I’ll admit it up front — I didn’t know China Miéville’s work before it was cool. He was on my radar, people I knew were reading and loving his books, but no one ever sat me down and said, “Listen, Jenn. You, of all people, need to read these books.” (More is the pity!) And when I did finally read one of his novels, it was because my boss pulled a copy of The City and the City from a priority stack of galleys and said, “Here, read this one, someone should take a look.” Not the most auspicious of reading beginnings for an author who is now in my Top Ten — but whatever works, am I right?
Miéville’s work has a reputation for being awesome, but also for being difficult. If you’re not already a visitor to the weirder reaches of sci-fi and fantasy, you’re going to need a guide. My attempt at a map is below — you can begin at any of these points and find your way from there, but I’ve suggested follow-ups for each, just in case. I assure you that, while you may occasionally get turned around and find yourself in places you did not intend to go, it’s well worth the trip. And if you have already visited the area (by way of, say, Nick Harkaway, Catherynne Valente, Samuel Delaney, or granddaddies Borges or Lovecraft) but haven’t gotten to this particular locale, I say to you: “Listen. You, of all people, need to read these books.”
Perdido Street Station: With award after award piled on top of it, and some of the most comprehensive world-building I’ve ever experienced, it’s impossible not to recommend this book. You’ll discover Bas-Lag, a gleefully riotous world inhabited by humans and metahumans and definitely-not-humans that runs on both steam and thaumaturgy. Hefty doses of horror and governmental politics build on the urban fantasy elements, and Miéville’s prose is dense, playful, and provocative (yes, all at once). Further along the urban road: The other Bas-Lag books (The Scar, Iron Council) and Kraken.
The City & the City: Since this was my own personal starting point, I can’t not pick it. And while almost every genre novel has a mystery or puzzle at its heart, The City and the City has an actual murder mystery! A police procedural that is also a meditation on international politics, societal taboos, and patriotism-gone-awry? Come. On. Fair warning: this book will mess with your mind to the point at which you might see double for a couple hours when you’re done. Further along the mind-shattering road: Embassytown
Railsea: Theoretically an all-ages book, this novel belongs on your shelf next to The Phantom Tollbooth, “Jabberwocky,” and Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Mieville’s prose always works on a few levels and Railsea dials the wordplay up to 11, to the point at which an ampersand is used wherever ‘and’ would be because it advances the central theme of the book. (Not kidding.) Add to this a dystopic plot that follows three teenagers on the ultimate treasure hunt, and you’ve got what might be my favorite of all Miéville’s novels. Further along the all-ages road: Un Lun Dun