cult capers ensue. His funniest book, and perfectly fits that (admittedly rare) “needing to read something light but which still melts your brain” mood. The wonderfully foul-mouthed PC Kath Collingswood is Miéville’s best supporting character.
- Railsea. Miéville’s second work aimed at Young Adults, this riff on Moby Dick is good fun. A great white mole is hunted in a world where stepping off a railway line means certain death.
- Looking for Jake. A short story collection, and patchy in places, but it contains enough gems to qualify: the modern-day Lovecraftian “Details”; “The Ball Room”, certain to put parents off taking their kids to soft-play for life; and “Reports of Certain Events in London” which I have to confess was the inspiration for one of my own stories.
- Three Moments of an Explosion. More short stories: more of them, and better. “Covehithe” (semi-sentient oilrigs; a comment on our oil dependency), the inverted landscapes of “Polynia” and “The Dowager of Bees” – there are certain cards you never want dealt – are among the highlights.
- Perdido Street Station. You were beginning to wonder, weren’t you? Epic urban fantasy, endlessly inventive, and the book that made his name. The first of his Bas-Lag trilogy but not, for me, the best of them. That would be…
- The Scar. The heroine of this nautical adventure, Bellis Coldwine, is arguably Miéville’s least-sympathetic protagonist, and that’s what I like about it. It takes guts for a writer to know readers are going to whine “I didn’t like the main character” and to not give a shit. The sudden appearance of the native females on the island of the Anophelii is one of the scariest things I’ve read in years.
- Un Lun Dun. More fun for Young Adults. With illustrations by the author, any book which features fighting trashcans – Binjas – has lots going for it. Also contains Extreme Librarians, which is always a good thing.
- Embassytown. This is the point at which a top ten seems a bit of a stretch. This space opera is (alongside This Census Taker, below) the only Miéville I’ve never felt tempted to re-read. Stunningly inventive linguistically, for me it all falls apart towards a rather uninspired final act.
At time of writing Miéville has published thirteen full-length books, so the above list is pretty inclusive. What did I leave out, and why?
- Iron Council. The final (so far) of his Bas-Lag novels. I’m not a Western fan, but that isn’t the reason it doesn’t make the cut. There are some great set-pieces, and astute political commentary, but it’s the flattest-feeling (and the longest-feeling) of the trilogy.
- King Rat. This almost made the list at the expense of either Looking for Jake or Embassytown, and on another day it might have made it. Miéville’s debut, the drum & bass motif is perhaps dated, the plotting (by his standards) conventional, but if I’d written a book this good when I was 24 (and the book I wrote when I was 24 was not good) I’d be pretty happy.
- This Census Taker. Or, the exact point at which an author leaves too much to the reader’s imagination. And with the “averaging gun”, it’s where Miéville lapses into self-parody. Happily this drop in form was just a blip because his follow-up was, to bring us right up to date, The Last Days of New Paris.
photo credit: Geraint Lewis/Writer Pictures