I clumped up the stairs at the University of Washington Bookstore about 5 after 7 this evening. China Mieville was already reading from his latest novel, The Scar. I first sat down on the floor in back, then noticed a few seats available near the front. So I quietly snuck into one of the seats and focused on listening.
Unfortunately, China reads his own work at a rather quick pace. With any literature that contains more meat than your average glass of Kool-Aid, I have to read relatively slowly. Not because I cannot understand the words. Rather this is because I do not notice nuance at first. The first glance at a sentence is merely for me to comprehend the words. Afterward I read and re-read to grok the work. With a quick reading, I could barely hold on.
China Mieville is a stern looking man. Bald and unshaven, he wears a black t-shirt and pants that give rise to a humorless countenance. This is the vision as he peers from the photo used on the jacket on all three of his books released in the U.S. And this was the man standing in front of us reading from The Scar.
Immediately after his reading, he took questions. A transformation took place. He was no longer the dour man who took his work and his literature too seriously. He became a kid, fascinated with monsters, with D&D, and fearful of mosquitoes. He became pretty much a big, opinionated dork. Most of his discussion about genre, literature, politics, and writing was over my head and my comprehension. I am knowledgeable enough to be able to follow the conversation, but not smart enough to remember or contribute.
China talked much about the fantastic. Most of my favorite authors write in the SF/fantasy genre. Several have tried to break out, or are openly contemptuous of the field in which they write. Most have failed to emerge from their typecasting as genre writers. China Mieville embraces the fantastic. The one question I did ask (which is something that I tend to ask all genre writers) was whether or not he had ideas for writing or books that fell outside the genre. Especially since he talked quite a bit about his influences from beyond fantasy fiction. His response was "I don't think something without monsters could hold my attention long enough to write it."
In the signature lines, I chatted a bit with him. I mentioned that I have used "King Rat" as my nick name online since 1989 or so, as Clavell's King Rat is my favorite book. I told him that I only read his first book, King Rat because it took it's title from my favorite book. His humorous response was "Well, our plan to ride his coat-tails wasn't a complete failure" and he mentioned Billy Wright an Irish Republican Loyalist who used the name King Rat and who was killed in prison shortly before the release of his book.
So, I now have all my China Mieville books signed by the author. All of them are addressed to King Rat in some form or another. He got a kick out of addressing them that way. Definitely a fun author reading.