China Mieville is rather suspicious of stories for someone who makes a living writing them. "I'd advocate a certain amount of scepticism towards the healing power of storytelling or the emancipatory potential of narrative," he says. "I think a lot of it is essentially winsome propaganda put out by writers trying to aggrandise what they do."
Having won a host of prestigious fiction awards - most recently for his arcane thriller The City And The City, which received the Hugo and Arthur C Clarke awards in 2010 - Mieville perhaps has no need to self-aggrandise. His latest book Kraken has been enthusiastically received within and outside the traditional science fiction fanbase, and it is refreshing to hear a writer who makes a living breaking the rules of genre and structure call the monolithic mythology of the power of stories into question.
"In our world, narrative is inevitable," says Mieville. "It's also what pays my mortgage, so if I thought it was inevitably toxic I like to think I wouldn't engage.
"Storytelling is clearly an extremely important function of societies, but it's nonetheless unproven that to be human is to be a storytelling being. Even if it is the case that human beings are completely intrinsically storytelling animals, it doesn't follow that that's something to celebrate, any more than we should celebrate the fact that human beings are defecating animals."
Mieville really does speak like this - in quiet, precise received pronunciation, like an excitable, brilliant sixth-former with a dictionary, a scatterdash instinct to self-justify and a powerful desire to shock.
At well over six feet tall with huge shoulders, a boxer's figure, a shaved head and a gleaming array of silver earrings cast from octopus tentacles, Mieville is an intimidating presence, less like a stereotypically retiring SF writer than an otherworldly force of nature, strangely ageless at 37.
Stalking through his creepily opulent north London living room, which is stuffed with comics, drawings and strange talismanic ornaments in glass cases, he cuts the sort of figure who might be more at home on the decks in a rave club or brooding on the doors of a Soho occult society than appearing on Radio 4's Front Row, where he is due this afternoon, as one of the rising intellectual stars of his generation.
Mieville is, in short, nauseatingly cool - but the speed at which he rattles through ideas rather prevents you from holding it against him.
"As readers and thinkers, we may want to celebrate some aspects of storytelling, and we may find some of it dangerous," he says. "Even if you say the human mind is addicted to storytelling - well, humans get addicted to all sorts of things that aren't good for them.
"That perspective is important for socialists, too," explains Mieville, who is a committed Marxist and a prominent member of the Socialist Workers Party. "Stories can be a useful way of exploring politics, but it really depends on what you're trying to do.
"If you're political, then politics is an inevitable part of everything. On the other hand, I do think politics is particularly pointed in science fiction, because science fiction is predicated on alterity, and alterity is an intrinsically political concept.
"Science fiction and fantasy are always predicated on the idea that the impossible is true, that the not-real is real, and that's surely an idea that has a lot of political ramifications. How can it not?"
Mieville himself has been political "since I was about 12 - I was involved in issue politics, in youth CND and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, stuff like that, and then when I went to university I was doing a lot of reading and meeting people with strong erudite opinions, and auditioning various paradigms in my head.
"It's very easy to roll your eyes about young people getting passionately into political ideas, but that's how I moved away from left postmodernism and into a search for political totality, into Marxism and socialism."
Alongside his many literary accomplishments, Mieville holds a PhD in international relations from the London School of Economics, is on the advisory board of the Marxist journal Historical Materialism and was co-editor of the 2009 anthology Red Planets: Marxism And Science Fiction.
"That stuff is in my fiction because I'm interested in it, and because having characters struggle with racism, sexism and labour disputes brings, paradoxically, an element of realism to the unreal. On the other hand, I don't feel restricted to the fantastic as political ventriloquism - stories can't be reducible to a leaden allegory or they won't work.
"If I want to write something that's about the war in Iraq, I'll write something about the war in Iraq. I'm not living in the Soviet bloc in the 1980s, nobody's stopping me from doing that."
Mieville's socialist politics break through everywhere in his novels, which have cut a niche for themselves by self-consciously locating scenes of social struggle and workers' uprisings within the tropes of fantasy and weird fiction. "Representations of revolutionary change can be particularly fraught and difficult for writers who are actually committed to it," he explains. "If you tell a story about a people's revolution, and you depict it failing, then you're essentially slipping into that tragedian paradigm whereby even if it's desirable it can't ever really happen.
"On the other hand, if you show revolution succeeding, I think intrinsically and inevitably you end up banalising it. In my novel Iron Council, I tried to take seriously that dilemma and show the notion of revolutionary potential not as failed, and not as frozen, but as imminent in the everyday, all the time."
Mieville has just launched into a serious discussion of the effects of consumerism on culture when the doorbell rings. He bounds down the stairs like a man possessed - an accessory for his new iPad has just been delivered.
"What're you going to do, consumerism, well, you've got to buy stuff to live," he explains rather sheepishly, fondling the surprisingly enormous cardboard box. "And sometimes when that stuff is just so lovely ... you have to surrender, I suppose."
I ask if he and the box would like to be alone together for a while. Mieville seems to consider the proposition for an agonising split second, before deciding that the politics of storytelling are just too important. He pours tea from a silver teapot and calms down a little.
"You can't escape narrative, and as a culture we need to think so much harder about how stories are deployed politically," he explains. "Narratives can be very powerful without convincing anybody.
"For example - very few serious thinkers believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Very few people on the street thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But that's the story that made the running, and homogenised that whole area of discourse. So those of us who are opposed were running around shouting: 'No, there aren't any weapons of mass destruction' - but maybe we should have been saying something more like, 'fuck this absurd agenda! I'm not going to argue on this ludicrous axis, this isn't what war is about!'
"There's a real political importance to questioning the power of stories, and it's something that, as radicals, we definitely shouldn't trivialise."
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