This Census Taker

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.

* * * * *

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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Limited edition cover art for This Census-Taker

This is better than what we saw yesterday. Check out the nifty limited edition cover art of China Miéville’s new novella, illustrated by Vincent Chong:

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Very cool. I love the damaged photograph look, and the little details — for instance, why is the census taker carrying a gun?

The limited edition of the novella is available through Subterranean Press for $45 USD.

Just a side note: this is my 100th post for this blog! It’s kind of amazing that I’ve reached that milestone. I hope I can continue to bring content about the books and authors I love, well into the future.

EDIT: Okay, this is weird, I just found more artwork for This Census-Taker on Amazon:

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It’s for the US Kindle edition, released in March. It might also be the paperback cover, but I’m not sure. It’s different to everything else released so far, and pretty visually interesting! It’s apparently a draft, so I’m not sure if it will end up being used. I hope it is, though.

The UK cover art for This Census-Taker is boring

Snore. Picador (the UK literary imprint handling China Miéville’s next book) have chosen to go with the same photograph for the cover of This Census-Taker that Random House did in the US. Check it out below, and compare it to the US cover art.

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At least the typeface is better than the “let’s see what Photoshop’s default fonts are like” look of the US cover.

It’s a real shame that this book breaks the unified look that Crush Creative had been producing for the last five years, in the UK and Commonwealth. That’s what happens when you shift your SF/F author to another imprint, I guess — is it calculated to distance Miéville’s new works from his genre fiction roots? I wonder what will happen for The Last Days of New Paris.

SFF180’s video review of This Census-Taker

There’s one more review of China Miéville’s new novella that I want to share, this time by the excellent Youtube book reviewer Thomas Wagner, on his channel SFF180. Watch it below, unless you don’t wish to know minor spoilers about the storyline and setting:

There’s also a text version of this review at Wagner’s website.

I’ve read/watched multiple reviews of this novella now but I’m still hazy as to exactly what the shape of the plot is, and whether you really could consider it a genre work at all. It sounds like a very nebulous — even unsatisfying — story, and my excitement is just a little dampened. Still, there’s also the novel The Last Days of New Paris to look forward to next year I suppose.

SFF180 is a really great Youtube channel, by the way (in fact I’ve blogged about it before). Wagner updates regularly, not just with reviews but also with editorial content, news about awards and the like, and weekly “Mailbag” shows which spotlight upcoming titles. You should subscribe to his growing channel; when he reaches 2000 subscribers, he promises to take viewers on a tour of his extensive library!

The first reviews of This Census-Taker are starting to appear

9d9bbc75b841c351fd8ac64f9f70a3dbI’ll keep it quick: advance copies have been out for a few weeks, and some reviews of the long-awaited new novella by China Miéville are finally trickling onto the net.

A Goodreads user named Mike was the very first, according to my daily googling (yes, I’m that obsessed). Check out his review here! He liked it, calling it “dark” and a “suspenseful tale of a murder that may or may not have happened”. There are some minor spoilers about the setting and SF/F elements of the story, so heads up if you care to stay in the dark about those.

The first professional review is by Kirkus Reviews, which you can read here. They call the novella “brief and dreamlike”, and describe a bit more about the story’s setting, the events that happen, and the narrator. Again, minor spoilers.

I have to admit, as an enormous fan of Miéville’s biggest and most bombastic novels such as The Scar, that this doesn’t sound like it’ll be entirely up my alley. I’ve always preferred stories with strong, clear fantasy worldbuilding over vague, magical-realism-inflected tales. The fact that in the UK the more literature-focused imprint Picador is publishing this, shows that this will be unlike any of Miéville’s other works to date.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Miéville has shown time and time again that he can draw almost any genre from a hat and make it his own. I still look forward to this book!

Minor China Miéville update, including another description for This Census-Taker

House-on-the-hillA few things to mention today. First, the good people at Subterranean Press have put up a pre-order page for the limited edition of This Census-Taker. It’ll have artwork by Vincent Chong, who has illustrated quite a few of the earlier Subterranean Press limited editions of Miéville’s novels.

There’s also a blog post which mentions the length of the story — around 30,000 words. That’s actually really short! Quite surprising that it’ll be stretched out to almost 200 pages in printed length. Subterranean Press has given us a new description of the plot, too:

A boy ran down a hill path screaming.

This running, screaming boy has witnessed something terrible, something so awful that he cannot even properly articulate it. All he can do is run. His story is investigated, but no evidence is found to support it, and so in the end, he is sent back. Back up that hill path to the site of his terror, to live with the parent who caused it.

The boy tries to escape. He flees to a gang of local children but they can’t help him. The town refuses to see his danger. He is alone.

Then a stranger arrives. A stranger who claims his job is to ask questions, seek truth. Who can, perhaps, offer safety. Or whose offer may be something altogether different, something safety is no part of.

In This Census-Taker, multiple award-winning writer China Miéville offers a story made of secrets and subtle reveals, of tragedy and bravery, of mysteries that shift when they appear to be known. It is a stunning work, full of strangeness and power.

As always, it sounds intriguing, but I’m glad we have a full-length novel to look forward to later in 2016. It’s quite puzzling why such a short novella merited its own release — in hardcover, nonetheless. Couldn’t this novella have been included in Three Moments of an Explosion?

picadorAnyway, talking of that full-length novel (The Last Days of New Paris), here’s a tiny tidbit about it from a German bookseller: it will be about 448 pages, and like Census-Taker, published by Picador, Pan Macmillan’s literary imprint. All of China’s previous books were published by Tor UK (the company’s SF/F imprint), so does this signal a move away from outright, unashamed SF & fantasy works from our favourite author, to a more literary/magical-realist oeuvre? Or is it a marketing decision? I’m all for more literary works (god knows Miéville has the talent!), but I just hope Miéville continues to imbue his books with that fun, genre-soaked playfulness that he always has.

Finally, that upcoming anthology Dead Letters which includes a Miéville collaboration has some cover art now. I won’t bother putting it here, just check out this Tor.com blog post to see.

US cover and extract from This Census-Taker by China Miéville

Today io9 has our first sneak peek at This Census-Taker, the upcoming novella by China Miéville. It’s due out on January 5th, 2016 from Penguin Random House in the US, and February 25th from Macmillan in the UK.

(Edit: it’s actually coming out in the UK via Macmillan’s imprint, Picador, who generally publish more literary fiction. From this I assume the story will be fairly light on the SFF/weird content, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing!)

Here’s the cover:

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Like the US cover for Three Moments, it’s a little boring. But if you go over to io9 you can read a small extract which is much more intriguing. That poor boy…

To be honest, since I heard this was a novella (~200 pages) and since the announcement of a full-length novel coming later in 2016, I’m much less excited for this. But, it could end up being excellent. Who knows? Also, much like Alastair Reynolds’ recent Slow Bullets, expect to pay full novel price for this novella. It had better be worth it.

More info: US/UK

This Census Taker — the next novel by China Miéville!

cmRandom House is listing a new China Miéville novel for January 2016, titled This Census Taker. What a weird title! There’s nearly no information about this book, other than the fact that it’s somewhere in the range of 208 pages (early page counts are never exact), and that it apparently comes under the genres “contemporary fantasy” and “literary fiction”.

I guess for now we can all try to guess what the book might be about. Perhaps a census taker who discovers something out of this world during his/her rounds?

UPDATE: There’s now jacket copy on the Penguin Random House website! It reads as follows:

For readers of George Saunders, Kelly Link, and Karen Russell, This Census Taker is the poignant and uncanny new novella from award-winning and bestselling author China Miéville. After witnessing a profoundly traumatic event, a boy is left alone in a remote house on a hilltop with his increasingly deranged parent. When a stranger knocks on his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation are over—but by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? Is he the boy’s friend? His enemy? Or something altogether other?

UPDATE 2: Pan Macmillan has it too, for UK/Commonwealth publication in February 2016. Also, the Random House product page (linked at the top of this post) has a more expanded jacket description now.

UPDATE 3: Check out the US cover art!