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April 21, 2006

China Miévilling

China Miéville sez:

There's an embedded, mostly untheorised notion that prose should be a window, through which you see, as clearly as possible, that it should be as nearly invisible as possible, to let us get to the content. Not only do I think that's sadly philistine, but it's also, in some sense, a betrayal of what makes fantasy fantasy. That alienation from the everyday can be achieved through form as well as content.

This is all by way of explaining/justifying his "high style", something I've had trouble with (even while enjoying) and something I've gone to great lengths to avoid developing myself. I don't think, for example, that transparent prose necessarily = minimalist prose. Minimal prose often intentionally obfuscates stories, to challenge the reader through a character's perspective. Or something. In any case, I'm a very verbose writer (as you might know) and aiming for conciseness, not to mention the minimal, can only improve my writing. Concise or minimal prose in fantasy or fabulism could also only improve it, in many cases. Imagine, in a fantasy book, rather than a passage extolling the damsel's beauty, this:

She drew his eyes to her.

No, it's not very good, but it is minimal. And it's no worse than the average passage of "transparent" prose extolling a damsel's beauty.

Anyhoo, I went to finally read this Miéville interview because I was putting the finishing touches on a story, and I realized that I had jacked Miéville's style for a brief portion of the story. I don't mean that I had been verbose--I had, but that's normal for me. I mean that I downright stole specific moments of his style in its high, descriptive mode: multisyllabic active verbs with lots of hard, aspirated consonants; tumbling, high energy, non-parallel lists of objects, sites and sights; lotsa onomatopoeic single syllable nouns of violently or powerfully connotative landmarks; less reliance on metaphor than on direct description--and therefore a tendency to throw more words at a thing.

The story takes place in four cities, the last of which, Sarajevo, I've never been to. It's really, really hard to keep prose even, that wanders across two cities I know very well, one city I know reasonably well, and one city I know not at all. So naturally, subconsciously, to maintain that authority about and intimacy with a city I didn't know, I Miévilled. (Interesting that his style becomes utilitarian; a technique to address fantasies of cities. Discuss.)

Here's the passage. See if you can pick out the outright Miéville thefts, the Lightisms, and the melds:

In the city, eras accreted as buildings, streets, geologic formations. You started each morning in the center, where the hybrid curlicues of Empire and duchy smiled—until interrupted by an impact crater. Ridiculously, the sun shone a lot. On this face and that wall, bullet holes decorated the next layer, of dumpiness and squarishness, prettied up on the front with plaster and with bright, childish advertising on the side. Spread out farther in any direction and the walls were bare, formed in H-blocks and T-blocks, smoke-bearing walls. Sometimes a dead dog, even. Beyond that, brutal concrete, balcony slabs bisecting facades, offering people places to stand far above ground, but no one stood there. There were still occasional intact store windows, obscene with commercial entropy. And then, the sunlight beckoning, you would look up and see green, protective hills, rolling all around the city, unbroken, enveloping the stabs of taller buildings. A foam of milk-colored sky rimmed the top of these hills, introducing whatever the sky was to be that day—as often as not, searing blue. And out of the blue, the wind swept down; not a breeze, not merely air, but a powerful movement, the grandfather of air, real wind.

Yeah, it's ... er ... bombastic. I'm aware that a lot of this is hand-waving to distract the reader from the fact that I've never been to Sarajevo and am getting this from photos and my imagination. But I let it stand anyway. Please tell me I haven't lost my soul.


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Wow. I really enjoy that passage. I don't know you personally, but your soul seems to be safe, as far as I can tell.

And "accreted" seems a particularly Miévillian verb.

"accreted" is what tipped me off to what i was doing. ironically, i came by the word "accreted" honestly, laboring through many synonyms until i found the perfect geological/metaphorical term. but it was so mievillian that maybe it drug the rest of the paragraph into that territory behind it. who knows.

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