London’s Secret War

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville After thinking I’d left kid’s book behind with my childhood, as a children’s librarian, I rediscovered their fun and haven’t looked back. I’ve been reading Un Lun Dun by China Miéville (Macmillan, 2007). Even though it’s written for children, I recommend it to every discerning adult. This is the first book I’ve read of his (and until today I thought he was a she) and it’s his first children’s book. Perhaps because he usually writes for adults, it has lots of subtext which might go straight over kids’ heads. I’m sure adults who wouldn’t usually look twice at a kid’s book, will enjoy Un Lun Dun. And his illustrations pop up at just the right moments.

If you’ve ever seen something sitting on the side of the road, like a broken chair or an old computer monitor, and next time you go past it’s gone, that’s because it’s seeped through into the Abcity. Here I was thinking it was students (or other dumpster divers) acquiring furniture for their share house.

Every city has an Abcity, where all the broken, discarded and other useless things find their way – UnLondon being London’s Abcity. (I’ve come to the conclusion that Perth’s Abcity is Perthless, although my friend suggested AntiPerth.) UnLondon is currently under siege from the Smog, that vile enemy which is so full of rubbish.

It can move things. Pick things up. It’s got as many chemicals in it as the best laboratory, and it can mix them, make poisons and flammables and tar and whatever. It can squeeze the coal and metal and ash it carries and throw it around. It rains petrol, lights it by squeezing metal dust into shards and dropping them until they spark.

UnLondon is looking to London to conquer the Smog because they heard of London’s secret war against the Smog, led by the Armets.

It’s an old word for helmet, and they were like London’s armour, you see?

They wielded a magic weapon, the Klinneract (always in italics), and conquered the evil foe. Unfortunately the Smog was only driven away, not killed. Not being a Londoner it took me a while to work out this magic weapon was the Clean Air Act (at first I thought it was the Cleaner Act, but the air cleared for me). It wasn’t until half way through the book, when Deeba turned to Google to answer all her questions, that she discovered (and told me) the RMetS weren’t so magic after all. We all know:

Magic weapons don’t last. It did its job and now it’s broke.

public transport UnLondon style Londoners will recognise the monuments of UnLondon better than I could. Though I didn’t have any trouble with the UnLondon-I. It actually has a purpose, as a waterwheel which generates electricity. Some ideas from UnLondon seep into London, but they get a bit mangled on the way. Why would you have a wheel going round and round, for no reason?

Then there’s the UnLondon buildings constructed from moil technology (Mildly Obsolete in London), or as Deeba succinctly puts it,

Old manky rubbish.

There are also moil tribes.

Many of the tribes of moil have leaders of various calibres. Like that princess of discarded typewriters [of the unpronounceable name, it’s all punctuation marks].

a good use for a television While it might be nice to think of our old, manky rubbish ending up in a parallel world where it serves a purpose, even there it causes problems. And our rubbish certainly causes problems for us. Those things that are mildly obsolete, should perhaps not be discarded until they are massively obsolete. Our consumer culture is built on discarding last year’s technology, fashion, ideas, for the latest whiz bang update. If we want to save a bit of space for ourselves, rather than more and more landfill, perhaps we should work towards replacing our consumer culture with something a bit more sustainable. Next time you break something, fix it. If you see a cool new gadget that you just can’t live without, remember that you probably can live happily without it.

If you don’t think you could read a kid’s book on the train to work, conscript some nearby children (ages 9 to 12 would be ideal) and read Un Lun Dun to them. You’ll all enjoy the experience.


3 thoughts on “London’s Secret War

  1. I only wish our library up here in rural Scotland could get more books in. It’s about the size of our living room, is only open four or five times a week for two hours at a time, and its reading stock dates almost entirely from the 1980s or earlier. When you ask the librarian to get books in on loan, they’re never available—reference books don’t get bought as people don’t use them any more; fiction and non-fiction are stocked on the basis of “if it’s popular, we might stock it”; and in any case, “there’s no budget”. And never try to point out the obvious flaw—that a book can never become popular if it’s never on the shelves. It’s all a tremendous disappointment as my mother was a librarian, a large proportion of my childhood was spent in libraries, and I’ve largely educated myself via libraries.

  2. Money’s always problem for libraries, rural ones especially. Tell the library this book will be popular! Does your son’s school have a better library?

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