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Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

Currently reading

Ottessa Moshfegh
Knife Fight and Other Struggles
David Nickle
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
Andrew Solomon
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride
Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition)
Derek Bok
Dissident Gardens
Jonathan Lethem
Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s
Kim Newman
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
James Gleick
Complete Novels
Dashiell Hammett, Steven Marcus
Embassytown - China Miéville I don't really want to give anything away. I also don't feel like trying to sell Mieville -- Ursula Le Guin does it grandly, here. . . so pardon me while I bore with a semi-personal take on reading, genre, and my appreciations for this author. Plus I said I'd send the book to Joel, and have been too busy to write a proper review and I really, really want to send the book to him soon...

Loving the Alien*:
Tracking the historical origins of one's own fannish enthusiasms, getting to the bud where tastes first coalesced, gets dully Mythological all too quickly. Specifics disappear in the fog of hagiography; that seemingly so-very-Me moment emerges as a fuzzy echo of the collective, zeitgeisty, actually-so-many converging on the latest, newest, hippest; the gravitational pull of later selves warps my recollections, making the young MR so much more attentive, attuned to the cool than ever was the case.

I have in mind a period of two, three years--a couple of long, painful, chubby summers right at the cusp of adolescence--when I was gobsmacked by King's many Things, went sand-blind with spice and baroque Herbertian operatics, grew strangely obsessed with the paranoid thrills of Project Blue Book and von Daniken, and most most most of all felt the keen distillation of Awe in Spielberg's Close Encounters. The Myth probably ought to have transformations (fat boy, alienated, meets aliens, grasps greater consciousness, grows strong, breaks from the smalltown into the cosmopolitan). There ought to be a moment where the first book--The Book--first cracked open, the first startled gasp of (self-)recognition spat from my lips. Or when the popcorn fell from outstretched hands with the glimpse of the fighter planes in the Gobi, my own obsessions suddenly visible--an arcane knowledge of Bermuda Triangle disappearances and unexplained phenomena up there, on the screen!

But it is pretty damn likely that I read the novelization of Close Encounters in breathless anticipation of the film coming out soon, which I was pestering my dad to go see. I had a strange fascination with reading novelizations of every movie that came out. (That is not as fun a myth to tell about one's self.) I think my dad pressed Dune upon me, sure that I'd love it, and his pressing almost certainly made me put it aside, resistant. I read a lot of King, fast--but which one first? I recall the story with the eyes in the hands, or was it Danny Torrance, or vampires, or... and I'm pretty sure I was disgusted and plain terrified before I was in love. There were a few months where I'd buy a copy of Fangoria, pore over it closely for a day or two and then have horrendous nightmares, having to give the magazine away just to get the images out of my head. Not really love at first sight.

The stories I tell about when I discovered the fan in me, when I fell in love with the alien (in the purest sci-fi or in the black sheep horror sub-family of the fantastic), are myths about who I wish I am at some almost genetic depth: someone thunderstruck and dazzled by difference, alive to wonder and deep belief, yet also keen and shrewd and skeptical, and. . . Myth. What I love about the alien can't be reduced to a counter-myth just as easy to define (and just as far from the truths), but there's still something obvious and familiar about my love: I'm trying to trade up from a general daily confusion about social life and self to a far sharper delighted alienation. The keyword there is "confusion" -- not awe, or alienation, parlor tricks I play to make my subsequent recognition and intuitive grasp all the more astonishing. No, instead try incomprehension. What I have often loved about the alien is often an attempt to make an Alien out of the all-too-familiar mishegas. To send it off-world, make it bigger, better, more interesting, if not soluble then grandly Ineffable.

And, right?, eff that. Grow up, eh? Oh, I'm all for a bit of gee-whiz, and I still do delight in the strange. But what I love about Mieville is what the adult fan in me loves about the alien. Mieville doesn't capitalize the Story, doesn't Gaimanipulate** the fan's desire to Mythologize her- or himself in a vision of Pure alt-goodness Genre. He takes us to elaborately conceived other worlds, with elaborately ornate language and conceptual play, and there are certainly all the hallmarks of the sci-fi (or otherness) I mythologize in my fandom: a ripping yarn, Wondrous aliens just barely imaginable (like something glanced, always, just out of the corner of your eye). . . but for all the wow and warp and weave, his subject is also the grounded and material, the human confusion about where we're at, how to understand one another, how to treat one another. He will jam dazzling riffs (on the comedy of faith/faith of comedy in Kraken, on the dizzying foolish mind-game of Othering in The City & The City, or--here--on the nature of Language & Referent & Mind). . . and god knows I delight in Big Ideas, but I love that they're just everyday problems, too. It is hard to understand language, and to avoid enshrining our minimal understanding as Truth. His aliens, his other worlds, his Weirdness--in service to a patient revelatory engagement with the quotidian stuff that confounds and confuses us everyday. I'm pretty sure the 11-year-old me would have loved it, and I'm pretty sure that the 43-year-old me could easily mythologize what that love was really about--but paying closer attention, I think what I love about Mieville's love of the alien is richer, deeper, and altogether more enthralling--he's so thickly engaged with an alienness embedded in self, society, and language. The New Weird is a Beard; Mieville writes tough, knotty stories about how we think and feel and engage. He's an amazing novelist.

*Title of a shitty Bowie song. My Bowie fandom--and the long painful adherence to an idea of Bowie through long years in the late 'eighties and the 'nineties where most everything that came out was almost painful in its failure to be my dreamed-of Bowie.

**Not that there's anything wrong with that.