[(essay date summer 2009) In the essay below, Bould reveals the Marxist principles underlying the multiple and contradictory impulses operating in the London urban fantasy of China Miéville's novel King Rat and his short story collection Looking for Jake.]
King Rat (1998) and most of the stories collected in Looking for Jake (2005) are set in London, and nearly all of them could be taken as examples of what Brian Attebery calls "indigenous fantasy." Such fantasy narratives make
two simultaneous and incompatible assertions: first, that the story takes place in the ordinary world accessible to our senses, and, second, that this world contains--contrary to all sensory evidence and experience--magical beings, supernatural forces. ... [T]he built-in conceptual gap ... itself reflects our different ways of knowing and responding to the world, the magical and scientific dimensions of thought and language(129)
This article will trace some of the ways in which Miéville's London-based fictions think about and with this gap between ontologies, and problematize it as a way of understanding fantastic texts. I begin by considering some of the problems involved in generic classification and in conceptualizing texts as hybrid, whether of different genres or ontic spheres. Miéville's fiction worries away at such questions which are not merely a matter of aesthetics or form, but of politics and praxis. King Rat and Looking for Jake can be understood as exercises in thinking through the ways in which the fantastic is good for thinking with if one wants not merely to talk about the world but to change it. In a remarkable, but as-yet unpublished, sf novel, Miéville turns to the question of metaphor, itself often considered in terms of "understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another conceptual domain" (Kövecses 4). This cognitive linguistics model of metaphor is structurally homologous to Attebery's indigenous fantasy. A close reading of Miéville's understanding of metaphor offers insight into the problem of how to conceptualize fantastic texts--and the world.
Taxonomies, Hybridities And Contradictions
The fiction most commonly considered to be indigenous fantasy, such as Megan Lindholm's Wizard of the Pigeons (1986), attempts to provide American cities with "complex historical layers" (Mendlesohn 147) by imbuing them with a sense of pre-modern depths of time, whether heroic, folkloric, or supernatural. This is accomplished primarily through adopting a fantastic register--"On the far western shore of a northern continent there was once a harbor city called Seattle" (1), Lindholm's novel begins--or through the appearance of fantastical beings, typically derived from European folklore, legend, myth, or religion. This second method prompts Mendlesohn to consider such texts as "modern intrusion fantasies" (147).1 More importantly in this context, she notes that in typically ignoring the "the legends of the indigenes" in favor of those of the European colonists,2 such fiction is "as much a denial of history as a creation of it" (147). In this dehistoricizing aspect, it would be peculiar for Miéville, a Marxist, to pursue such a form.
While this essay is not concerned with allocating Miéville's London fictions a position within...