09 February 2012

Un Lun Dun

Today's good read was China Miéville's Un Lun Dun, to the delights of which I was introduced by youngest brother and my new sister in law.

Set in an alternative fantasy version of London (the "abcity" of "UnLondon"; the title, Un Lun Dun, is the name chanted rhythmically by a crowd), it first reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and then, in turn, of many other fictions from Robert Heinlein's Our fair city through Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the sea of stories to Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines. But that makes it sound derivative, which it emphatically is not – it is anarchically (literally, in several senses) itself.

It is illustrated liberally by the author. There are references to other abcities, including Parisn't and Lost Angeles ... but put them aside for other dream times. There are flying buses, and buses that climb walls on gecko feet. There are tribes of parkour "slate runners", packs of carnivorous giraffes, mutant ninja dustbins called "binja". There is a bridge which goes from somewhere to somewhere else under the control of the Propheseers. There are many other things, but discover them for yourself.

Un Lun Dun is, in some ways, a typical heroic quest tale ... but in other, perhaps more important ways, it is exactly the opposite. It delivers more messages, and addresses more themes and messages, than I can begin to list... but it doesn't preach and, most of all it is a wonderful story

There are many, many passages which I want to quote here ... but that would leave you with the feeling of having read the book without getting any of the flavour. So, I'll content myself with offering this one sentence from roughly halfway through the novel:

“Deeba, Hemi, Curdle and the book walked out of the Talklands to look for a forest in a house, accompanied by the words Cauldron, Diss and Bling.”

It's wonderful; I urge you to go and read it.

  • China Miéville, Un Lun Dun. 2007, London: Macmillan Children's. 0330450395 (pbk.)
  • Neil Gaiman. Neverwhere. 1996, London: BBC
  • Robert Heinlein, "Our fair city" (short story) in several collections including The unpleasant profession of Jonathan Hoag. 1976, London: New English Library. 0450028860 (pbk).
  • Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the sea of stories. 1990: Granta in association with Penguin. 0140140352 (pbk)
  • Philip Reeve, Mortal engines. 2001, London: Scholastic. 0439993458.

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