Embassytown Embassytown question

Ask China Miéville
Patrick Brown Patrick May 31, 2011 04:40PM
This a special discussion topic. If you have a question for bestselling, genre-bending author China Miéville, ask it in this thread. Then, vote up your favorite questions and vote down the questions you think are the least interesting.

You can ask a question from now until June 17. After that, China will answer the top 10 questions in the thread.

Something I've noticed between myself and other fans of your work is that while we all like your books, we don't necessarily favor the same ones. I was wondering which book *you* considered to be your best work (or personal favorite), and what you're most proud of accomplishing in that one.

Patrick Brown Just testing this here.
Jun 19, 2012 04:56PM

I'm curious about your decision to pursue a PhD in economics despite (or in tandem with) your desire and ability to write fiction. How, if at all, is your writing informed by your education as a PhD student in economics, and/or how was your doctoral work informed by your obvious love of and ability for storytelling? I'm particularly interested in how the academic discipline both of doctoral work and economics have informed your writing, not just how your own politics or economics have appeared in your (brilliant & amazing) work.

I particularly love that each of your books is centered around a particular theme or idea. (For example, ink in Kraken.) I am really curious about what your process is for outlining or plotting your work - or if you have any process at all. Do you choose a theme and just run where it takes you? Or is it a more structured approach?

Well, we all know what you write. But what do you read? Are there authors who inspire you in some way and how do they do that?

Clint (last edited Jun 08, 2011 07:40AM ) Jun 08, 2011 07:40AM   31 votes
Years ago, you identified yourself as a member of "The New Weird," a group of writers with a goal of bringing new energy and ideas into genre fiction.

As time passes, I see less and less about The New Weird, but I don't know if that's because there's less to see or because I'm looking in the wrong places. The wikipedia entry claims that New Weird ended in 2005.

What is the current state of The New Weird? Do you think it was successful? How have your opinions changed on how important and/or cool it is to participate in a literary movement?

You've described elsewhere your transition from a sprawling, robust, maximalist style (Perdido Street Station) to a more disciplined prose (with maybe The City & The City as an endpoint). What do you think were the reasons you changed your literary style?

mkgold (last edited Jun 17, 2011 04:11PM ) Jun 08, 2011 06:54AM   21 votes
Your work seems informed by literary theory. The City & The City, for example, with its descriptions of a city that exists in the no-place between the boundaries of two cities, seems inflected by Michel Foucault's concept of heterotopias ("The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible").

So, I'm wondering about the extent to which you have read literary theory. Can you tell us how theory might have become part of your creative process? To which theories/theorists/bodies of scholarship do you find yourself most drawn?

Finally, can you give us an example of a way in which an unexpected source (theory-related or not) found its way into one of your books?

How do you built your weird fiction worlds? Is the world-building happening during the writing process, or do you construct the geographies, cities, creatures, cultures and economies of your fictional worlds before you start writing?

Markus Widmer Thanks for your answer. Sorry, I only just saw this now. I'd love to get into a heated debate on the linguistics of Embassytown now I've read the book ...more
Apr 05, 2012 03:57AM

R Jun 07, 2011 10:39PM   17 votes
There seems to be a unique role of geography in your books. Is that conscious and how does it come about?

I've always been curious to know how exactly you look at the relationship between your creative writing and the global-oriented activism and political theory you do away from the artistic world. It seems that so many of your books are complex blends of real-world intellectual issues over global politics with fantastical conceits, and I wonder whether you do that deliberately, or if it's simply the accidental result of your natural interests crashing together.

Paul (last edited Jun 08, 2011 05:32AM ) Jun 08, 2011 02:56AM   15 votes
A simple one: do you have any plans for a return to Bas-Lag, and New Crobuzon in particular? Part of the pleasure of reading the books set there is the sense that there is a whole world supporting each work, and the feeling that there are many tales still to tell.

In "The City and The City" everyone learns not to "see" the parallel city to the one they are living in. It occurs to me this is a metaphor for the reality we live in and choose not to "see." If I'm right, what "alternative realities" do you think we choose (or learn) not to see?

I think my favourite aspect of your books is the detailed world-creation that you engage in - it is the finer details of different species and practices that really capture my attention, and the sheer beauty and horror of some of them are what make your books infinitely re-readable. Where do your ideas come from? For example, the Anophelii women are a pretty nightmarish vision, and your description of them is somewhat reminiscnet (to me) of Bosch's artwork. Do these concepts just come to you, or are you inspired by other texts/artforms/ etc, and if so, what are some of your notable inspirations?

I feel your ability to create atmosphere is possibly your strongest attribute as a writer. I'm not talking about the creativity of your world, but the way you communicate your image so the reader has a very clear picture. What are your goals when setting a scene? What process do you go through to establish atmosphere?

If you could go back and rewrite one of your books, changing an ending, or trimming fat, or adding something in that you cut out during editing, what would the change be?

Sara (last edited Jun 08, 2011 07:49AM ) Jun 08, 2011 06:12AM   7 votes
First of all, I love your stories. My question is, I've read that there is going to be a Bas Lag rpg (Tales Of New Crobuzon)released and I'm wondering if this project is still in the works? I'm really interested in seeing your world and getting a chance to play in that world. It would be awesome to see how you would render all your Bas Lag characters into life.

Thank you for your work, China!

Enormous fan - I just finished Embassytown and reviewed it on my blog, http://www.commanderbanana.blogspot.com.

I'd like to ask you about your research methods, and how you find/seek out/stumble upon all of information packed into your books. Kraken, in particular, was jam-packed with fascinating references and bits of information. I spent a great deal of time making notes on things I was unfamiliar with to look up later. Embassytown had a tremendous amount of information about phonology, linguistics, and communication theory in it.

Do you start with the seed of an idea and work from there? Is it something you're interested in when you start writing the book?

As I was reading through each of the Bas-Lag novels, I constantly wondered what it was about each of the monsters in them which you liked enough to either reinvent or at least include. Many of them fit very specific roles and advance the stories in particular ways. You've said quite a few times that one of your favourite things about fantasy is the monsters, but I was wondering what drew you to use, redefine, or invent the creatures that you did.

I think a great many of us infrequent dabblers in speculative fiction discovered your writing only since The City and the City was released at the end of an extraordinarily productive decade. Given the plethora of choices available to someone approaching your writing for the first time, is there any particular work that you feel best represents you to the new reader?

Are there any books that, having read, you wish you'd written yourself?

Which of your characters do you feel closest to? Are there any that you consider to be something of an alter ego or that represent some aspect of your own personality?

What author or authors do you especially like or admire?
Who do you think you've learned the most from (if anybody)?

I'm interested in your writing habits. When do you write? Where? What's your daily output (word count/page count goals)? Do you write long-hand or use a word processer (or both)?

When you write, do you always precisely know where the story is going or do your characters surprise you and want to behave differently?

I gather from a few things I've read that you are a former (current?) gamer. What games were your favorites and had an influence on your imagination? Have you ever thought about getting involved in modern computer game development? Your fervid world building would certainly steer away from some of the cookie-cutter stuff seen in too many popular games. I understand you've studied economics, and many modern MMOs have their own functioning economies, to varying degrees. It seems like that would be a cool playground for you.

j Jun 07, 2011 10:36PM   2 votes
Even within the Bas-Lag trilogy, your books are all over the genre map: a western, a pirate story, urban fantasy, detective noir, sci-fi. when, if ever, did you consciously decide, "I am going to write a book in every genre"? How do you pick what is next?

Patrick wrote: "This a special discussion topic. If you have a question for bestselling, genre-bending author China Miéville, ask it in this thread. Then, vote up your favorite questions and vote down the question..."

Thank you so much to all the Goodreads readers for reading the books, for kind words and for such a mass of thoughtful questions. I’m sorry I can’t answer them all. I’ve done the top ten, as agreed, and also done a few other answers to questions I couldn’t resist responding. That’s no judgement at all on the huge number I couldn’t answer, of course, and I wish I could’ve done. Time is thoroughly unforgiving.

Many thanks again, China

As one who also has a degree in social anthropology, your world building is top notch to me. The cultural details and the implication of a grand history complete with life altering events was especially evident in your Bas-Lag books. I have always been curious as to whether these are histories you flesh out in detail or if the hints and little details to a grander narrative are just that. Any chance of a Bas-Lag guidebook, and do you believe you'll return to that world?

Embassytown contains so many interesting ideas, especially about language and communication, but also about the universe and the space outside the universe. I'm curious about what was the kernel of the idea that led to this novel. Did some of these concepts about language and space come first, or did the idea for the plot come first and the other ideas evolve as the plot was fleshed out?

How about the inspirations and ideas; I'm not asking about the writers; the question is more about the surrounding world, issues, general ideas and any other stuff that creates you as a writer. To sum up:

what inspires you?

My question is about Un Lun Dun and Kraken, but could apply to some of your other books. You write about characters who enter a new world - whether it's traveling to a different place like Deeba in UnLondon or developing a new perception of existing surroundings such as the darker, magical London Billy is forced into - and they must adapt and learn as they go. They are the ones who don't belong, or so it initially seems. For a reader, these "misfit" stories are very interesting because often you learn about the new world as the character does. Was this common thread in your books intentional? And did you have any particular motivations or inspirations for writing about that sort of experience?

I finished Embassytown last night (later than i should have been up. Your writing does that to me a lot).

I find it damn near impossible to imagine what the Host look like, and while I know that's kind of the point, to make them more alien, do you sketch what you had in your head when you're working on the more fantastical races in your novels?

Hello Mr. Mieville,
Wonderful to meet you in Seattle.
You have a special skill and are extremely inventive with places and cities. You've done it once again with Embassytown. It is my perception that Avice (long "I"?)is lacking a specific gender identity and doesn't display any distinctive female characteristic. Was this your intent? Indeed, gender identity throughout Embassytown (the city) seems blurred. Do you see the diminishing of gender identity as positive?

Are you planning on doing any more work in illustration?

Are you ever tempted to write a novel with the standard fantasy populace (gnomes, elves, trolls etc)? It would be fascinating to read your interpretation and twist on these classical character types (Sorry, just cannot picture you writing something completely Tolkien-esque in genre).

What is your favorite city, and why?

Although I'm not a big SF fan, your writing (The City and The City, Kraken and Embassytown) is really captivating. I love your sense of place and no matter how dark or dangerous the action, there is a playfulness about it and I have a feeling you are having great fun writing it. What were your favorite books as a kid and what books interest you most as an adult?

I cannot operate in my world with any success when there's a Mieville book left unread. I wonder if you can make your way around when you're writing; the intensity of the worlds you create is addictive and absorbing. I actually wondered if I could go into the city without my biologic breathing device while reading Embassytown. Do you get lost in parking lots? Did you invent pluots? The twinings (mechanicals/peoples; city/other city; voices, biologics/fauna is extraordinary. Were you born with this left/right brain merger, or did you discover it with writing?

Mr. Miéville, your work is known for being ahead of the curve and breaks away from conventional fiction, speculative or otherwise. Some call it pretentious (the infamous Gabe of "Penny Arcade" has vocally decried your books in particular, "The City and the City" was something he didn't 'get') while others consider you brilliant. For the young writers who don't necessary want to emulate but certainly admire the variety of your work, how do you suggest working with various genres in new ways? How do you put such a vibrant spin on the police procedural, or the urban fantasy? Do you consider accessibility to a wide range of readers, or do you simply write what comes to you?

Huge fan of your work (Perdido Street Station is easily one of my all-time favourite novels). Will we ever see a fourth book in the Bag-Lag series?

Mr. Miéville,

I am a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft and Jules Verne, which in return brought me to you by means of the Kraken. I believe the characters in the Kraken, along with your vast imagination and your creative way to make a distinct story would make a wonderful movie. (As well as any other of your books I am sure) Are there any hopes for this to happen in the future with Kraken? or any other of your novels?

Thank you in advance.



Hi Mr. Mieville,

I'm reading and currently loving Railsea, after devouring Embassytown and Perdido Street Station. I know you've voiced your ambivalence about the steampunk genre in past interviews - mostly that there is some good stuff, but it's mostly a mixed bag in terms of quality. Do you have a list of steampunk fiction and/or authors that you really admire or find compelling?

Your early works had a lot of your political views in them, but your newer works seem to have much less. Is this a conscious decision on your part for marketing purposes or have you "moved on" as an author and don't feel the need to include Earthly politics in your works of fiction now?
Thank you.

London School of Economics, award-winning science fiction writer and, judging by jacket images, overall badass. What's your secret? Are you a wizard?

The characters in your books often interact with socio-political circles reminiscent of salon culture or coffee house culture. History is rife with examples of groups of this style and their (sometimes underground) publications.

In your experience, does this culture of semi-public intellectual cliques exist today, in London and elsewhere? What does the modern incarnation of such culture look like? How is it different in London versus New York or New Orleans, Berkeley, Prague, Delhi etc.? Have internet forums taken over the niche of underground publications? If so, how do they measure up?

Thank you for your books. I am titillated by many aspects of your stories that I don't find elsewhere in fiction, and I enjoy them immensely overall.

Hi! Thank you for doing an AMA! My question is, hopefully, pretty straightforward. I read Embassytown last week, and its the first of your books that I've ever read. Apart from a brand new SAT-level vocabulary, I really enjoyed how engaging and thought-provoking the story was and was hoping to read more of your books. Can you recommend to me an order to read your books in (or maybe some kind of sketchy guidance?)

What is your favorite monster created by another writer? What is your favorite monster that you have created?

In Embassytown, there seemed to be a subtle denunciation of anarcho-primitivism (as expressed in documentaries such as End:Civ), in that the solution is found through the problem, not in retreating into a construct of the past. Was that intentional? If so, can you expand on that?

Can you tell us some of your favorite books in some of the genres that you write within or are placed into. I always like to see influences within a book I read and know where they came from so I can attempt to step into an authors mind and see what it is that they have taken away from some of these books. In many ways I consider your work to be of a new genre of science fiction that I see more authors gravitating towards..not just scratching a surface of an environment but plunging in and truly making somewhere part of a story and not just a backdrop for characters.

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Embassytown (other topics)
Un Lun Dun (other topics)