Bas-Lag

Is This Census-Taker set in Bas-Lag?

this-census-taker-bas-lagIt’s been out for quite a while, but I just recently got around to reading China Miéville’s latest book, the novella This Census-Taker. It was a really quick read, at just 130 pages, and I very much enjoyed it, although I wish it had been longer and explored the setting a bit more.

That, I think, was the only drawback of the book: Miéville revels in describing fantastic worlds — it’s his biggest strength as a writer, in my opinion — so for him to take such a restrained approach with This Census-Taker means that I’m left feeling the tiniest bit deprived. I wish Miéville had expanded the end, and unveiled more and more of this weird world. I wish we could have seen the narrator’s full journey from his childhood to the “present day” from which he tells his story.

Maybe the reason I’m feeling deprived is because I think I started to uncover some clues throughout the story, but they never added up to a satisfying answer. These clues were inserted sparsely in description and dialogue, and they pointed to the unearthliness of the setting. A fanboyish part of me started to think that maybe they were pointing in a particular direction, one that the real fans would recognise. You can probably guess where I’m going with this — I mean, I made it the title of this blog post.

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In lieu of a real book review I’m going to talk mostly about the setting of the work. I’m no literary critic, so I couldn’t begin to unpack here the deeper meaning of the work, the potential allegory and metaphor and themes propping up the story. There are probably a hundred reviewers who have already done that, and I plan to find their reviews later and read my way to a better understanding of the novella.

What I really want to do in this post is just nerd out a bit, and examine those clues I talked about. I want to see if I can structure an argument to convince myself, let alone anyone else, of my hunch. I really want to ask the question: is This Census-Taker set in Bas-Lag?

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Here it is! The official map of Bas-Lag as drawn by China Miéville!

cmoblmUPDATED 19 MAY: I’m incredibly pleased to say that China himself emailed me with his added approval to post the map! Very much geeking out about it now!

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A while ago I told you about the WFC2013 souvenir book which had a handful of illustrations and maps by China Miéville, including somewhat of a holy grail for Bas-Lag fans: an official map showing the geography of the world Miéville created for his series.

Well, I’m pleased to report that not only did I get a hold of a copy of that book, but I also got gracious permission from Stephen Jones, editor of the souvenir book for PS Publishing, to post the double page spread here for the enlightenment and enjoyment of all Miéville fans!

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Bas-Lag illustrations and maps by China Miéville in this WFC2013 souvenir book

FLTSMFNTST2013UPDATED MAY 15: Go and see the map now!

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I’m hyperventilating right now. No, not really. But I just discovered the existence of Flotsam Fantastique: The Souvenir Book of the World Fantasy Convention 2013 (cover pictured) and that it features a number of illustrations by China Miéville. I desperately searched online bookstores for copies, but the only one I can find is about AUD$90, way out of my price range.

The complete contents are viewable at the ISFDB page, but here’s the important stuff, all drawn by China Miéville himself:

  • A Hand-Drawn Map of New Crobuzon
  • An Image of a Ghoul (Bas Lag Monster)
  • A Frontispiece (Unused) from One of the Sections of Perdido
  • Image of an Inchman (Bas Lag Monster from Iron Council)
  • Map of the Wider Area of Bas Lag
  • An Image of the Vodyanoi from Bas Lag

Do you see that? Do you see the “Map of the Wider Area of Bas Lag”?? This is huge. This is… momentous! An official map now exists in print! I need to get my hands on it. Even just a glimpse. I need it, so bad. This is torture, knowing that it’s out there…

UPDATE: Firstly, here’s a cheaper version at PS Publishing’s website, for £25 (with postage it comes to about AUD$67). Secondly, I’ve now seen the map, and I can confirm that the Dragon Magazine version is indeed the true shape of Bas-Lag! That map though has nowhere near the amount of detail that the official map by Miéville has.

Prepare for a ridiculous shit-ton of Bas-Lag fan art (and much more)

5While looking for pictures of the cactacae people from the Bas-Lag novels, I came across a Tumblr post which is a massive compilation of fan art (and other related imagery) for the Bas-Lag series. It’s a massive collection which threatened to crash my browser; just hundreds of pictures of scenery, characters, creatures, and so on, as well as quite a few non-Bas-Lag pictures that still relate thematically in some way (for instance, lots of pictures of steampunky flying machines).

So check it out here, and go nuts. Unfortunately there’s no credit given for any of the artists, but you can probably backward-image-search whatever takes your fancy and find other work by the creators.

Maps of China Miéville’s Bas-Lag: semi-official and unofficial

Screen shot 2014-02-26 at 11.34.03 PMUPDATED MAY 14: Check out the official map drawn by China Miéville here!

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Apart from a map of New Crobuzon, the Bas-Lag novels by China Miéville have never included maps of the world. This is a shame because China describes the geography so well, and there are many places described (or at least named), beyond the places actually featured in the books. It would be so great to see how the world fits together.

Supposedly official maps exist, but China may have surrendered them to Adamant Entertainment for the much-delayed RPG Tales of New Crobuzon. Who knows if this RPG, first announced in 2008, will ever see the light of day? Updates from Adamant Entertainment about the project are nearly non-existent. It’s as if they don’t want to remind people that they should be working on it.

What fans of Bas-Lag are left with are the semi-official and unofficial attempts people have made at mapping the world. I’ll go through the best ones below.

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