China Miéville is an award-winning author, writing in the ‘weird’ genres – post-apocalyptic, fantasy, fabulism, specultive fiction, and of course, sci-fi. But sci-fi covers such a broad spectrum these days that it is impossible to use it effectively as a category.
In this novella-length work, we readers are plopped right down in the middle of a world that is ‘after the wars’, but just where its location is or the exact date or era is not given. The locale is geographically located on the side of a mountain and its valley town. It features a young boy of 7 who comes running down the mountain into town, screaming because one of his parents has just killed the other.
Since the authorities in the town cannot take action without evidence, they go up the mountain to see for themselves, where they find the father, who shows them a letter purportedly from the mother saying she is leaving, to go back to her own people. There is no trace of her, nor of any killing.
The boy is sent back to live with his father, a magical key maker. But the father is also a mentally deranged man who kills animals and people just for the heck of it. He then tosses the bodies into what seems like a bottomless pit inside a nearby cave. The boy is sure his father has killed his mother and thrown her body into the pit.
One day, a stranger arrives in the town, a census taker, counting those scattered around the world of his people. He comes to the remote house on the mountainside, has the boy wait some distance from the house after showing him the location of the pit, and some hours later, takes the boy with him to assist in the census taking.
In a flash-forward, or backward or something, we learn that the boy is now grown and is writing one of three mysterious books he is permitted (?) forced (?) to write, having spent his years accompanying a census taker. Who employs this census taker, what institution or what government, is never revealed. The man now writing seems to be writing in a room that is guarded….. and whether the guard is permitting no one in or keeping the man from leaving, is also not clear.
Is the census taker really an assassin, traveling world wide to locate and eliminate all those from the land of the boy’s father? We never really know.
These are not my favorite kind of books. I like things a little clearer, and a more linear plotline. I really liked his Embassytown, which was a more straightforward story. Experimental literature is not really my thang. I figure, after you are done experimenting, come see me.