Read This Census-Taker by China Miéville Online


In a remote house on a hilltop, a lonely boy witnesses a traumatic event. He tries - and fails - to flee. Left alone with his increasingly deranged parent, he dreams of safety, of joining the other children in the town below, of escape.When at last a stranger knocks at his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation might be over. But by what authority does this man keIn a remote house on a hilltop, a lonely boy witnesses a traumatic event. He tries - and fails - to flee. Left alone with his increasingly deranged parent, he dreams of safety, of joining the other children in the town below, of escape.When at last a stranger knocks at his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation might be over. But by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? What is the purpose behind his questions? Is he friend? Enemy? Or something else altogether?A novella filled with beauty, terror and strangeness, This Census-Taker by China Miéville is a poignant and riveting exploration of memory and identity....

Title : This Census-Taker
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781509812141
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 140 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

This Census-Taker Reviews

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    2019-02-13 17:33

    ”I knew that, by whatever means he’d killed it, it was not to eat. I wanted to cry; I stood still. He had it by the neck. Its brown body was bigger than a baby’s. Its shovel head lolled and its nasty hook beak twitched open and closed to snap faintly with each of my father’s steps. The bird’s broad feet dangled on the ground and bounced on stones as if it were trying to claw itself incompetently to a stop.”There have been wars. Civilization has fallen backwards and stalled in place. People are getting by, but others have lost everything and are on the verge of losing what little life they have remaining. ”A haggard man used one of the huts as a home. He lay on a sagging mattress, his head on his pack, surrounded by rubbish--paper, porcelain shards, food remains, and unidentifiable debris. His hand was over his eyes. He looked like a failed soldier. Dirt seemed so worked into him that the lines of his face were like writing.” There are also orphaned kids living together in town who band together for mutual survival. The boy’s father is a key maker. He makes keys to fit old machines. He makes keys to change the weather. He makes keys that turn the locks on hearts. There is a mysticism about what he does. Superstition has become almost a religion, but like Voodoo, it only works if you believe. The boy lives on the hill. He is an uphiller. He has seen things. He knows things about his father that others need proof to believe. There is the hole in the cave, a deep hole. A hole that might go to the center of the earth. When his mother disappears, the boy has nightmares. ”I thought of my mother’s hands hauling her up. Of her climbing all grave-mottled and with her face scabbed with old blood, her arms and legs moving like sticks or the legs of insects, or as stiff as toys, as if maybe when you die and come back you forget what your body is.”But his father insists his mother is still alive. When the man who counts people arrives, he might be the only chance the boy has to find out the real truth about his father. This is a very strange novella, with many of the Kafkaesque aspects of being trapped into circumstances that seem inescapable. I was frequently confused for the first third of the book, but after reading numerous China Mieville novels, I knew I just needed to hang in there, and eventually this world he was creating would become more substantial, and the clouds would part enough for me to see the ground. By the end of the book, I wanted more. I wanted to fold the book out like an accordion and find the rest of the story. I wanted the lost notebook with the feverous scribbles of the where, what, and when. I can see it in my mind’s eye, written in faded red and blue ink whose words map out the future. There are Gothic elements to the book, the shapes in the shadows, the menacing unknowable, which also helps ratchet up the ever heightening sense of terror. I felt my own tension increase as I, too, tried to find a way that the boy could escape a fate too unmentionable to put into words. This is not the place to start when reading Mieville, but it is a fascinating new wrinkle in an already outstandingly creative career. This book shows Mieville’s ability to stretch his already prodigious talents into worlds beyond where he has already been before.If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:

  • Lyn
    2019-01-23 15:43

    Creepy, weird little book.China Mieville is self-described as a writer in the “new weird” genre, and so he is living up to his name. Readers who enjoyed his The City & the City andEmbassytown will know what I mean and he is following along this path in his 2016 publication. Mieville has also stated that he wants to write a novel in every genre and this may be his Kafka entry, as this blends elements of surrealism and absurdity into a complicated narrative set in imagery that seems to be always overcast, dark and gloomy.The narrator looks back to his childhood, sometimes writing in the third person, but also makes circuitous references to his writing in the present. He describes growing up in a Beckettesque house with his mother and father and lots of strange goings on. His father is a key-maker with hints towards the supernatural and mystical. There are explanations about his parents being from different countries, of accented languages and translated writings only thinly understood. There are dirty street children who play mimic like games and who catch bats off a bridge. There is a hole into darkness into which his father tosses refuse and the corpses of his murders. There is a census taker who must write it all down.Mieville uses symbolism, metaphor and simile to great advantage and creates a mood and dramatic tension that is intriguing and entertaining, but frequently hard to follow.Perhaps not the best book for new readers, and this may be regarded as one of his lesser works, this is nonetheless a unique visit with a very talented and imaginative writer.

  • Darwin8u
    2019-01-31 20:36

    "You'll write it not because there's no possibility it'll be found but because it costs too much to not write it." -- China Miéville, This Census-Taker"LORD, if you were to record iniquities, Lord, who could remain standing?" -- Psalms 130:3 (International Standard Version)I would probably consider this to be a bridge novella, spanning the gap somewhere between the shores of novel and novella; a scandal with gravity, perhaps. It weighs-in at just a quinternion over 200 pages in a 5.75" x 7.5" format. For Miéville this book is a surprise (as much as any thing new with Miéville is ever REALLY a surprise). It has the tone and feel of his earlier novels, but this one is quite Spartan and reserved. A couple stories in 'Three Moments of an Explosion' hinted at this style.He has really dialed back his normal complexity, his labyrinthian plots and prose. This is a guy who knows he can dervish, dance, and dive with his prose, and now KNOWS you know, but is comfortable just sitting there, like a jaguar, all potential energy, ready to pounce. You can feel that confidence and almost relaxed alertness in his prose and in this story. Anyway, I expect I will be pointing to this novel in the future and saying this marks the beginning of a more mature Miéville. He isn't content to just dazzle us with his brain and unleashed torrents. He's good now. He will now slowly unsettle us with his art, his craft, the fog at the edge of our field of view, and the cracks in caves that hold dark stories.I think part of this is due to time spent at the MacDowell colony reading John Hawkes and perhaps, hanging with Denis Johnson.

  • Althea Ann
    2019-01-24 15:49

    One of my Hugo Award nominees, novella, 2016. ____A boy runs screaming into a village, having witnessed something horrible.Years later, the narrator tells us, he is imprisoned, under guard, allowed to write this book in a solitary room.There is something, he tells us, that his 'manager' told him:"You never put anything down except to be read. Every word ever written is written to be read, and if some go unread that's only chance, failure, they're like grubs that die without changing....So my first is a book of numbers. It's lists and calculations and, for efficiency, I write it using ciphers. ... This first book's for everyone, though almost no one wants it or would know how to read it.The third of my three books is for me. You'll keep one, is what he told me, for you alone to read ... But you'll never be sure that no one else will read them: that's the risk and that's how the third book works. ... You'll write it not because there's no possibility it'll be found but because it costs too much to not write it. ... The second book's for readers, he said. But you can't know when they'll come, if they do. It's the book for telling. But ... you can still use it to tell secrets and send messages. ... The second book's performance."This is the second book. In it, this man - this census-taker - tells us of his childhood, and hints at how he came to be where he is - and who he is.It's not a pleasant tale. It's the tale of a child who has no one to trust. The first thing we learn is that, perhaps, he cannot even trust his own memory. He certainly cannot trust the psychopath that he is bound to. The law cannot be depended on to protect him. His friends are incapable of doing so. Citizens wait for the presence of 'authority' - but from where does that authority derive?Right before reading this book, I has a discussion with some friends in which we bemoaned the recent popularity of stories with ambiguous endings, which seem to be all too popular these days. I have to admit - in some ways this is one of these. Both the narrator and the author know far more than they are telling, and the reader is left to guess. Much of this world exists outside the scope of these pages. There's as much going on outside that circumference as there is within it. However, nevertheless, I absolutely loved this book. It didn't feel unfinished, and at no point did I feel like Miéville was 'cheating' by refusing to make a decision. He knows more than he's telling, here - but he definitely knows. The book is beautifully structured, with every element working in the context of the whole, and working around to a feeling of closing the circle of completion, even though much is yet unrevealed.What is revealed is wonderfully tantalizing. For much of the book on might guess that the setting is any of number of poverty-stricken, war-torn contemporary locations. But we do get to find out that it is a post-apocalyptic setting, after some kind of anti-technology revolution. However, some people seem to retain some kind of abilities... are they technology-based, or some kind of magic? We're not sure.In a way, I believe that the point of the book is that it doesn't matter. The average person has no idea how many things work. We don't know, here, the point or goal of the census, or why unknown forces might want - or not want - it completed. What has a psychopathic killer fled, and what has shaped his strange and terrifying dysfunctional episodes? We don't know - but all these things ring true as things that just might not be known. On the other hand - the narrator does, at the end, refer to his book - this book - as a "prologue." It would certainly be wonderful if Miéville were to write a longer novel set in this intriguing world.

  • Philip
    2019-01-31 18:47

    4ish stars. For a horror novella, there's not much horror. At least not that we get any explicit glimpses of. Just lots of creepiness.This is brilliantly written as the memoir of sorts of- well... this guy? Who's writing different books or something? And maybe he's being guarded? And he writes about his experiences as a kid I guess? And his dad may or may not have killed his mom? And there are, like, these magic keys? And then this mysterious dude comes?So basically it's hard to know what actually happens when our narrator isn't quite sure himself. He's remembering his experiences as a child, so not only are his memories bound to have grown hazy over the years, but it's hard for us to know how much of the memories are accurate and how much of them are figments of a deeply traumatized child's imagination. He presents them in first, second, and third person sporadically, almost as if he's telling the story to himself at some points and trying to tell it as an outsider at others as a way to process and sort through his thoughts and memories.This is all about the mood- It's creepy, weird, haunting, ethereal. And it's just so well written. This is only my second Mieville, but it's totally different from the other that I've read. I think I've got a new author man crush.Posted in Mr. Philip's Library.

  • Bradley
    2019-01-25 14:37

    I can't say that I'm completely satisfied with this novella, but I can say that I'm haunted by it. I'm haunted by all the little details that make up this world so much like our own, the hints of wars and magics and strange chemicals and vials and keys that provide people with purpose and a way out or through the labyrinths of their lives... Not to mention a very Schrodinger's Cat view of reality, where murderers are and are not, where the murdered is and is not, where, perhaps, everything is rewritten and only census takers can determine the correct average.Not that I'm truly or even likely getting the grok of this novel. I am just using my intuition. But it's possible.We've got a murder mystery, first and foremost, and not even the MC, a kid who constantly doubts what he's seen, can really take the measure of it. No one in the town can, but everyone suspects everything.And then there's the trademark monsters and monstrosities that Meivillé is so good at.I can honestly say this feels like a more mature work from his earlier stuff, more willing to take the slow path while all the little details encroach upon us from the periphery. I respect it. It also happens to be nominated for the '17 Hugos, and while I wouldn't put it at the top of my list, I totally agree it should be here. It's very impressive in its way even if I catch myself wanting a lot more than where it ended.

  • Arielle Walker
    2019-02-11 15:32

    Wow - I really seem to be in the minority here, people loved this book. Me? Not so much. I'll write why as soon as I've gotten over my disappointment... It just seemed so promising.Disclaimer: I may be unnecessarily hard on this book, but that is only because of its lost potential and my belief that the author is one of the most essential writers of this era. There's no denying China Miéville is an extraordinary, challenging writer. I've personally had a slightly mixed-bag experience with his books, beginning with the beguiling (and utterly bonkers) Railsea before falling utterly head-over-heels with the language of Embassytown. The City & the City was incredible but difficult, slow-going, while Un Lun Dun was a perfectly adequate disappointment, feeling rather too derivative (a younger Neverwhere, perhaps) but still fun. The least of his books, for me, was Kraken, which still felt somewhat too familiar, and not nearly fun enough for its concept.His best works are exceptional, his worst at least inventive. It's a fine line that separates the two, and I think it has something to do with the combination of idea and language. Railsea and Embassytown had both, The City and the City had such an astounding idea that the duller writing was excused. This Census Taker has an idea, but it is hidden out of sight in the corners and crevices of the story. You can catch glimpses of it, out of the corner of your eye - but there is nothing to grab on to, nothing solid to hold. Comprehension is not the end-game here, and this aspect of the story I unreservedly loved. There are ruined cities and destroyed civilisations in the distance. The boy is fighting to understand the destruction of his own, small world, while the world itself seems to be barely settling from its own destruction. I pictured this:Shaun Tan's worlds (this one is from The Arrival) and astounding imageries are a perfect fit, and if this book were ever to be illustrated then he is the only one to do it justice, I think. But for it to be worthy of illustration, this story needs some serious work.The lack of clarity is emphatically not an issue here. It is the pure, physical writing that lets down everything else. I've seen Miéville spin words into gold, pull the most obscure and perfect phrase from the depths of this language - and possibly others, too - turn punctuation into plot and each time capture in all in the most perfect font possible. Language, for him, is clearly incredibly important, and his skill with it is undeniable. So why is this book so painful to read? The constant changing of tenses is awkward, the shifts between first, second, and third person perspectives are hideously clumsy. Since reading this, I've seen reviews that argue it intentionally re-creates the confusion the main character is feeling. The argument is admittedly very valid, and fits with how Miéville tends to write, pushing boundaries. That doesn't mean it works. Risks are essential, yes, and he seems always willing to take them. Risks don't always pay off. This review here, by Bill Morris, says it best:"There was no escaping the fact that I was reading a bad book by a very fine writer, but it occurred to me that this was actually a good thing. China Miéville, a writer with an international cult following whose commercial success is every bit as secure as Murakami or Franzen’s, had dared to do something that they, so far, have not. He had dared to take risks, he had dared to leave his comfort zone, he had dared to fail. And that’s precisely what he did. I find a failure of this kind far more admirable, if not more satisfying, than another safe commercial success."His other words - those that aren't changing tenses and times and perspectives - lie flat and dull on the page. There is no emotional investment, we are left clinically cold - and not through fear but through apathy. If that was also the intent then I applaud, it worked. But his previous books have shown the ability to create a similar tension without the complete lack of emotion, "cardboard cutouts" and I so badly wanted that to be the case again.As I said before, This Census-Taker has an idea, but that is lost in the experiment. I only wish the idea had triumphed here.

  • Paul
    2019-01-31 18:27

    4.5 starsI have not read enough China Mieville. This one is a fairly brief novella which is set in a post-apocalyptic society, although that part is much understated and you pick it up from clues along the way. The beginning of the Guardian review sets the scene very well;“Any story that, on its very first page, redefines its protagonist from third to first person, flips forward in time to offer a view of him from elsewhere, makes a subtle alteration of tense, and announces that the character’s age in the story is a matter of speculation even to the older self doing the narrating, is going to be a story about perception, whatever else it is.”The boy who narrates lives with his parents in isolation on a hill near a run-down town. His father makes keys for the townspeople; these seem to have unusual properties which are never entirely defined. “[My father] made keys. His customers would come up from the town and ask for the things for which people usually ask—love, money, to open things, to know the future, to fix animals, to fix things, to be stronger, to hurt someone or save someone, to fly—and he'd make them a key.”His father sometimes kills animals which he throws into a hole in a nearby cave. These killings are disturbing and without reason. The boy feels that sometimes people are thrown down there too. One day the boy runs into town saying his father has killed his mother and he saw it. His mother is nowhere to be found and his father says she left and produced a goodbye letter. The boy remains in town for a while living with a group of street children. Eventually his father fetches him back. Life goes on and then the census taker arrives. It is worth noting that the boy is not an entirely reliable narrator.The whole is rather eerie with lots of asides that don’t lead anywhere, but are interesting in themselves. Devotees of Mieville have argued that this is a Bas-Lag story (Mieville has written three novels in the Bas-Lag series) and will produce a great deal of evidence to make the argument. There are nods in the book to Kafka and Borges and there is mystery, suspense and magic and of course there is an element of fairy tale as well. The narrator is writing as an adult and his circumstances are unclear as well. Because Mieville is writing and telling through the eyes of a child there is a great deal left unasked and unexplained and the whole can feel sparse at times. But then Mieville can also become almost baroque in its descriptiveness;“There I, who’d known only the fierce spine-backed fish of the mountain streams and their animalcule prey, came to a sudden stop, slack with awe before a glass tank big enough to contain me, transported at some immense cost for I don’t know what market, full not with me or with any person but of brine and clots of black weed and clenching polyps and huge starfish, sluggishly crawling, feeling their way over tank-bottom stones like mottled hands.”There is plenty of symbolism and the whole left me feeling that I do need to read more by Mieville

  • Thomas Wagner
    2019-01-25 15:36

    3.5 stars.It's not the epic novel China Miéville's readers have been anxiously awaiting since 2010's Embassytown. (That will come with 2016's The Last Days of New Paris.) But his novella This Census-Taker proves that the New Weird superstar has not lost the ability to captivate and unnerve. As with all of Miéville's work, it begins with a city, sprawling incongruously up the slopes of a pair of steep hills (or perhaps small mountain peaks), the gap between spanned by a bridge. Near the top of one peak, in one of the city's less desirable neighborhoods, a boy lives with his parents. The story that unfolds will be narrated by the man the boy will become, looking back on a frightening and formative time in his life, still groping for understanding.The boy's mother spends her days gardening, and going on sojourns into the lower city, where the boy accompanies her while she conducts business that's beyond a child's understanding. His father is a keymaker. Despite their personal dislike of the man, citizens come to him with any number of requests, and he creates a key for them. They aren't necessarily for doors. The father labors over these for sometimes a whole day or more.The peak is high, and the family's house is too large for their needs and falling into disrepair. The boy whiles away his time in a large attic room where his parents rarely go, making secret drawings on the fading wallpaper. If there is a city dump, it's too far to be convenient, and his parents dispose of their trash by pitching it into a deep hole in a nearby cave. This will be important.The father has another aspect to his character that the boy discovers, quite by accident. (continued...)

  • Elena May
    2019-01-29 20:32

    That’s the last one of the Hugo finalist novellas I had set out to read! The author describes his genre as “weird fiction,” and I won’t argue here. This is a strange book that leaves way too many open questions, and refuses to fit into any single genre. And these are things I normally like! I really admire books that manage to pull it off, but this one didn’t do it, at least not for me. The writing is beautiful, and there are elements I enjoyed – the magical keys, the idea of three books, the whole metaphor with animals in bottles – but overall it felt very disjointed. I know, it makes sense to be disjointed – it’s from the point of view of a confused and traumatized young boy. But still, it was hard to get into. At last, I did get into the story, and then it ended! Honestly, the last 10 pages or so felt as if the story was about to begin.

  • Brian
    2019-02-04 16:53

    Attempting to describe a China Miéville work of fiction to someone that hasn't read him is like trying to describe the word wet to a being that has never experienced the sensation; adjectives accumulate but they are just glancing blows to the essence. If you are reading this review and are familiar with CM's work I hope I make sense here on why this short book failed me. If you've not read any CM and I do a poor job of conveying the wetness of this reading experience, I only ask that you dive in head first to another CM novel (any from the Bas-Lag trilogy will do) before trying this novel.Miéville is a master storyteller and wordsmith - "weird fiction" has been associated with his writing style and that is as good a moniker as any. What works so amazingly well in his longer novels is his ability to thread Lovecraftian storylines with beautifully constructed characters rich in emotional depth that echo the best/worst of humanity. Having read all of his published works I believe that it takes at least 300+ pages for this knitting to be effective; his short fiction and novellas - while often good - never achieve the Chine Miéville level of excellence found in his longer novels.This Census-Taker is my Exhibit A in a CM work that misses the CM mark. There are so many jarring shifts in perspective throughout the story (sometimes one paragraph to the next) that the protagonist of the story might very well be you, the Reader - a ghost haunting this narrative and inhabiting the characters in turn or given omniscient access to their every thought. I'm not entirely certain what this book wanted to be; it feels like a mystery wrapped in a spooky tale with a side of magic (maybe?) sprinkled on top. Was there murder commited here? That doesn't seem to be the point for CM, which is fine - it is his story to tell - but then what IS the point? I needed about 100 more pages of the Census-Taker (both the character and the book itself) to make heads or tails of anything in this jumble of loose ends and frustrations.I see that CM has another book releasing in August of this year. It is 150 pages, give or take. As a big CM fan I am hoping this work will encompass his longer narrative skills - and if not, I sincerely hope he takes the time needed to craft a future novel reminiscent of his fabulous first works.

  • Donna
    2019-02-19 18:49

    Atmospheric and oppressive. Compulsively readable. This story, part horror, part thriller, part coming of age, begins with an unnamed boy running down a hill, from where he lives, into a rural town, with his arms outstretched, his hands splayed as if dripping paint or blood, though there is neither of those things there, only dirt common to a boy of nine that he is. He's in a panic, barely able to tell the townsfolk what he knows, what has happened, what violence he has witnessed, especially since he's not even certain in his own mind what he saw. The images stacked in his memory keep changing, faces and bodies interchanging. He only knows he needs help and protection from someone in his own home. What follows is a tense read, doom and dread hanging over the intelligent and cautious boy who remains unnamed except for the generic moniker the feral children in town have bestowed upon him--uphiller. As the boy tells the reader his story from some point in time in the future, recalling details that happened both before and after the horrible thing happened, his voice jumps from first person to third, then to second, then back to each of those in turn, sometimes changing within the same sentence, to great effect. And the horrible thing is, the horrible thing is but one of many horrible things that may or may not have happened. This is a story that is meant to keep the reader guessing as to what is real or what might be imagined. This is a story about a boy trapped in unthinkable circumstances, the reader trapped right along with him. But this isn't a conventional horror story with overt acts of terror, not nearly as much as implied ones. But most of all, this is a story of a boy at the mercy of others and at the mercy of the circumstances of his birth, living an isolated life, even when among other people. But what really sets this story above others from this mix of genres was the amazing writing contained within it that flowed in a poetic stream, the rush of words beautiful and lulling even as the content was enough to make the reader uneasy, if not downright queasy, at times. There was an economy of words here, even as the writing was most descriptive, the author using all his senses, including a sixth one, to instill an atavistic fear in the reader. Here are some passages that tell so much about the boy and his parents and his life on the hill, saying in only a couple of sentences what some writers might have taken whole paragraphs to say:"It's best to live up here," my father told me. "Where the air's good and thin, not too heavy. It doesn't get in the way." "I grew up with the constant wind of the hill whispering to me and pushing back my dark fringe. Behind its sounds were the faint and far-off and occasional shouts of animals and the clack of rock-fall. Sometimes there was an engine or the percussion of a distant shotgun.""I had no money and my face was not winning enough that I was ever given anything free by candy-sellers. My mother stared as if overwhelmed at everything in the huts we passed, all the bright packets dangling within, with an expression that made me want desperately to be older for her." "I stood in the remnants of the garden on an evening full of sunlight lingering on the slopes, and below the raucous goat complaining I became aware of another growing beat. My insides clenched. My father's window glowed against the creeping dark. He huddled within, bent by the sill. He was the color of the dirt on the window..."I want to add that I'm not a die hard fan of this author. I've only read The City & the City, which I really enjoyed, and Railsea, which I didn't. So I thought I'd break the tie with this book, seeing where it would land. It landed me with an absorbing book that has me eager to try another one by the author.

  • Lindsay
    2019-02-03 17:28

    So there's a story about a people with unusual powers that used those powers in some huge way, perhaps in a conflict, and have now spread themselves all over the world. And these people are strange and important enough that every single one of them needs to be tracked down and accounted for.This isn't that story. Instead, this is a story at the edges of that one, told in shifting first, second and third person narrative and measured in love, betrayal, hope and trust of a young boy.There's a boy who is the son of a local woman, departed and returned with a foreign husband and now living as one of the barely-tolerated up-hillers from the local town. The father is strange. He makes keys that have bizarre properties and unlock things like wealth or the future, but he's also prone to snap and kill things. The story is told from the point of view of the boy and how he lives, terrified, in the shadow of this man and what happens when one day he comes home to find his father murdering his mother.This is a strange book. As I said, the oddly intimate and a bit weird point of view story of the boy is actually telling us the first story, but almost entirely by implication and framing. The terror of the boy towards his father and the various betrayals to the boy, father, friend and community is all visceral, but you know things turn out because the narrative is from the adult talking about his childhood.As usual for Miéville, the weird meter is turned to eleven. And also as usual for Miéville it's very, very good.

  • Billie
    2019-02-19 19:27

    Um...I'm not sure what I just read, but I liked it? Then again, that's pretty much my reaction to all China Mieville, so there you go.

  • j
    2019-02-21 13:53

    Ignore the stars. My short review is something like: "shiver; shrug?"

  • Aerin
    2019-02-07 15:49

    Oh China, I love you - but I love you more when you make a tiny amount of sense.

  • Karl
    2019-02-03 21:33

    This copy is one of 750 special signed editions also 26 lettered editions were produced and all were signed by China Miéville.

  • Steffi
    2019-01-27 18:24

    Ich habe diesen Buch gekauft, weil mich das Cover (einsame Berggegend, Düsternis) und der Umfang an zwei andere Autoren erinnerte: Andrea Maria Schenkel und Jacques Chessex. Ich hatte also eher eine Kriminalgeschichte im Kopf, an der sich im Folgenden die gesellschaftlichen Abgründe eines Bergdorfes manifestieren. Zudem ist das Buch im wunderbar ambitionierten Liebeskind Verlag erschienen, der auch Donald Ray Pollock verlegt.Der Autor sagte mir bis dahin nichts, der Name schien mir recht ungewöhnlich. Der Nachname scheinbar französisch (vielleicht dachte ich auch deshalb an Chessex) und der Vorname einfach nur exotisch (vielleicht jemand mit Migrationshintergrund?) Wikipedia schuf Abhilfe und sorgte bei mir für zwei Reaktion: 1. Verdammt, ich habe Fantasy gekauft? 2. Was für ein interessanter, hochgebildeter, politisch denkender Mann. Jemand der sich der Richtung des „New Weird“ verschrieben hat, einer Richtung der Fantasy, von der ich nie zuvor gehört habe.Zurück zum Buch: Über weite Strecken hinweg würde ich auch gar nicht von Fantasy reden (Schlüssel mit Zauberwirkung sind das eindeutigste Indiz auf dieses Genre). Vieles was mysteriös erscheint, könnte auch einfach nur im Kopf des erzählenden Jungen entstehen, befördert von der Einsamkeit, in der er aufwächst und den Impressionen des nahen Bergdorfes, das kriegszerstört und völlig verarmt ist. Das meiste bleibt sehr vage, es gibt Andeutungen auf Kriege, auf die Zerstörung von Maschinen (evtl. Roboter?), auf politische Verfolgung, die sich vielleicht in der titelgebenden Volkszählung widerspiegelt.Einigen Lesern mag das zu hoch gegriffen sein, aber ich fühlte immer wieder an Franz Kafka erinnert. Das liegt an der Beunruhigung, die manche Sätze und Szenen auslösen, ohne dass ich erklären könnte warum; es liegt auch daran, dass Gesetzesvertreter nicht vertrauenswürdig erscheinen und an dem Vater-Sohn-Konflikt. Es liegt nicht zuletzt an einer Beschreibung wie dieser:„Häuser auf Brücken sind etwas Skandalöses. Eine Brücke möchte nicht sein. Könnte sie sich eine eigene Form aussuchen, dann hätte die Brücke einfach keine, sie wäre ein Nichtraum, der einen Ort mit einem anderen über einen Fluss oder eine Straße, ein Gewirr aus Eisenbahngleisen oder einen Steinbruch hinweg verbindet, eine Insel an eine andere kettet oder an das Festland, von dem sie sich fortmüht. Der Traum einer Brücke besteht aus einer Frau, die an einer Schlucht steht und einen Schritt nach vorn tut, als sei es ihre Aufgabe zu sterben, doch ihr Fuß setzt direkt auf der anderen Seite auf. Eine Brücke ist besser als gar keine, ihr höchstes Ziel ist Lückenlosigkeit, und allein diese Tatsache sollte ihr Schande bereiten.“Die Brücke entwickelt hier ein Eigenleben, das mich an Kafkas gleichnamige Erzählung erinnerte, die mit den Worten beginnt: „Ich war steif und kalt. Ich war eine Brücke, über einem Abgrund lag ich.“ Sicher ist Kafkas Erzählung brillanter als diese Geschichte, aber doch scheint mir Dieser Volkszähler eine Art Hommage an Kafka zu sein und zwar beileibe keine schlechte.Der Gedanke scheint mir um so naheliegender, als Miéville in The Last Days of New Paris die Auseinandersetzung mit André Breton und den Surrealisten sucht: Ein Buch, das ich sicher ebenfalls lesen werde.

  • Tad
    2019-01-29 20:37

    Reading China Mieville is a little like being kidnapped. You’re not quite sure what’s happening, you’re not sure where you going, and afterwards, you’re not sure where you’ve been. That’s where the analogy ends, because China Mieville is a wonderful experience and This Census-Taker, his latest story, is another great one.One of Mieville’s strengths is immersing you in a world that is a surreal yet contains tantalizing elements of familiarity. This Census-Taker is the story of a boy who lives on a hill in a remote location. After an event which leaves him terrified, the boy is left alone with a parent who is both mysterious and possibly dangerous. The story is told from the point of view of the man the boy became.This story draws you in, fascinates you and discomfits you all at the same time. The characters are solid and well-drawn even while their actions and views of events may remain opaque. I was struck by the beauty and oddness of the descriptions, both of people and place. This story in particular reminded me of something that Shirley Jackson or Kelly Link might have written. There is a sense of disquiet created, even a sense of foreboding. It pulls you forward but you have no idea what awaits and if you should anticipate it or dread it.The ending of this book for me was incredible, and while not filled with answers, it did fill me with wonder. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that I am fascinated with Mieville’s command of language and the ability to structure things in a way that let you reexamine early story events in a new light once certain things are revealed. The tantalizing glimpse of this world and its inhabitants that Mieville offers is very satisfying. It may not be for everyone, but for anyone who enjoys their fiction a little odd and exceptionally well-written, it might be for you. I loved this story. Highly recommended.I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

  • Jonfaith
    2019-02-14 21:36

    He looked like a failed soldier. Dirt seemed so worked into him that the lines of his face were like writing.Oh China, you coy wretch. Promise and no delivery, or at least an awkward variety. The Census-Taker is an austerity tale, one set after the robots revolt. All Skycorp and shit, except matters have settled Bronze Age. The opening sections reminded me of The Wasp Factory, but despite shimmering examples of trades being depicted, the tale only introduced its titular character essentially as an epilogue. From my hip one could read this as Double Indemnity of the next Dark Age.

  • Michael
    2019-01-30 15:48

    The lowest rating I've ever given any of Miéville's works. My heart aches, but my brain aches even more.

  • Joachim Stoop
    2019-02-08 17:39

    No idea what to to with this one. I only know I really didn't enjoy reading it, which doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. But I couldn't find an entrance for myself. Nor a point.I would advice you to read Jesse Ball's upcoming novel Census instead

  • Max
    2019-02-15 15:24

    Good. Creepy. Tight. Feels Wolfe-esque in its studied care with metaphor and peculiar first person narration. That leads me, in turn, to suspect textual trickery (along with occasional slips in voice like "the boy is I"), but without the anchoring framework of something like Six Days and Seven Nights in America, or The Fifth Head of Cerberus, I lack an angle of attack. What here is the predecessor's voice? Vs. current census-taker? Etc. It's short and well written. Definitely worth a look, like everything Mieville's been up to recently. Part of my difficulty with puzzle books like this: when to stop puzzling? How to know there IS a puzzle? And: does the puzzle's solution add anything emotionally? At the very least, this book stands on its own as the harrowing slow story of a boy growing in a bottle.

  • Lisa
    2019-02-21 16:40

    Review from Speculative Herald: starsThis Census-Taker, in its novella length, provides the reader with a glorious and powerful enigma of a story. It is haunting, chilling, disturbing and touching and mesmerizing and absolutely beautiful. I could not stop reading this as I just craved to understand what was going on. It starts with a young boy running faster than he has ever run. Running from some unimaginable horror, and then we find out it involves his parents. The boy has trouble keeping his story straight as he is scared to death, but between this and a lack of evidence, the town dismisses his story and he is sent back to live with a parent that, at least from his perspective, is violent and deranged. Perhaps psychopathic.First, I will be very straight forward, I have only read one other book by Miéville and that was his first novel, King Rat, which I have heard is not indicative of the works he is best known for. So, for this reason I can offer no comparison between this and a typical Miéville book (if there can be a typical, from what I hear unpredictable is a signature).What I can tell you is that this book is not at all what I expected. I hear Miéville and I immediately think “weird“, not from personal experience, but from reviews and perhaps because he is known for the “new-weird” sub-genre. Those that know me realize I don’t always do well with weird and to be honest, that has made me a bit apprehensive about reading Miéville. However I was surprised by this, and quite pleasantly. This story is different and unexpected but most importantly, absolutely captivating. This is the type of book that really sticks with you and begs for examination and further thought. Forewarning, if you are a reader that like to take things at face value, you may question the merits of this book, as the story on the surface is a bit perplexing and definitely leaves much unsaid and unresolved. However, when done right, I absolutely love stories like this. I feel it forces the reader to do a bit more thinking and questioning. It lets me examine potential theories, all of which may very well be wrong, but I enjoy it. I find the more I examine a story like this, the better it sticks with me and the more I can appreciate the subtleties of it.The tense and perspective of this switches about, but I found it easy to follow. This Census-Taker chronicles the integral part of childhood and the fears of one young traumatized boy. It is told from his perspective, but years down the road. It will bounce back and forth from third and first person, present and past tense just as someone telling a story may change these aspects almost as if they are reliving their memory. You do quickly learn to be a bit apprehensive of the narrator. It is clear something traumatic has happened, and that his memory may have been impacted by both the traumatic event and the passage of time. And quite frankly, there is always the potential for intentional deceit as well. I see nothing to support this, but as a reader getting one perspective, it is always a possibility to consider.There is nothing that is clearly speculative in this story, but there is the potential for it. It could be our world without the modern conveniences, I didn’t find solid evidence that it was not. But you feel hints that it is not quite our world or our past but perhaps a potential future of our world. Maybe it is a similar alternate world, it is hard to say with information given. Ultimately, none of those details are really quite relevant for this story, hence their omission. The boy is not chronicling his story to tell us about his world, but to tell you what happened to him. It is emotional and disturbing, there are a good number of questions the reader can ask, things to think about. It’s full of “what if”s and “maybes” the user can speculate about. I suppose there is that literal speculative aspect to it, but not the clearly fantastical or science fiction elements I had expected. But, to be honest, I didn’t miss them. As short as this story was, I was completely immersed in it. This short also features layered stories. The obvious focus is on the boy, but through his eyes and story, you get other stories that leave just enough to make you curious, some food for thought. More what ifs and maybes if you choose to take the time to wonder about them. In many ways it felt more like a horror book in this respect.As much as I loved This Census-Taker, I suspect it will not be for everyone. Either people will enjoy the elusive and mysterious tale or they will leave it wishing they had more details. It all comes down to reader preference. For readers that love to contemplate theories and possibilities for the books they read, I think they will love this. Readers who need a more defined experience, readers that want everything laid out in front of them may experience some level of frustration, or they will complain about not getting a more thorough explanation of what the story was about, feeling cheated by not having more details. I am not one of those people. I think there is a beauty in this dark chronicle of a traumatized young boy that is not likely to leave me any time soon.

  • Julie
    2019-01-23 20:34

    2017 Hugos nominee for Best Novella, and I honestly don't know what to make of this book. It's purposefully cryptic and vague, and there's a haziness of identity throughout -- "the boy" vs. "I" vs. "you", our narrator blurring pronouns in his retelling -- and the chronology see-saws back and forth, and yet that wasn't even the problem. I could follow that easily enough. Where This Census-Taker lost me was the meandering prose and a lack of direction, and that it so stubbornly refuses categorisation and doesn't seem to know what to do with itself either. It's often been categorised as horror, but it's more vaguely unsettling than truly horrific. It's not really the tale of a boy being whisked off to a mystical new profession, either, because you don't get enough information about his future. It's not entirely a murder mystery either. So what in the world is it?So I really struggled with keeping my interest, and literally right when the story felt like it had picked up and I was finally going to get some answers, then... it ends. I was caught off-guard because the last chunk of the book is a preview of another novella, so I didn't realise I was at the end -- "Wait, it's over already? BUT I WANTED TO FIND OUT ABOUT XYZ."People differ between calling it a novella or a novel, and thus I think it straddles that line uncomfortably; it's too long to be satisfying short fiction, and it's too short to be a fully-fleshed-out tale either, and so it's disappointing on both fronts.There are some intriguing points here; the magical touches of the narrator's father's magical keys, the hints of worldbuilding we're not seeing, a past war. In its gloomy remote setting & claustrophobic family relationships & maybe-guilty maybe-not & a too-eloquent narrator looking back on his unreliable past, it actually oddly reminded me of His Bloody Project, too. But in the end, there's just not enough.And though I'm normally quite game for Miéville's prose, there were huge chunks here where the writing got on my nerves for being too goddamn flowery and self-indulgent. This is a perfect example of the prose that I hated, sounding like an MFA student gone haywire:Houses built on bridges are scandals. A bridge wants to not be. If it could choose its shape, a bridge would be no shape, an unspace to link One-place-town to Another-place-town over a river or a road or a tangle of railway tracks or a quarry, or to attach an island to another island or to the continent from which it strains. The dream of a bridge is of a woman standing at one side of a gorge and stepping out as if her job is to die, but when her foot falls it meets the ground right on the other side. A bridge is just better than no bridge but its horizon is gaplessness, and the fact of itself should still shame it. But someone had built on this bridge, drawn attention to its matter and failure. An arrogance that thrilled me. Where else could those children live?Ultimately, not for me. I need more plot, more meat, less vaguenesses. You can't just coast on atmosphere alone, and I wish those meandering philosophical side-bars had been edited down.I almost gave up halfway through but kept stubbornly chugging along because I was hoping to unravel some of those mysteries, but it ends underwhelmingly and without resolution, too, as if it's simply run out of steam.

  • John
    2019-02-18 13:46

    I can't think of another writer who changes so much from book to book as China Miéville. The Bas Lag novels, which ten odd years ago blew the top of my head clean off and made it all but certain that I would read everything else he ever wrote, are rich in detail and brimming with plot. They are both heavy in weight and heavy-handed in execution: Miéville sledge hammers his intentions into the reader's skull with a pleasant lack of subtlety quite in keeping with the crude, boisterous world he creates. Since that trilogy Miéville's instincts and interests have taken him to some very different terrain. Even though he has yet to fully return to the world and story-telling style that I first fell in love with I always find him interesting, often provocative, and occasionally mind-blowing.Which makes THIS CENSUS-TAKER all the more sad. It is the first Miéville title that I slogged through without any pleasure at all. I feel like it embodies all of Miéville's worst instincts as a writer: opaque settings, gnomic symbolism, emotionally stunted characters with deeply ambiguous motivations, and an obscure vocabulary that only draws attention to the artless sentences in which it is utilized. I'm still going to follow Miéville's future work with interest, but this one was a blow to my confidence in this author.

  • Maryam
    2019-02-16 17:34

    I really don't know what to make out of this book. It was very weird.

  • Joel
    2019-01-27 18:25

    FULL REVIEW ON MY BLOG, TOTAL INABILITY TO CONNECTMy relationship with China Mieville's works are....tumultuous. He simultaneously has written one of my favorite books (The City & The City), and one of my least favorite books ever (Perdido Street Station). Mieville is another author whom many people I respect adore, but my first impressions were not very good. However, I feel motivated to figure out what it is people see in him. Luckily, my last couple book experiences with China's novels were generally positive. This Census-Taker was another one of those successes for me.The story is told from the perspective of a young man - an incredibly unreliable young man. He is a victim, he is naive and uninformed, and he is scared. After noticing a disturbing pattern with his father's behavior, he walks in on his father committing a heinous act. He runs to town, for protection, for escape, for comfort - only to find that the townsfolk do not believe his story, find his inconsistencies in telling to be suspicious, and side with his father, releasing him back to his father's care. He stays with his father, alone, until a knock on the door comes, and his world is turned upside down yet again.A novella-length novel is a bit of an odd format for a guy like Mieville, and because of that, the book is a very ambiguous telling. Little background is given, even at the end, and the reader is left to fill in pieces in their head, following along as the young man figures out what is happening around him, tries to piece together why his life is falling apart before his eyes. You're left wondering what exactly is going on at every turn, whether the narrator is accurately depicting or interpreting things, whether there's something less obvious happening behind the scenes. Additionally, this book is DARK. Right from the start, you're smashed in the face with tragic events, and they continue as the story progresses, along with undercurrents of even more sinister things. It does not feel "dark for the sake of being dark", it feels dark for a purpose. It drew me into the book even more, as I could feel the confusion and terror of the protagonist, I could feel the impact of the terrible things occurring, I could feel his exasperation at the lack of support he's receiving, and his feelings of helplessness. His terror was palpable. There are periods of the novella where I was a bit confused, a bit lost - but that was part of the point. With a drastic economy of space, Mieville paints a vivid picture, the gaps in the story leaving the imagination to fill in the rest - not in a lazy way, but in an incredibly skillful way. The prose and wording lack some of the "overcomplication" that Mieville can get himself into, such as he did in the New Crobuzon novels. Instead, we're fed an eloquent and enjoyable format, one suited to following a young boy experiencing trauma, but not one that feels YA or childish. I was never left searching for a dictionary, nor was I left wishing for more . It's open-ended enough, especially the ending and some of the details about the narrator's future (where he is telling the story under guard and incarceration for some reason). The unreliability is further enhanced by changes in tense, switching from second to third to first to third, and giving a bit of a schizophrenic feel. Very little is ever laid out in the book - it's implied, it's subtle, it's gently addressed. It's a weird format, but it's coming from a weird author. And it works.Rating: 4 / 5

  • Mark Palermo
    2019-02-04 14:29

    This is a book about childhood trauma, memory, identity, and the difficulty placed upon kids who begin to suspect that the authority to whom they're subservient may be corrupt, and that the world has hostile forces they aren't meant to understand. I think the meaning of its ending is less clear than Mieville intends for it to be, but for the most part This Census-Taker is compact and really well-realized, especially in terms of location and atmosphere. He should write more short novels like this.There's one fascinating idea in here that would justify the whole work, even if the rest of it was written by some lesser fantasy novelist than Mieville. The child protagonist witnesses his father drop a dog he murdered into a pit, and the narration comments...The dog was born to descend this way. Millions of years ago, the stone had split to receive it.My father stared down into the hill with such focus it was as if he had done all of this, this killing, because he had to see an animal fall.This is a profound concept. It's possible the universe and you and I all came into being just for this exact moment, where you would have logged in to Goodreads to read me telling you that I thought it was profound.

  • Kiwi Begs2Differ✎
    2019-02-10 13:31

    I enjoyed The City & the City but honestly I don’t know what to make of Miéville’s latest book. Despite my doubts, I kept reading in the hope it would make sense in the end. Alas, no such luck, the story remains obscure till the end. On the last page I asked myself: what did I just read? What was the point?Writing that doesn’t have a meaning it’s only words, so not even an OK rating for me: 1.5 stars.