Tuesday, July 10, 2012

He Called Me Sir

I've fairly religiously read everything China Mieville's written since he was the subject of one of Crooked Timber's first seminars, though I've not got to Railsea yet. I even finished King Rat, which I didn't really think was very good; the same tropes, but just not as well worked, without the command to make the material justify the length he draws it out to. Yesterday, in his collection of short stories, Looking For Jake, I (re)read a piece set in my favourite of his created worlds, Bas-Lag. Called 'Jack', it is the reflections of a lowly state functionary on a notorious outlaw, a kind of Robin Hood figure constantly and deliberately sticking two fingers up at the authorities called Jack Half-a-Prayer, whose career he, inadvertently and only in a small way, helped to make. Here, as often, Mieville uses his skill as a writer to make a political or philosophical point rather finely. The functionary obviously admires Jack, recounting his exploits with clear enjoyment having taken pains to establish the strength, although not the precise nature, of his connection with him. So far, so straightforwardly subversive; even the servants of order cannot help but be drawn to those who show up its pretensions. What's so good about the story though, is it's twist. As the perspective being offered on Jack is gradually fully revealed, the incendiary power of his notoriety is undermined. The idea of Jack flicking two fingers to the powers that be is extremely apt, for in seeing how empty that can be, Mieville points quite deliberately to the difficulties surrounding the political vision so wonderfully laid out in Alan Moore's V for Vendetta in, I think, all its contradictions. As he reminds us, though the fragility of silence may make it unwise to rely on it, the loud noise made by one person can stall, still even, those that would otherwise grow in the throats of many others.