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Mieville and Reynolds – Festive, Take Three

September 5, 2010

My question relates to China’s book but I’d be interested to know what Alastair thinks too. So China, your book’s called Kraken, you quote a poem called The Kraken Wakes, on your acknowledgments page you list a number of writers that have influenced you – and John Wyndham isn’t one of them. And obviously John Wyndham’s second novel was called The Kraken Wakes. He’s gone through a phase of being scorned for his so-called cosy catastrophes but these days he seems to be having a bit of a renaissance so I’m just wondering, given that neither of you mentioned him earlier, what you think of Wyndham?

I didn’t ask this question yesterday afternoon. Hell, Wyndham’s already got me in trouble this week, why should I go looking for more? So no, I didn’t put my hand up but I wish I had. I’d be interested to know the answer, although I suspect I know at least some of it. What Mieville and Reynolds do bears little resemblance to what Wyndham was doing. And Mieville’s kraken story is a world away, almost literally, from Wyndham’s (which I’ve only ever read once, years ago). Still, the whole “cosy catastrophe” bollocks, Mieville’s tendency to criticise writers (Tolkien’s the obvious one) for being reactionary – I’d be interested to know what he’d say. And Reynolds, too.

This was a terrific festival session. Two awesome writers who know and like each other, a big and appreciative audience, great questions – MY GOD, great questions, even from the slightly odd dude who I thought was just going to be slightly odd and boring and wasn’t. thankfully – wit, intellect, politics, imagination. Top notch. Netty went, and Netty hasn’t read either of them, and she really enjoyed it. Although she may have been thinking of the Yarraburn/Lansen/Tattinger to come.

They’re an odd couple, Reynolds and Mieville. Reynolds is best known for his Revelation Space books, where space opera meets hard scifi. His words boggle the mind because you read them and you think, Jesus, this might be what it’s going to be like. Mieville mixes fantasy and horror and scifi and political commentary and total fuckedup weirdness and you keep thinking it really shouldn’t work but it does.

I probably – probably – enjoy Mieville’s books a little bit more. But only probably, and only a little bit. Reynolds’ latest, Terminal World, is amazing – and is perhaps slightly more removed from what he usually does, and just a tad similar to some of the things Mieville does. While at the same time being, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a Reynolds book.

I haven’t been reading these guys for as long as I’ve been reading Wyndham, obviously, but I’ve read loads of their stuff over the past four or five years and I love it and to see them sitting together in the same room yakking – holy shit. I felt like I was in geek heaven, even though I don’t consider myself a geek. I was wearing a Danger Mouse T-shirt though and that probably wasn’t a good look. Or maybe it was.

They talked craft, how they manage their worlds and keep track of how it all works (Reynolds with a whiteboard, Mieville with a titchy wee notebook I suspect was a Moleskine). They talked politics (Reynolds is sort of a lefty but not a serious lefty like Mieville, just sort of a wishy-washy kind of Guardian reading lefty). They talked science (so yes sure, black holes are cool but what I want to know is are they as cool as bow-ties or fezzes – a reference only the geekiest are likely to get and the point at which I have to admit, yes, yes, indeed I am a geek). Both were rather deprecating about their early work, which didn’t sit terribly well with me because I loved Perdido Street Station and Revelation Space, and didn’t sit well with the slightly odd (although now I think about it he wasn’t odd at all, he even had a hat on that was a bit like mine) guy who reminded them that both of those books had been shortlisted for the same top-shelf scifi prize (China won).

Wyndham didn’t get a guernsey, but plenty of other writers did – whether they were influential or respected or simply enjoyed. Asimov, Clarke, Moorcock, Ballard, Lovecraft, Gibson, Blyton – Blyton??? Both of them??? Yep, both China and Alastair have fond memories of reading Enid as kids. But then don’t we all. Mieville mentioned Samuel R. Delany, a gay African-American scifi writer who I might have to search out, a writer straight scifi readers can enjoy, even if they don’t like all the “bum sex” much, because he “gives good spaceship”. Spaceships and bum sex. Awesome combo if you ask me.

A funny, thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening festival session, with two of the most dazzling, mind-expanding genre writers in the biz.

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