Miéville & Doctorow: from Dungeons and Dragons to politics and writing

By Corina Milic

The night started with a few bad jokes and ended with a debate on human nature (consensus: good, though invariably more time was spent talking about the evil).

The Lakeside Terrace was packed for a joint reading and interview with Cory Doctorow (The Rapture of the Nerds) and China Miéville (Embassytown). The SPACE channel’s Mark Askwith hosted.

The authors are similar in some essential ways: both live in London, and both approach science fiction quite politically.

Doctorow read from his new novel Pirate Cinema and reminisced about growing up in Toronto: “I played Dungeons and Dragons here [Harbourfront Centre] on alternating Saturdays for most of the 1980s.” He credits the city, with sci-fi institutions like Bakka Phoenix book store and the Judith Merril Library, for his pursuit of genre fiction.

Cory Doctorow and China Miéville in conversation with Mark Askwith at IFOA 2012 (c) readings.org

Cory Doctorow and China Miéville in conversation with Mark Askwith at IFOA 2012 (c) readings.org

Miéville, who treated fans to an unpublished short story reading, said that he simply never grew out of his fantastical childhood imagination. “As a writer I can sustain almost nothing that doesn’t have a fantastic element.”

To say the conversation was far reaching is an understatement. The authors talked about everything from copyright laws (Doctorow’s activism centres largely around the issue) to blog anxiety to waterboarding to Hurrican Katrina and Cormac McCarthy. They even threw in a requisite trekkie reference.

It is impossible to synthesize Doctorow’s jaw-dropping on-the-spot metaphors or Miéville’s eloquent arguments (both full of rather large words this blogger was ill-equipped to successfully transcribe). Instead, here are some of the highlights:

Miéville, on structuring his novels: “My books are very planned, in part because I’m very neurotic. The idea of starting a book without knowing where you’re going, oooo, hives!”

Doctorow, on good writing advice: “’Write everyday’ crops up as writing advice all the time. What was revelatory to me was that when I did this, writing every day, I saw in hindsight that the days I felt the words were good and the days I thought they were bad were actually indistinguishable.”

Doctorow, on why he blogs his daily writing: “If I don’t put [the words] out for public consumption, I cheat myself. I won’t do it.”

Miéville, on the relationship between his politics and his writing: “I have been an active socialist since I was 18. I see the world politically, but I also see the world as a D and D* geek. Anything I write involves political issues. It’s not like separate boxes in my head.”

Miéville, on the idea of crisis: “In a very banal way crisis is aesthetically interesting, but it’s not an aesthetic indulgence. Things really are fucked. I’m not a pessimist. One of the great blunders is [believing] that people are horrible.”

Doctorow, on writing young adult novels: “YA protagonists do a very brave thing all the time. They do a lot of things for the first time without knowing how these things will change them. It makes them really exciting to write about.”

Miéville, on writing young adult novels: “What he said.”

*Dungeons and Dragons

Learn more about Milic’s attempts to read every book in her home on her blog. Visit readings.org for more IFOA events.

Five questions with… novelist Corey Redekop

© Judd Dowhy

Corey Redekop will be at IFOA to share Husk, a novel about a struggling actor turned zombie.

IFOA: Who are you most excited to see at the Festival, and why?

Redekop: Aside from all the authors I “know” through Facebook and Twitter but haven’t yet met in person, there’s one individual I’m truly excited about (two if you count Cory Doctorow, but as we’re in the same event, I’ll just assume we’ll actually shake hands). I’m not sure if I’ll get to see him because of scheduling, but I do hope I’ll get chance to see and maybe meet China Miéville. Right now, pound for pound, Miéville’s one of the best fantasy writers on the planet, one of those rare writers able to infuse fantastical scenarios with absolutely believable characters (others being Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker). His prose is second to none, and The City and the City is one of the best fantasy thriller novels I’ve read this millennium. At heart, I am a huge geek, and while it bugs me that I’m actually older than many of the authors I geek out over, I’ll probably shriek with glee if I meet him.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Redekop: I typically read a few books at a time, my version of channel surfing, I suppose. I just completed Michael Tregebov’s very funny Jewish comedy The Shiva and Emily Schultz’s just so damned good The Blondes. I’m currently devouring Gemma Files’ A Tree of Bones, a great wrap-up to her Hexslinger trilogy, and I’m quite enjoying John Scalzi’s comic fantasy An Agent to the Stars. On deck, I’ve got Paul Tremblay’s Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, Heather Jessup’s The Lightning Field, and Mark A. Rayner’s The Fridgularity.

IFOA: What’s the coolest thing about being a zombie?

Redekop: Well, you don’t need sleep, so you get a lot of work done. By “work,” I mean rampant cannibalism, but it is work, especially when your lunch refuses to sit still. Also cool? You can easily win any “how long can you hold your breath?” contests.

IFOA: We’ve heard you’ll be here for your birthday. What do you usually do on your birthday?

Redekop: Normally, I take the day off work and lounge about the house in a bathrobe or, sometimes, completely naked. Should make for an interesting round table. IFOA is a clothing optional festival, right?

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Redekop: A massive timesuck, made of cats, a warning sign of the dumbing down of the world, and the greatest thing ever made.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word…

Redekop: Eclectic.

Redekop will participate in two IFOA events: an October 25 reading and a round table called Zombies, Witches, Killers and Cowboys: Visions of the Future of the Novel on October 27.