Friday, 6 August 2010

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

China Miéville is a highly regarded new British SFF author but I'd never read any of his work, so I decided to pick up a copy of Un Lun Dun, which has received good reviews. I was initially somewhat disconcerted to read in the introduction that it was his first novel for "younger readers"; something I hadn't been aware of when I bought it. However, I am aware that this category includes some of the best fiction past and present, so after a few mental and physical warm-up exercises (the book has over 500 pages) I got stuck in.

The location is London, the time is the present, the focus on a pair of schoolgirl friends to whom unusual things seem to be happening. There are signs and portents that one of them - Zanna - is the subject of intense interest not just from strangers but from animals too. Together with her friend, the reluctant Deeba, she follows her instincts and the pair find themselves in a strange, distorted and magical version of the city: Un Lun Dun. It is filled with all of the rubbish which has been discarded by London, with houses built of old washing machines or gramophone records, and populated by an extraordinary mixture of fantastic individuals including ghosts and ferocious carnivorous giraffes. Red double-decker buses drift across the sky supported by balloons, while the London Eye (the UnLondon-I) is a giant water-wheel generating electricity.

This fantastical world is under threat - from the deadly Smog, which has grown so thick that it has developed a malign intelligence and aims to take over all of Un Lun Dun. Zanna turns out to be the Chosen One, long prophesied in a revered and rather talkative Book to be the agent of the Smog's destruction. She collects a disparate group of allies and begins to fulfil the prophecies.

So far, just a different take on a predictable plot. But the story doesn't stay predictable for long, with twist after twist throughout the novel, right to the end. To say any more would spoil the surprises, but suffice it to say that I read the book in only three sessions and finished with a smile on my face. It has likeable heroes and is packed full of original ideas; I particularly enjoyed the UnGun!

Stories like this make a stark contrast with most modern fantasy, which has become very derivative if not hackneyed. I will be reading more from this author.

11 comments:

Gary Baker said...

Un Lun Dun is a little too young for my tastes. May I be so bold as to recommend four others by him which I really enjoyed? King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Tain (novella) and The Scar.

Anthony G Williams said...

Thanks for that Gary.

I have also read a good review of his new novel, Kraken, which sounds as if I might enjoy it.

Chimeradave said...

I tried to read Perdido Street Station. It seemed like a very interesting setting, with some cool creatures, but I didn't want to commit to 700 pages.

Gary Baker said...

I'd be interested in your thoughts on Kraken. Not one of my favourites as I thought he was trying too hard to be clever, perhaps trying to live up to some of the hype and previous reviews. Am a fan of his imagination and plotting though.

Fred said...

I've read his _Perdido Street Station_ and _The City and the City_. His novels are imaginative and require work on the part of the reader. But, they are worth the effort.

I've got two more of his in my TBR bookcase and, no doubt, will read most of his stuff, if I can catch up.

Thanks for the review of _Un Lon Dun_.

Fred said...

By the way, I've read recently that there's a new movement in SF called "The New Weird." China Mieville and his_Perdido Street Station" are considered to be core work, much as William Gibson and _Neuromancer_ were for the cyberpunk movement.

Anthony G Williams said...

I'd not heard of that movement, Fred. Sounds as if I ought to start with Perdido...

Fred said...

I also did a short commentary on his _The City and the City_. It's a "police procedural" in one of the most unusual cities I've ever heard of.

enjoy

WCG said...

Great review, Tony. I must say that I'm put off by the size of these books (yes, I know you share that concern). It's usually not a problem if I know I like the author, but when trying a new author, it tends to take more ambition than I've got.

Anthony G Williams said...

Yes Bill, big books tend to put me off, but I found this story so interesting and enjoyable that I didn't notice the length - it just flew by.

More than a touch of Alice in Wonderland about it, but grittier and more modern. The author acknowledges Lewis Carroll as one of his influences.

Reading the suggestions here, I obviously need to embark on one of my once-every-few-months bulk purchases from Amazon...

校仪 said...

Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today..................................................................