Sicko, China Mieville…

So, my relationship to the world continues to be one that doesn’t seem to involve much blogging, or much writing, these days. Still, I thought I would check in after watching Michael Moore’s very very good movie, Sicko. I actually thought it was superb. Funny, rich, important, heart-rending.

I also recently read China Mieville’s novel, “Iron Council”. I heard of China Mieville from an interview in “New Politics”, one of the editors of which is my friend Stephen Shalom. I heard Mieville was a leftist activist and also a fantasy author. Since I am a fantasy fan (my favourite author in the genre is Guy Gavriel Kay) and a leftist myself, I thought I would give China Mieville a try. I’m thorough when it comes to authors – if I like one, I will try to read all the main books they’ve written, and I’ll try to read them in the order they were written. In China’s case I started with Perdido Street Station, then went to The Scar, and then Iron Council. I find him very creative, brilliant even, and his setting of New Crobuzon and Bas Lag to be gritty and to accomplish his goals of trying to invert Tolkien, not be sentimental, not rely on cliched rural or feudal settings, have complex politics and economics. The trouble with China is he leaves you feeling sick and totally burned out. The endings are always extraordinarily bleak. I couldn’t help but wonder what it says about the world that a leftist can’t even imagine things working out well in a fantasy novel (let alone science fiction or speculative fiction). Not that it’s on China or anyone else to make everything work out. China should write what he likes, and he does so brilliantly. But why doesn’t the other kind of fantasy novel exist, even if China wouldn’t write it? Would no one believe such a novel, I wonder?

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

6 thoughts on “Sicko, China Mieville…”

  1. Really? I haven’t seen it,
    Really? I haven’t seen it, because we get everything so late over here, but I read a really scathing review of it in the New Yorker, pointing out that:
    (1) putting a lot of sick people on a boat is pretty irresponsible
    (2) Moore didn’t interview any of the people who are looking into how to actually bring universal healthcare to the US – even though their numbers are growing, and there are important debates about how to go about it
    (3) he glossed over any problems with quality and wait times that we have in, say, Canada

    1. (1) I am pretty sure the
      (1) I am pretty sure the sick people made their own choice to participate in the film. One can’t fault Moore for their ‘irresponsible’ decisions.

      (2) Fair enough.

      (3) Would you rather be sick in the US or Canada? I think that’s the point Moore was making. I don’t recall him saying that any system is absolutely perfect.

    2. 3 points
      The first point is so preposterous that it casts doubt on the credibility of the whole review, as you’ll see when you watch the film. The second and third points are also irrelevant. He described the system as it is, in the US and elsewhere (Canada, Cuba, etc.) and did it in a comparative sense. He did not gloss over problems in Canada – on the contrary, he suggested – rightly, in my view – that many of the “problems” constantly debated about the Canadian system are exaggerated or false, designed to undermine public support for the public system and facilitate privatization, a long term goal of the US. I think you’ll enjoy it.

  2. these cynics
    I really don’t understand it. Vonnegut came highly recommended to me by many leftists and literary folks as well. But the three books I’ve read so far (Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, Mother Night) have been full of despair. Is Bokononism to be taken seriously?

    The books are excellently written and very entertaining. He also has some great insights into human actions and motives. But why this dire situations. Does he really need to invent a character like Howard W. Campbell Jr.? Why not write a book on Dellinger’s actions during the war instead… Admittedly, I haven’t gone through Vonnegut’s oeuvre yet. If there are any uplifting stories point them out!

    – Suyi

    1. Vonnegut
      I love Vonnegut. You have to read ‘Breakfast of Champions.’ It sounds bleak. Its basically a conversation with himself as he tried to decide whether to kill himself or not. He doesn’t. The ending is uplifting. Someone once described him as either America’s most optimistic pessimist, or its most pessimistic optimist. The optimism is in there, believe me.

      He once noted how all the world’s religions preach ‘love’ and yet they are constantly killing people. In fact, they are often killing in the name of love. He calls for “A little less love and a little more respect.” I think its in his belief that we are capable of respect that keeps him optimistic. Somehow, despite being acutely aware of all the shit, he remains convinced that people are capable of good.


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