For the love of weird fiction

This is as different as it comes for me. I usually write fiction, but here I wanted to take the opportunity to thank the people who inspire me to write great things. Normally I abhor fan mail. The world (and the objects of my admiration) are lucky I spared them my pre-pubescent letters of adoration. So here it is, my first fan letter since I got used to having boobs and moved onto bigger things. Don’t expect unbiased criticism, I love his work with unbridled abundance.

Dear China Miéville,

First up I would like to say thank you. Thank you for writing the most amazing novels I have ever read in my entire life. Ever since I was a small, lonely child in rural South Africa, I hungrily read everything I could get my hands on, from the small collection at the public library, to scouring my neighbours’ trash for discarded novels. I have read many books, especially later on at university where I studied English, Dutch and Afrikaans literature, and nothing before or since have given me quite the fiery kick in the crotch as your books have done.

As a child I loved fairy tales, but as an adult, before I found your books, I wasn’t all that interested in reading fantasy. I thought of myself as a level-headed girl with her head screwed on right, and I didn’t think fantasy was a particularly useful genre of fiction. How wrong I was. How could I have forgotten the fairytales of my childhood, my imaginary friends under trees and in trenches, the magical powers no one knew I had? It’s so gravely sad that we lose our wide eyed innocence on the way to adulthood, but you have remarkably retained yours, and given me the gift of regaining mine through your novels. How can I even begin to fathom myself a writer, if I have been blind to the world’s splendor all this time?

The first book of yours that I read was The City and The City. I was busy doing a TEFL course (teaching English as a foreign language) in Johannesburg, and my boyfriend gave me the book for the long commute from his grandmother’s house. It took me a long time to read it, but when I got halfway through I could no longer put it down. The idea of living in two cities at once, of seeing and unseeing each other, felt so current, so relevant to this fragmented world where we live together, yet completely alone, and ignorant to the plight of others. The idea of Breach and the badassness of the main character was so freaking amazing, it unlocked a door in my head and changed my notions of what a novel should look like. What an arrogant shit I was before I met you.

The second book I read was Perdido Street Station, and here you caught me by the short and curlies and have had me hooked on weird fiction, steampunk, whatever the hell you want to call it, ever since. The world you’ve created is beyond anything I could ever imagine, yet, it all felt familiar, the issues of discrimination among species, of art thriving to communicate from the armpits of society, of hoodlums and scientists and corrupt governments living and breathing in the same space. Your books show what greed and ignorance have done to society. Never again will I doubt that fantasy has an important role and function in literature.

Now there was no stopping me. The Scar left me breathless for New Crobuzon, for Bellis and Armada and the impending doom coming from the North. When I read of the northern people surviving on biltong, my favourite snack ever, I was delighted, I could taste it, it felt authentic. Iron Council was a different voice in the New Crobuzon series, it felt even stronger, if that is possible, and gritty and tragic and moving and inspirational.

There are three things about your books that pop out at me. First is the vast amount of research that goes into writing them. It’s one thing to write historical fiction, it’s quite another to study and understand cultures, and to use characteristics from those cultures in your narrative successfully. It never feels contrived, it always feels fresh and new. The second thing is your imagination that has no bounds, no limits, no constrictions. I remember reading somewhere that you said we all hunt dragons and believe in magic when we are small, you just never stopped dreaming. I am so happy to have found the Khepri, the Cactaceae, the Vodyanoi, the pirates and the humans in your books. And the third thing is the organic nature of the worlds you’ve created. You don’t spend chapters on describing scenery, yet through your characters and your dynamic use of language you have created a new world that is unlike anything fantasy has done in a long time. There is no dichotomy between the real world and the fantastical world, the fantastical is the real world, and infinitely rich and complex.

I’ve only recently read your debut, King Rat, and although I’ve never been to London, I could feel myself in that world, in Saul’s boots, resisting the piper’s tune. I also have Embassytown on my bookshelf, awaiting winter so I can spend my weekends under the duvet reading it from cover to cover.

It’s no surprise, I want to be like you. I want to write about magical places with great authority. I want to shape my world into something fantastical. I want to write without reserve, without doubt or punctuation, I want to create something that’s bigger than me, that means something to someone. You have done all of this, and more, and for that, I thank you.

Sincerely,

A.P van Wynegaard

This letter won’t win any literary awards, nor does it show my education as a critical reader. But I have found something I enjoy, I have found someone to aspire to, and I am wise enough to realise how lucky I am. To read  his rejectamentalist manifesto, go to http://chinamieville.net/.Image

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