Posts Tagged ‘Stalker’

China Mieville: The City and the City

May 11, 2015

9780330534192I really enjoyed this novel when I first read it five years ago. It scrambled my brain then, and a re-read hoping to make things a bit clearer produced the same effect, as well as convincing me at the end that it really is brilliant.

It’s a detective story/ thriller with a science fiction twist to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything like Gibson & Sterling’s The Difference Engine, for example. Mieville sets the story in a city, recognisably East European or Balkans post 1989, but with a difference: it’s two cities in two different countries, but which in some way overlap in places in time and space, occupying the same spaces whilst alongside each other. And if that isn’t clear, then perhaps you’ll understand why I say it scrambled my brain, and perhaps it will be clearer if you read it… or not. Contact via the interstices must not happen, and such breaches are ruthlessly dealt with.

At one level you find political allegories linking to our world and think of Palestine/ Israel, or Croatia/ Serbia perhaps, but only fleetingly. There are also hints that the confusion is the result of some alien presence many centuries ago – reminiscent of the chaos left behind in the Zone in the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic, filmed as Stalker. Then I found myself reminded of Ursula LeGuin’s Hainish civilisation seeding planets across the galaxy.

A lone detective investigates a murder which is not what it seems, and involves the spaces between; he has a helpful Watson-type female companion in the first half of the story, but then the roles swap when the investigation takes him to the other country and he must play second fiddle to his detective chaperone from the other national crime squad.

It’s fast-paced, but the extra concepts make the plot more complex and add further twists and complications; out hero eventually ends up in breach of the rules, where he discovers that, even in the spaces in-between, things are not what they seem, and his life is changed for ever as a result. Not all the loose ends are tied up – they rarely are in a novel like this – but the sheer originality of the plot and the ideas blow you away. I’ve written about another of his novels, Embassytown, here, and he’s definitely on my watch list.

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Usrula LeGuin: A Fisherman of the Inland Sea

October 22, 2014

31+OgXW2LGL._AA160_I’m following on from my post of a couple of days ago, really. LeGuin‘s subject is in many ways a fairly recherché one: what kind of communication, co-operation or collaboration might be possible between different species of humans on other worlds, in the context of the novels and short stories known as her ‘Hainish‘ series. Of course, the cultural and gender issues explored are meant to have us also reflect on ourselves here on Earth and how much we can really know and understand; LeGuin advocates caution, as well as openness, tolerance, understanding and (perhaps) acceptance. We also need to consider how far it might be either prudent or moral to take this…

Various writers have explored contact with alien species and what we might be able to understand: the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris was turned into a demanding, perhaps impenetrable film, as was the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic (Stalker). Even if or when communication were established, what would we actually be able to understand? We are into epistemological and metaphysical territory before we know it…

I’ve always thought that one of the most amazing and worthwhile things that humans do is to explore, and I often feel a thrill at the thought that my lifetime coincides with our beginning to explore cosmos and seek out other life and intelligence. I enjoy the insights offered by scientists such as Professor Brian Cox in his current TV series Human Universe, and then also feel a sadness that although I was in on the beginning of space exploration, I will not be around when we do make contact with other life forms.

LeGuin also has me reflecting on the differences between the novel and the short story, both of which she does wonderfully well. My expectations of the development of plot, character and ideas towards a resolution at the end of a novel are so different from what I find in a short story, where a single track moves relatively swiftly towards closure. I think what I lose in complexity, and in depth of escape from my reality, I perhaps gain in terms of the sharper and more detailed (because uninterrupted) focus on a single idea, character or event. I will need to take my thinking further: after years of ignoring and down-playing the short story in general, I am finding new things.

If you have enjoyed any of LeGuin’s novels or stories, then I think there is something for you in both the collections I’ve read recently. I’m awaiting delivery of another volume.

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