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China Miéville’s 'Iron Council'

Noah Stepanov

Posted on October 14, 2020 20:50

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The third of Miéville's "Bas Lag" series, which came out back in 2004, is a fantastic addition and another milestone work in the science fiction genre.

I'm going to pretend like I'm reviewing the third book of this series before the first because it mirrors the nonlinear nature of Iron Council's narrative, and not because it's been so long since I've read the first book, Perdido Street Station, that I want to go back and reread it again before reviewing it.

Aren't I just so clever?

Anyway, China Miéville has stated that he plans to write a book of every genre, a mission that sounds utterly ludicrous until you sit down and read the books he's written. Last time, I talked about The Scar, which represented a sort of seafarer's journey. This week, Iron Council takes the stage as the stand-in for a classic western. Sort of.

Iron Council is absolutely a western, but it lacks some of the more blatant aspects of the genre. We lose the gunslingers, the duels at high noon, and the ten-gallon hats, but in their places, we get to focus on some of the tougher aspects: imperialism, colonization, civil unrest and racial tensions. Miéville is a very political writer, and of the three Bas Lag books, Iron Council is undoubtedly the most forthright with its politics.

Three primary POV's weave the narrative together, and at the heart of them is the political revolution stirring within the heart of the city Miéville has put so much effort into crafting over three books: New Crobuzon. From cunning and ruthless revolutionaries to the liberated prison workers on a track-laying crew carving through the nation, every chapter has meaning, and every chapter has progress, even when the story gets told out of order.

Miéville is a master of writing environments and bringing life to lifeless things. New Crobuzon has evolved into its own character since Perdido Street Station, rife with weird science and flavorful characters, and in Iron Council the same is true. The wild landscape is described with such beautiful and interesting detail, and as the crew progresses into the nebulous and terrifying "cacotpic stain" that intrigue evolves into an unsettling mesh of body and even cosmic horror. The train undergoes changes, both physically and in terms of what it represents to the people of New Crobuzon, as it traverses the country in flight from the militia hunting it.

With smart worldbuilding, excellent characters, and astonishingly well-crafted prose, Iron Council is a perfect blend of the classic western and Miéville's own weird science.

Noah Stepanov

Posted on October 14, 2020 20:50

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Source: WTOP

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