Friday, March 07, 2008

Un Pot Ter

One of my big problems with the Harry Potter books, aside from the chronically unsympathetic protagonist (really, how do you get your lead so badly wrong?) is that they just don't make any sense. It's as if Rowling came up with some ideas ("Oooh, a dual world of magic and mundanity") without actually thinking any of it through. So there's no attempt to explain how the dual world works, why a school for wizards not only labels a full quarter of the student body as "evil" but actively encourages villainy, and so on. The stories might be good, and the characters (apart from Harry) might be compelling, but the books are just utter nonsense, and they drive me mad.

Un Lun Dun then, is a breath of fresh air (pun intended). One of China Miéville's strengths as a writer has always been his elaborate but thoughtful world-building; sometimes, as in the case of Iron Council, he forgets that we're all here for a story, but the worlds he creates are always interesting. Un Lun Dun has a good old-fashioned (only not) adventure story, a strong cast, including a great "protagonist", and best of all, it all makes wonderful sense. Yes, there's magic, and big slabs of psuedoscience, but there's an internal logic, not only to the ideas, but also to the plotting. It's a bit Neverwhere, a bit Narnia (the good bits), and even a bit Army of Darkness, and it's hugely enjoyable, a book that delights with each new invention or plot development, full of ideas that make me want to stand up and applaud. Great stuff, and I'd be happy to have Miéville write more of these, even if we never see a grown-ups' novel from him ever again.


  1. Sorry to disagree, Kelvin, but I've made it through about 150 pages of this book and I think I have to stop. If the wink-wink-nudge-nudge-silly-spelling punny names weren't bad enough (Klinneract, anyone? Gag. Pun NOT intended, unlike on every page of this book) I can not get excited about a book that throws seventy five silly characters at you in five seconds and expects you to care about them through 100 pages of silly peril right off the bat.

    In the interest of fairness, having watched you slog through The Blind Assassin, I will finish, but I am very skeptical.

    Although I have to admit "binja" got an out-loud laugh.

  2. Unfortunately your opinion doesn't matter because (a) you have no joy in your soul, and (b) you like the Potter atrocities, so clearly you have nothing approaching taste.

    My point stands.

  3. Coming from you, I assume that "having no joy in my soul" is actually a very strong compliment, so thank you kindly.

    Yes, I like Harry Potter, but I am reasonable enough to like something for its good qualities, assuming they outweigh the bad ones, which is true in that case. I had to reread a couple of HPs from the earlier years on the train from Vienna to Venice, since those were the only books in english in the station bookstore (aside from series thriller novels that I would rather eat than read), and in the middle of the night all I had to think about was how it made no sense that the wizards used trains and didn't actually learn how to read or write after the age of 11. But many redeeming factors. You just don't like the hype. I was once the same.

    Say all the mean things you want, I know you secretly love me!

  4. I don't like the hype, no, because there are far more deserving books out there.

    But I also don't like the books, because they're trashy nonsense and they make no sense.

    Now, they do have jaunty plots, but that's not enough to actually make them "good".