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Kraken: China Miéville interview

China Miéville is the first author to win three Arthur C Clarke awards. He received the third prestigious science fiction award for his crime story, The City and the City. China spoke to Socialist Worker about his latest novel, Kraken


The cover of Kraken

The cover of Kraken


Would you say Kraken is a return to some of your earlier work?

For readers who really liked the big, undisciplined, chaotic, rumbumptious books like Perdido Street Station, I was deliberately writing something big and monstery.

But because it is ten years later, it doesn’t feel like a retread. The language is more disciplined even if the story is more shaggy.

It feels almost nostalgic to be writing that sort of book. But the book is a comedy.

It is meant to be relaxed, with a lot of teasing of fantasy, and other genres I love.

People who are into these things tend to have a sense of humour about themselves – that’s why there are a lot of stupid Star Trek jokes and things like that.

You move and change as a writer, but publishing schedules also do funny things. Kraken was written at the same time as The City and the City.

And there is another book that I wrote before Kraken that hasn’t come out yet. The sense of trajectory that the reader has can be a little confusing.

The book centres on the theft of a giant squid and warring religions, including a squid cult. Were you cautious writing about religion?

There is nothing so recherché that somebody somewhere isn’t worshipping it.

The idea of the squid cult is far from a new idea, particularly in fantasy and horror writing.

There is a list of them in the book, which is a present for the squid nerds.

There are couple of conversations in the book where one of the characters is essentially doing a critique of the “Richard Dawkins” style of atheism.

I am an atheist but I am impatient with that kind of thumping atheism that treats religion as simply an intellectual error.

If you are writing about religion today in Britain, you cannot but be aware of the debates about Islam.

But I didn’t want it in the foreground of the book, because you run a real risk of rather clumsy analogies.

I am emphatically not saying that the worshippers of the squid cult equate to real worshippers of any faith.

It is as much about that melodramatic trope of cults as is it is about real religions in the real world.

I hope that the depiction of religion, for all that it teases, doesn’t sneer.

You are often seen as a London writer. Does the latest book reinforce that idea?

The book is not primarily driven by London – rather the fact that there really is a giant squid in a tank in London’s Natural History Museum.

The peg of the story was the squid in a tank in London, otherwise it could have been an Oslo novel.

I’m part of a London fantastical tradition. Most but not all London novels focus on it not being an ordinary, everyday city.

Kraken is centred on the strange city, it is focused on the fantasmagoria.

So I think of this as much less of a London novel than say, King Rat, which is all about the oscillation between two levels.

There is a fantasticial strike by familiars [spirit servants often in animal form, such as a witch’s cat] in the book. Does politics always slip into your writing?

I am in no way anxious about politics slipping in. Because I am political, it would be ridiculous to try and keep it out.

It is more than that these are my politics and I am interested in thinking about aspects of them.

Strikes tend to be interesting and exciting stories. They are stories of great heroism, humour and sadness.

The idea started from Disney’s Fantasia and the magic brush getting out of control.

It is a form of workplace resistance, oddly moving in a silly way. Fantasy is about seeing what happens if you treat ridiculous ideas not as absurd but see where they take you.

Kraken is out now in hardback, published by Macmillan, priced £17.99.

Go to » www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk or phone 020 7637 1848 to order your copy


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Tue 18 May 2010, 17:44 BST
Issue No. 2202
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