Iron Council

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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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.