This would be further to '1958'. Because, as I mentioned on t'other blog, I went to The Weird symposium, and then the Weird symposium went to a bar, and China Miéville bought me a drink and talked with me about whores.
I shall now leave a few lines blank to give you time to get over how wonderful my life is.
By then I was suffering from brain-mush induced by lack of sleep and passive inhalation of Immanuel Kant, so there are two important things about the whores in The Perpetual Train that I didn't manage to bring up, but on the whole, I forgive him. The first thing he said when I mentioned the topic was that he'd thought through the gender politics of it and was prepared to stand by that part of the story, both its stance and its way of getting there; I think he'd had this conversation before, and that he'd had it with himself before that.
It's a bit of a duckrabbit: looked at through the lens of an SF-reading feminist, it's part of one distinct pattern; read from the point of view of a revolutionary socialist (I can pretend to have that POV for a moment, right?) it's a different picture. He said he was reflecting the history of railway-making, in which women do appear only as prostitutes or as slaves; given that, presenting the prostitute as a wage-labourer who can, like male wage-labourers, be radicalised by their experiences under capitalism, is (he thinks) a positive. He's well aware of the general SF reading, though, and says 'they do not have hearts of gold.'
The big thing I did manage to get out was that it seemed like his male characters had jobs - surveyors, gendarmes, railwaymen - while his prostitutes were their jobs. He said he felt he'd written them as people who were in control of their labour - they had rules, enforced them, went on strike. He pointed out that the prostitutes are at the forefront of the workers' radicalisation, and reminded me of one charming aspect of the story that I didn't mention last time; the Iron Councillors all, irrespective of gender, call each other 'sister' because the prostitutes refused to use 'brother'. (The other radical group in Iron Council, the Caucus, all, irrespective of gender, call each other Jack, which was really funny before Ori and Madeleina got to know each other). That explicitly identifies the rest of the wage-labourers with the prostitutes, which I think you've got to love.
I pointed out how invisible sex work is to women; how my young brother is far more exposed to the sex industry than I am, how very few women will encounter stripping and hooking (and those who do will mostly be those whose partners are consumers of such), while the industry is marketed at most men and part of the culture of many. How this makes writing about the sex industry excluding for women and entitling for men. (I don't think I said that part particularly clearly). He told me that that was a pretty recent thing - that 15 years ago it was a far more obscure part of male life than it is now. (That is the kind of information that women do not have access to, see?) It's weird that that's happened at the same time as women are becoming more economically powerful.
I didn't, and I wish I had remembered to, mention the problem Ide Cyan so eloquently described here:
"This is the kind of bullshit coming from leftist men that feminist women have been debunking since the invention of socialism. It presupposes that women's oppression is the result of industrial capitalism, rather a specific form of oppression with its own relations of production, and conveniently obscures proletarian men's role in the oppression of women. Obviously, leftist men still haven't paid attention, or do not care to integrate that particular analysis into their revolutionary approaches."
I don't think Miéville has completely failed to integrate that analysis, but he's certainly putting it way second to capitalist oppression, because that's what the whole sodding book is about. (That his stance is ultimately abolitionist is related to this; yeah, he's imagining a post-sex work utopia, but that's because he's imagining the end of all capitalist wage labour).
The second thing I missed, closely tied to the above, is the point V raised here about the use of sex work as part of the 'story' of individual characters (Ann-Hari and Carianne, but also dozens of other SF characters - Molly Millions, Niki Sanders, several continuities of Catwoman, et cetera ad infinitum). It's extremely irritating when read as part of that group of male-authored SF about sex work; I'd imagine he'd again be writing it as a being about wage-labour rather than being about sex, but I would've liked to argue the toss about it, because I refuse to believe it's a coincidence that it happens with so very many strong female characters. It's also, I feel, touching on appropriation; using a real-world group (sex workers) to explain your politics, your stories, your world.
He told me to come say hello if we're ever at the same convention again, so you never know. My notes from The Weird, if you'd like to read them, are here.