Jul 25

Report of certain events - China Miéville

12 comments

 

Thanks for another great episode. I think the podcast rightly points at the ‘moral’ of the story as among other things, anti-conservatist and anti-bureaucracy/lethargy. I like the tale very much, which has to do with the object of the tale: the weird in the phenomenon of antrophogenic structures as impossible living entities. There are quiet some weird tales that has this object. Here are some examples of tales that I like:

 

He – Lovecraft (1925)

The following quote can’t be more Lovecraftian, and wait, it IS from him 😉:

‘My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyze, and annihilate me.’

The point of this story is totally different from Miévilles (it has to do with horrible visions and portals to other times of the same city, according to Wikipedia stemming from Lovecraft’s xenophobic hatred of New York).

At first I thought back to his tale as one about a walk in the city which seems to change during the walk through impossible back yards and alleys that never existed before, but now I reread it, I can’t find this lines anymore – probably it was another, similar tale, but I can’t find it anymore. (Maybe it was a Feral Tale…)

 

A Tale of Two Cities (in: Sandman, Worlds’ End) – Neil Gaiman

Here follows some citation, edited by me, from ‘The Sandman Companion’ (by Hy Bender):

‘Robert loves his city, but when he gets on a train he’s never seen before he sees the Sandman. When he leaves the train, he finds himself in a city similar to his own, except that it’s virtually devoid of people. After much wandering, Robert eventually meets an old man who surmises that both he and Robert have become trapped in the city’s dreams. Eventually he escapes, but since that time, Robert has lived in fear that something even worse may happen; that one day all the sleeping cities will wake up, and rise.’

I really really like that last sentence. So, this tale is about whole living cities, not merely streets.

Neil Gaiman said about this tale: ‘It’s right in the H.P. Lovecraft vein – I even use the word cyclopean toward the end of it.’ And according to Wikipedia: ‘…especially [Lovecraftian] in its image of a character nearly driven to madness after discovering a truth that humans were never meant to know.’

 

House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)

This postmodern horror novel has many resemblances to Miéville’s tale (and is one of my all time favorite books). Instead of streets the seemingly living entities are the rooms of a certain house, that are changing and labyrinthine and are to be walked with survival equipment. Here also the people are becoming mad or dead or lost because of the impossible of the phenomenon. The house also houses a never-to-be-seen monster which is compared to the minotaur, but is something more elusive.

Another similarity is the postmodern use of documents and mystification, although this book takes it further with supposedly real but footnotes by the editor of the book, that are labyrinthine itself, as is the lay-out of the book.

 

Does anyone knows another such tale. I want to read them! (And they are very interesting as they all point to some deeper or darker side of humanity and the world, I think.)

I love these connections that you draw. The part of NYC that HPL writes about in "He" is Greenwich Village, and one of the Wild Streets that Mieville has in the chart of visitors is an imaginary street that would run through the Village if it were real. I have to believe that was intentional but I hadn't made the connection before.

 

I also love this type of story -- and have especially loved all the ones you mention -- and I would welcome additions to the list.

What a great connection, the use of Greenwich Village in both stories - I didn't notice it!

@brouwpieter I suspect that all the Wandering Streets on that list are references to something literary, either a story or some detail from an author's life. It would certainly be fun to try to crack it!

Jul 29Edited: Jul 29

I have to admit that I approached this story with a certain sense of trepidation. I've read two novels by Mieville: The City and the City, which I thoroughly enjoyed (along with the BBC TV adaptation); and Perdido Street Station, which I didn't - it had some interesting ideas, but I just don't get the hype that seems to surround it (for reasons that would be too off-topic to go into here).

 

At first I wasn't sure about this story - the premise of feral streets seemed a bit lame to be honest. But I really got sucked in by the end! I think part of the reason is that the idea of a story constructed around "found documents" appeals to me a lot (maybe because of being a historian). Only being given bits and pieces of the story and having/being able to fill in the gaps yourself is something I find increasingly gratifying. That said, I think we've been given too little information here to do much filling in - not that that's a bad thing.

 

I think the other element that really dragged me in is that I enjoyed getting this glimpse into the inner workings and politics of a small secret organisation investigating something that, as I said, on the surface seems quite lame: feral streets. It's completely nonsensical! How does the idea of streets that appear and disappear even work? What harm could they possibly do to us (never mind that they're apparently capable of harming each other)? And does such a small organisation that still manages to be bogged down by bureaucracy ever get anything done? The combination of all that gives the story a feeling of being just an odd curiosity/hoax that, but for the author/narrator's own paranoia, could easily be dismissed. It almost reads like a farce or a spoof of weird fiction but the material is presented straight. Hence the title (in my opinion): "Reports of certain events in London" (to me at least) combines a sense of the very quotidian (a collection of reports such as one could get from any bureaucratic organisation) with an air of vagueness and mystery (as in Lovecraft, although I didn't get the link until I listened to the podcast).

 

One thing I would like to speculate on is the nature of the feral streets. In my mind they are some sort of interdimensional beings that manifest as streets in our universe for some unknown reason. Maybe they have some nefarious purpose, maybe they're just curious and it's their way of learning about us (although they're obviously antagonistic towards each other). I didn't interpret them as being regular streets that have gone wild, as Glenn seems to have done based on his comments towards the end of the episode. But I might have missed something obvious there. I dismissed the narrator's comments about his own street changing as simply another manifestation of the paranoia that bookends the story - maybe I was wrong to do so. I think when the documents talk about "taming" the streets or "riding" them, what it means is that humans can "tag along" and use them as portals to another dimension. What the implications of that would be, I have no idea! Of course, to come back to my earlier question about what harm the streets could do us: as Glenn and Brandon have pointed out, this is connected to the psychological damage being done by fundamentally changing the places where we live and which we navigate every day, which is something that gets to everyone at point, no matter how open to change they think they are. This is something I didn't really consider when reading the story (even though I've come across the idea before in Lovecraft's writing), so as usual the podcast has made me appreciate a story even more than I already did!

 

Something that has only occurred to me as I've been writing this is that it must surely be significant that a story about feral streets which appear and disappear seemingly at random hinges around the conceit of a package of documents (and then a follow-up letter) being delivered to the wrong person on the wrong street. Not sure what to make of that yet though.

 

Also, apologies for hijacking this thread - unfortunately I don't have any suggestions for similar stories.

' I think when the documents talk about "taming" the streets or "riding" them, what it means is that humans can "tag along" and use them as portals to another dimension. '

That was what came in my mind too. It could even be that the streets are beings that are not even substantial, but are only 'made' into streets when seen by humans as some representation/persona on this world, while in fact they travel on some planes/dimensions/times unknowable and invisible to us - this matches some of the cosmicist ideas in Lovecraft's tales too. There is enough to speculate, but I think Miéville used the streets symbolical, as the podcast suggests, as well as weird. Whatever the moral of the story (and I also don't know what to make of the wrong adress of the documents), the weird elements certainly works for me. And I certainly want to read more Miéville now.

Jul 30

The idea of the streets as insubstantial beings sounds like a good one to me. And I agree that they are probably both symbolic and weird (didn't mean to imply they couldn't be both).

 

If you liked the urban and pseudo-real-world aspects of this story I can highly recommend The City and the City. It's not 'weird fiction', or even sci-fi really - it's basically a police/detective novel set in a fictional city somewhere in Eastern Europe. But it does have streets that don't make sense! In fact, now I'm wondering what parallels/comparisons could be drawn between the two stories.,.

I like the idea of the street-form just being the manifestation of some other type of cosmic entity entirely, and that we're dealing with dimensional travel here. I had imagined that Mieville was playing around with the utterly silly idea that streets are inherently a type of wild creature, and that we've simply forgotten this because we domesticated streets ten thousand years ago and can now just put them wherever we want. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but, like Karanthir, I thought the idea was meant to be silly as something of a play on the form of the found-document story (which I also love endlessly and for the same reasons). But I think your idea works much better because then the weird element has some actual weight behind it and is more than just a spoof.

 

I'll echo the recommendation of The City and the City. I only just read it myself after doing this story, and I thought it was one of the most immersive speculative worlds I've visited.

Sep 20

brouwpieter, re cities as living (malevolent) entities, have you read Fritz Leiber's "Our Lady of Darkness" (earlier serialized as "The Pale Brown Thing"?) One of my favorite of his novels. "Franz Westin", an aging fantasy and science fiction writer (obviously patterned on Leiber himself, and even living in the same apartment on Geary Street in San Francisco) acquires a copy of "Megapolisomancy", written by a sorceror who used the power and mass of large cities as a way to predict the future and destroy his enemies. Very spooky and atmospheric, and San Francisco luminaries such as Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, and Clark Ashton Smith play a part. Leiber pioneered the use of urban settings in modern horror and suggested that the massed power of downtrodden humanity and huge structures could create their own supernatural horrors, including "Smoke Ghost" (set in Chicago) and "The Black Gondolier (set in Venice, California). Either would make a great podcast subject.

These are great suggestions. I know that Leiber is massively important across the whole gamut of SF, but I've read very little of his work. It will be a lot of fun to check him out.

Sep 20

I haven't read anything by Mieville before this, but I want to find this story now - I love stories about secret societies and cabals,the whackier the better - like G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday". Concerning "wild streets", they do exist in real life, sort of, or at least they did. In the days before Google Maps and Yahoo Maps and Apple Maps and Map Quest and Waze, we had to rely on commercially published street maps, with Thomas Brothers mapbooks for particular cities being a common sight inside cars. To protect against rival map-publishers copying their maps, publishers such as Thomas Brothers would insert non-existent streets in their maps, which they could use as evidence if another publisher pirated their works, These were usually short sections of streets, perhaps a block long, or alleyways. I found an article that mentioned the tactic here: https://laist.com/2018/06/22/thomas_guide_maps_the_rise_and_fall.php "There were also smaller companies that sometimes tried to copy Thomas Bros. Maps' cartography. So Thomas Guides put in fake streets or towns, so they could catch copycats. ""There were a lot of counterfeit operations out there... making smaller maps using our data," said Todd Nathanson, grandson of Warren Wilson, former president and CEO of Thomas Bros. Maps. "And we would put fake streets of people's [employees] kids' names...pets' names...in little cul-de-sacs, and that was one way we would be able to keep the copyright." I found a list of some of these notional streets in an article in an underground newspaper when I lived in Los Angeles in the 1990s, and when I was working in the area, would occasionally look to see what was actually in the area where the street was supposed to be, wondering what I would do if I actually DID find one of the fictitious streets on the map and what kind of people - or things - might be living on it.

 

Wow, this sounds exactly like the inspiration for this story. Perhaps there really was something of a club for this kind of exploration in the UK at some point that Mieville was a part of. Certainly, I'd love to get a map of imaginary places and go find them.

Thanks for the interesting reactions. I certainly must read Leiber now!

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