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Iron Council - China Mieville
on 25 September 2006
Mieville sets a new bench mark for Sci-Fi creativity with this book. His inventiveness twists so many dimensions of culture, space, time and social norms that it can leave the reader reeling and confused. It is not just the challenge of imagining Mieville's many and varied creatures and landscapes that makes this book different. It is the way he spins what is essentially a heroic yarn - a group of revolutionaries try to save the city that spawned them - into a new millenium morality tale.
In doing so he treats the English Language as a watch-maker who is forced to mend a watch with a plastic spatula - it is so inadequate for the task at hand that Mieville invents a vast new lexicon to help himself describe the weirdity he has invented. Absolutists beware - it is rarely worth reaching for the dictionary as he has moved English on a phase and the dictionary has yet to catch up.
This is not a book for the prudish - his characters are raw, mainly male and spend quality time with each other and aliens. They are made to suffer physically and emotionally, perhaps helping us to divine the author's world view - this book presents life as a bitter struggle against domination by others, the oppression lifted only by hope for the future and stolen moments with those you love.
If you are looking for an easy read - this isn't it. It is no surprise that in working the imagination and lexicon so hard, Mieville loses readers along the way. So many literary special effects detract from the characters who generate little affection, and the plot itself is quite simplistic - just follow the spirals.
Despite that, there is real joy to be had throughout this book. To share in the wonderful creations of its author - cactus men, smoke stone, the Remade and city-sized eyes is a privilege, and Mieville expertly evokes the revolutionary fervour of the late nineteenth century with his Marxist plots, trade unions and seditious pamphlets. It is an Arthur C Clarke prize winner, and if the prize is awarded for creativity then it is well merited. However I suspect that it is the readers themselves who will feel deserving of a prize for seeing this book through to the end.