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This Census-Taker

3.32  ·  Rating details ·  6,666 ratings  ·  1,141 reviews
For readers of George Saunders, Kelly Link, and Karen Russell, This Census Taker is the poignant and uncanny new novella from award-winning and bestselling author China Miéville. After witnessing a profoundly traumatic event, a boy is left alone in a remote house on a hilltop with his increasingly deranged parent. When a stranger knocks on his door, the boy senses that his ...more
Hardcover, 210 pages
Published January 12th 2016 by Del Rey (first published January 5th 2016)
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Jonathan Hawpe I implore you to read Embassytown and The City & the City! They are two of the best pieces of speculative fiction from the last decade, easily, in my …moreI implore you to read Embassytown and The City & the City! They are two of the best pieces of speculative fiction from the last decade, easily, in my opinion. Neither is written in a style similar to This Census-taker. The worlds are fully fleshed out, the plots complex and completely followed through, the viewpoints that of adults who more-or-less have an understanding of the world around them. The City & the City does have one mystery in it that I would say only half-resolves, but it feels appropriate, and doesn't keep the story from having climax and closure. I think both are really dazzling in their ideas and imaginative scope!(less)
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Elena May
Jul 10, 2017 rated it liked it
That’s the last one of the Hugo finalist novellas I had set out to read! The author describes his genre as “weird fiction,” and I won’t argue here. This is a strange book that leaves way too many open questions, and refuses to fit into any single genre. And these are things I normally like! I really admire books that manage to pull it off, but this one didn’t do it, at least not for me. The writing is beautiful, and there are elements I enjoyed – the magical keys, the idea of three books, the wh ...more
Jeffrey Keeten
”I knew that, by whatever means he’d killed it, it was not to eat. I wanted to cry; I stood still.

He had it by the neck. Its brown body was bigger than a baby’s. Its shovel head lolled and its nasty hook beak twitched open and closed to snap faintly with each of my father’s steps. The bird’s broad feet dangled on the ground and bounced on stones as if it were trying to claw itself incompetently to a stop.”

There have been wars. Civilization has fallen backwards and stalled in place. People are g
Truly, madly, deeply

It’s hard to resist the lure of labels and the urge to uncover the truth. But labels obscure as much as they reveal. The truth of a good story isn’t in whether it happened as described, but in the more profound and elliptical lessons it teaches us, whether we realise it or not. That’s why fairy tales, myths, and legends persist through millennia, across the globe, sometimes as sacred texts. What I drew from this may not be the same as what you draw from it.

Miéville has famo
Apr 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Creepy, weird little book.

China Mieville is self-described as a writer in the “new weird” genre, and so he is living up to his name. Readers who enjoyed his The City & the City andEmbassytown will know what I mean and he is following along this path in his 2016 publication. Mieville has also stated that he wants to write a novel in every genre and this may be his Kafka entry, as this blends elements of surrealism and absurdity into a complicated narrative set in imagery that seems to be always o
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I can't say that I'm completely satisfied with this novella, but I can say that I'm haunted by it. I'm haunted by all the little details that make up this world so much like our own, the hints of wars and magics and strange chemicals and vials and keys that provide people with purpose and a way out or through the labyrinths of their lives...

Not to mention a very Schrodinger's Cat view of reality, where murderers are and are not, where the murdered is and is not, where, perhaps, everything is re
Jan 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
"You'll write it not because there's no possibility it'll be found but because it costs too much to not write it."
-- China Miéville, This Census-Taker


"LORD, if you were to record iniquities, Lord, who could remain standing?"
-- Psalms 130:3 (International Standard Version)

I would probably consider this to be a bridge novella, spanning the gap somewhere between the shores of novel and novella; a scandal with gravity, perhaps. It weighs-in at just a quinternion over 200 pages in a 5.75" x 7.5" fo
Althea Ann
Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of my Hugo Award nominees, novella, 2016.

A boy runs screaming into a village, having witnessed something horrible.

Years later, the narrator tells us, he is imprisoned, under guard, allowed to write this book in a solitary room.

There is something, he tells us, that his 'manager' told him:

"You never put anything down except to be read. Every word ever written is written to be read, and if some go unread that's only chance, failure, they're like grubs that die without changing....
So my fir
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
4ish stars.

For a horror novella, there's not much horror. At least not that we get any explicit glimpses of. Just lots of creepiness.

This is brilliantly written as the memoir of sorts of- well... this guy? Who's writing different books or something? And maybe he's being guarded? And he writes about his experiences as a kid I guess? And his dad may or may not have killed his mom? And there are, like, these magic keys? And then this mysterious dude comes?

So basically it's hard to know what actual
Wow - I really seem to be in the minority here, people loved this book. Me? Not so much. I'll write why as soon as I've gotten over my disappointment... It just seemed so promising.

Disclaimer: I may be unnecessarily hard on this book, but that is only because of its lost potential and my belief that the author is one of the most essential writers of this era.

There's no denying China Miéville is an extraordinary, challenging writer. I've personally had a slightly mixed-bag experience with his bo
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
4.5 stars
I have not read enough China Mieville. This one is a fairly brief novella which is set in a post-apocalyptic society, although that part is much understated and you pick it up from clues along the way. The beginning of the Guardian review sets the scene very well;
“Any story that, on its very first page, redefines its protagonist from third to first person, flips forward in time to offer a view of him from elsewhere, makes a subtle alteration of tense, and announces that the character’s
My beloved China Mieville took some very Lovecraftian elements and some odd Kafkaesque ones and blended them with his amazing prose into a strange, beautiful and sometimes confusing novella. I mention Lovecraft, because it is creepy, ineffable and creates a thick atmosphere of dread and insolation; and Kafka because there is no escape, no clear reason for the way things are in “This Census Taker”.

The narration slips from first to third and then to second person, sometimes within a single sentenc
Thomas Wagner
Nov 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars.

It's not the epic novel China Miéville's readers have been anxiously awaiting since 2010's Embassytown. (That will come with 2016's The Last Days of New Paris.) But his novella This Census-Taker proves that the New Weird superstar has not lost the ability to captivate and unnerve. As with all of Miéville's work, it begins with a city, sprawling incongruously up the slopes of a pair of steep hills (or perhaps small mountain peaks), the gap between spanned by a bridge. Near the top of on
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was ok

Attempting to describe a China Miéville work of fiction to someone that hasn't read him is like trying to describe the word wet to a being that has never experienced the sensation; adjectives accumulate but they are just glancing blows to the essence. If you are reading this review and are familiar with CM's work I hope I make sense here on why this short book failed me. If you've not read any CM and I do a poor job of conveying the wetness of this reading experience, I only ask that you dive in
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
So there's a story about a people with unusual powers that used those powers in some huge way, perhaps in a conflict, and have now spread themselves all over the world. And these people are strange and important enough that every single one of them needs to be tracked down and accounted for.

This isn't that story.

Instead, this is a story at the edges of that one, told in shifting first, second and third person narrative and measured in love, betrayal, hope and trust of a young boy.

There's a boy
Nov 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Atmospheric and oppressive. Compulsively readable. This story, part horror, part thriller, part coming of age, begins with an unnamed boy running down a hill, from where he lives, into a rural town, with his arms outstretched, his hands splayed as if dripping paint or blood, though there is neither of those things there, only dirt common to a boy of nine that he is. He's in a panic, barely able to tell the townsfolk what he knows, what has happened, what violence he has witnessed, especially sin ...more
Nov 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Um...I'm not sure what I just read, but I liked it? Then again, that's pretty much my reaction to all China Mieville, so there you go. ...more
Oh China, I love you - but I love you more when you make a tiny amount of sense.
Dec 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
Ignore the stars. My short review is something like: "shiver; shrug?" ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye

Progressive Enlightenment

Post-modernist critics tend to demean the traditional use of narrative in literary fiction, as if it's somehow beneath the intelligence of serious readers.

My two most recent reads have highlighted how fulfilling narrative can be when pushed to the limit.

In the case of the "Berlin Noir" crime trilogy, the narrative was so precisely assembled, it could have been plotted on graph paper. I couldn't help but admire the skill applied to the exercise.

Measured Revel
Matthew Quann
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
This Census-Taker opens with a nameless boy running down a hill from his parents' house into the city below claiming he saw his mother murder his father. Or maybe it’s the other way around? This kid just can't seem to get his story straight!

This is my first foray into Miéville, not because it is his most popular or well-known work, but because it was a cool $6 for the brand-new hardcover in the bargain section. I get the feeling this isn't the most representative of his pioneering new weird app
I can't sit here and sagely type to you the meaning of This Census-Taker. Neither its plot or its deeper, thematic meaning. I am full of confusions and questions and speculations. I do know that I was dazzled by Miéville's prose -- which I often am -- but in a new way, a foggy, struggling, back tracking, Joseph Conrad way.

I didn't realize it until I wrote those words, but the novel I most closely relate to This Census-Taker has to be Conrad's Heart of Darkness. There is colonization at work her
Aug 17, 2016 rated it liked it
He looked like a failed soldier. Dirt seemed so worked into him that the lines of his face were like writing.

Oh China, you coy wretch. Promise and no delivery, or at least an awkward variety. The Census-Taker is an austerity tale, one set after the robots revolt. All Skycorp and shit, except matters have settled Bronze Age. The opening sections reminded me of The Wasp Factory, but despite shimmering examples of trades being depicted, the tale only introduced its titular character essentially as
Jan 23, 2016 rated it liked it
The lowest rating I've ever given any of Miéville's works. My heart aches, but my brain aches even more. ...more
This copy is one of 750 special signed editions also 26 lettered editions were produced and all were signed by China Miéville.
2017 Hugos nominee for Best Novella, and I honestly don't know what to make of this book. It's purposefully cryptic and vague, and there's a haziness of identity throughout -- "the boy" vs. "I" vs. "you", our narrator blurring pronouns in his retelling -- and the chronology see-saws back and forth, and yet that wasn't even the problem. I could follow that easily enough. Where This Census-Taker lost me was the meandering prose and a lack of direction, and that it so stubbornly refuses categorisat ...more
Nov 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, fantasy, ebook
Reading China Mieville is a little like being kidnapped. You’re not quite sure what’s happening, you’re not sure where you going, and afterwards, you’re not sure where you’ve been. That’s where the analogy ends, because China Mieville is a wonderful experience and This Census-Taker, his latest story, is another great one.

One of Mieville’s strengths is immersing you in a world that is a surreal yet contains tantalizing elements of familiarity. This Census-Taker is the story of a boy who lives on
Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Review from Speculative Herald:

4.5/5 stars

This Census-Taker, in its novella length, provides the reader with a glorious and powerful enigma of a story. It is haunting, chilling, disturbing and touching and mesmerizing and absolutely beautiful. I could not stop reading this as I just craved to understand what was going on. It starts with a young boy running faster than he has ever run. Running from some unimaginable horror, and then we find out it involves
Mar 30, 2016 added it
Good. Creepy. Tight. Feels Wolfe-esque in its studied care with metaphor and peculiar first person narration. That leads me, in turn, to suspect textual trickery (along with occasional slips in voice like "the boy is I"), but without the anchoring framework of something like Six Days and Seven Nights in America, or The Fifth Head of Cerberus, I lack an angle of attack. What here is the predecessor's voice? Vs. current census-taker? Etc.

It's short and well written. Definitely worth a look, like
Joachim Stoop
Sep 04, 2017 rated it liked it
No idea what to to with this one. I only know I really didn't enjoy reading it, which doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. But I couldn't find an entrance for myself. Nor a point.
I would advice you to read Jesse Ball's upcoming novel Census instead
Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
This is an unsettling book about a young traumatised boy. It’s set in an unusual town built between two steep hills connected by an old bridge that orphan children catch bats from. There’s hints of a past war or disaster, buildings are dilapidated, society is fairly primitive but the reader is never told anything definite. The writing is spare yet beautiful and creates a atmosphere that I was drawn into. The boy narrates much of it, so there is a child’s view of things, again adding to the lack ...more
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A British "fantastic fiction" writer. He is fond of describing his work as "weird fiction" (after early 20th century pulp and horror writers such as H. P. Lovecraft), and belongs to a loose group of writers sometimes called New Weird who consciously attempt to move fantasy away from commercial, genre clichés of Tolkien epigons. He is also active in left-wing politics as a member of the Socialist W ...more

Articles featuring this book

The genre-bending author, known for his peculiar worlds and haunting imagery, chats about his disturbing new book, This Census-Taker, and the value...
76 likes · 20 comments
“He said, You'll write it not because there's no possibility it'll be found but because it costs too much to not write it.” 9 likes
“Once I said to my father, 'Why do you want me?'

I still think that's the bravest thing I've ever done.”
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