OCTOBER: China Mieville's novelistic history of the Russian revolution

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/08/22/fuck-stalin.html

China Mieville is an unabashedly political science fiction writer, an avowed Marxist whose fiction is shot through with politics in the very best way; however, Mieville’s politics are generally kept below the surface, influence rather than central fact – that is, until the publication of October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, a masterful, novelistic nonfiction history of the year preceding the Russian revolution one century ago.


Looking forward to this in a way that I don’t really look forward to his fiction unfortunately.

Just got a David Grossman, a couple of Naomi Alderman, and a draft manuscript to finish first and I’ll be right on it!

Just curious: what doesn’t work for you about his fiction?

I’ve only read one of his books (The City and the City), but I enjoyed it very much. Is that one an outlier, or is the rest of his stuff in the same vein?


They’re all a bit different (I think he’s deliberately exploring genres), but I’ve enjoyed all his novels; ‘Embassytown’ perhaps a little less, and I abandoned my first attempt at ‘Perdito St Station’. The latter was far too ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ for me when I first encountered it, but having read ‘Railsea’ and ‘The City and The City’, I returned to it and did enjoy it.

If you’ve read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’, some of Miéville’s London-based novels may seem familiar.

I quit on this guy with 'The City and the City.'
I hated either it or that my mother-in-law was dying in the next room.
All of his book befor that I liked though.

As a reminder, the October revolution was the Bolsheviks toppling the provisional democratic government, that had actually toppled the Czar back in February.

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Welp, looks like I’m going to need a copy of this. It’s hard to beat John Reed for the Russian Revolution, but I’m expecting good things from this.

Yes. The February revolution was the real revolution.


Didn’t Mielville write The City and the City for his own dying mother?

Is that right?
I’ll be damned!

FWIW I’ve read maybe five Mievilles, and for me The City and The City was head and shoulders the best, some others I felt had negative effort-to-reward ratios… purely personal opinion, of course.

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I’m currently reading this with my reading group for the 100th anniversary year of the Russian Revolution. We’re meeting tonight to discuss chapters 4-7. It’s pretty good so far, but quite different from the way I’m used to reading history.

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How so? Is it more academic or more popular?

I tend to read more academic history, but Mieville writes it differently than popular history as well. His background as a novelist really comes through, which makes it a pleasure to read, but sometimes sacrifices the reader’s need for a didactic explanation of something on the alter of literary eloquence. For that, I would hesitate to recommend it as an introduction to the Russian Revolution to someone who doesn’t have some familiarity with the people and events of the period. Mieville’s intended audience is probably leftists, but as the USSR fades into history, even leftists’ knowledge of the Russian Revolution has atrophied.

However, it is still pretty accessible, there has been a surprising lack of popular history reappraisals on the centenary, and it has the even rarer quality of being a sympathetic account of the Russian Revolution written post 1991.


Have you read Reed’s account? How would you compare it to that (which, as I’m sure you know, was written at the time)? I recently read Reed and think it might have some of the same problems for an undergrad, non-major audience (which I’m primarily teaching now).

This. I’ve seen numerous sort of academic events around the first world war, but none around the Revolution. Despite the fact that the number of socialist countries is a mere handful, the 20th century was shaped by the events of the Russian Revolution.

I haven’t read Reed’s account, so I can’t really compare the two. Although I think the biggest difference is that Reed was writing in the middle of the events, whereas Mieville has got a 100 years of historical research to draw on. Reed at the very least could rely on a popular audience that was familiar with the Russian Revolution as a major current event in the news.

I was expecting a slew of popular histories with mostly negative reappraisals this year, but I’ve been surprised about the lack of anything. It’s almost like they’ve decided the best way to criticize the Russian Revolution is simply to forget it. As for the academic side of things, which would tend to be more nuanced, I suspect the disappearance of the USSR as a geopolitical entity reduced the amount of resources available for studying the Revolution, both in the West and the former Soviet Union.

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Massively looking forward to the next volume covering Red Terror, collectivization of the kulaks, mass starvation, show trials… And volume 3 use of psychiatric hospitals to punish intellectuals and dissidents.
Volume 4 the imperialism of Soviet Union - murder of opposition in Baltic states, disruption of democracy in Africa, Asia…
In fairness, John Reed’s 10 Days that Shook the World massively failed to be communist enough/


Mieville already wrote about communist revolutions and the compromise between idealism and reality in Iron Council, the third of his Bas-Lag trilogy. In a weird steampunk fantasy, that’s it. But politics are politics even if you are a cactus-man, half locomotive or a bisexual golem maker.
The first one of the trilogy. Perdido Street Station, was about class, race and gender. The second one, _The Sca_r was about anarchism in all its forms.
What seduces me about this trilogy is that none of the three “adventures” have an actual “happy ending”, it’s all about compromise, sacrifice and pyrrhic victories.
Other novels have also politically charged messages, like Kraken with trade unions and religion.

China Mieville used to be a Trotskyist (I don’t know if he still is), so I’m sure he would be happy to do those too.

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Trotsky was responsible for Red Terror, chekist revisionist.