Thursday, March 29, 2012

Christopher Priest as critic

Christopher Priest, a top-class novelist, reveals himself as a first-rate critic, too. He has railed against the nominees for this year's Arthur C. Clarke award for the best UK science-fiction novel of the year.

In particular, he criticises China Mieville's shortlisted novel, Embassytown. The Guardian quotes him as saying:

And as for MiƩville, according to Priest "Embassytown contains many careless solecisms", as well as "lazy writing" and a "lack of characterisation". Unless, says Priest, the three-time winner of the Arthur C Clarke "is told in clear terms that he is underachieving, that he is restricting his art by depending too heavily on genre commonplaces, he will never write the great novels that many people say he is capable of".

Well said. Priest is a superb writer of SF/Fantasy. His The Glamour and The Prestige, for example, are brilliant novels which clearly transcend genre and stand as great literature in their own right. All good genre fiction should be able to do this. In SF, the writing of Philip K. Dick did, and Arthur C. Clarke, and JG Ballard. In crime, the works of PD James, Ian Rankin et al are studies in character. They are great works regardless of genre.

But China Mieville, it has always seemed to me, is wearing the Emperor's new clothes. Sure, there is great writing in his work. But there is also seriously bad writing. It seems lazy to me, badly edited, cavalier about craft. Far from transcending genre, it seems to wallow in its cliches and its more simplistic rudiments. Mieville has attracted a great reputation, and I'm not entirely sure why, but he is surely now living off it. He's no Tim Powers, that's for sure. Christopher Priest is absolutely right to upbraid him the way he does.

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