Mieville's whole authorial world-view has a number of problems, which you can spot in this interview:
1. Falling for non-fantasy-readers' definitions of fantasy.
If you look at stereotypical 'epic' or 'high' fantasy, you're talking about a genre set in magical worlds with some pretty vile ideas. They tend to be based on feudalism lite: the idea, for example, that if there's a problem with the ruler of the kingdom it's because he's a bad king, as opposed to a king. If the peasants are visible, they're likely to be good simple folk rather than downtrodden wretches (except if it's a bad kingdom...). Strong men protect curvaceous women. Superheroic protagonists stamp their will on history like characters in Nietzschean wet dreams, but at the same time things are determined by fate rather than social agency. Social threats are pathological, invading from outside rather than being born from within. Morality is absolute, with characters--and often whole races--lining up to fall into pigeonholes with 'good' and 'evil' written on them.This sounds more like a description of a typical D&D campaign, or a literary snob's idea of what fantasy is like, that what the genre actually is. In fact, almost no mainstream high-fantasy is like this. Even 'high fantasy' writers who I consider to be utterly dire, like David Eddings, Trudi Canavan, Robert Jordan and Weis & Hickman, write novels where female characters are just as strong as men, where peasants are often main characters, where threats are as much from within as from without, and where the idea of kingship itself is challenged. I'll grant him that morality is not generally subtly dealt with in most high fantasy, but all that does is make this paragraph a kind of proof by verbosity - a huge scattershot of cliches levelled at trad fantasy, hoping one of them will hit.
2. A whole load of misconceptions about Tolkien.
Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious - you can't ignore it, so don't even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there's a lot to dislike - his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien's cliches - elves 'n' dwarfs 'n' magic rings - have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was 'consolation', thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.Young fantasy writers often like to talk down Tolkien - they think it makes them look cool and rebellious. Even Michael Moorcock fell into the trap of thinking that muckslinging at Tolkien somehow made his own work look better. Mieville has stuck at it longer than most. But he's profoundly wrongheaded. First, the obvious point is that he clearly hasn't read Tolkien, or at least hasn't without his Revolutionary Socialist hat on. Tolkien didn't glorify in war, and it should be obvious to anybody who's read any of his work. The opposite is true. And nor did he write that "the function of fantasy was 'consolation'" as if it was an "article of policy" for fantasy writers - he only ever wrote about himself and his own point of view, and made no sweeping statements about what the fantasy 'genre' (there wasn't such a thing back then) should be.
Secondly and more annoyingly, Mieville takes the position that all political idealogues do - namely that all rightminded people must surely agree with his position wholeheartedly and can't possibly think that anything the target believed might be worthwhile. This arrogant assumption that everybody else, if they are rational adults, must surely be a Revolutionary Socialist and against Tolkien too, frankly pisses me off. I'm not a Revolutionary Socialist. I think those people lost their argument, oh, around 100 years ago. And I do happen to believe in absolute morality. I don't happen to see anything wrong with 'consolation' sometimes; I don't think that 'comforting' fiction is a bad thing in and of itself. And I am a rational adult. Mieville has to explain why people like me are wrong, not behave as if any fule know it to be the case.
3. Thinking that escapism is a bad thing.
The problem with escapism is that when you read or write a book society is in the chair with you. You can't escape your history or your culture. So the idea that because fantasy books aren't about the real world they therefore 'escape' is ridiculous. Fantasy is still written and read through the filters of social reality. That's why some fantasies (like Swift's Gulliver's Travels) are so directly allegorical--but even the most surreal and bizarre fantasy can't help but reverberate around the reader's awareness of their own reality, even if in a confusing and unclear way.First off, the idea of Mieville calling anybody else's work "shackled to thinly veiled and highly ideological versions of [the real] world" is like Jabba the Hutt calling me a big fat slug that eats frogs and likes looking at women in gold bikinis. I can't think of a single other writer who better fits that description. (Being shackled to thinly veiled and highly ideological versions of the real world, I mean. Not the Jabba the Hutt thing.)
Take a book like Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle. It's set in a fantasy world, and it involves discussions of racism, industrial conflict, sexual passion and so on. Does it really make any sense to say that the book is inherently, because of its genre form more escapist than what Iain Banks calls 'Hampstead novels', about the internal bickerings of middle class families who seem hermetically sealed off from wider social conflicts? Just because those books pretend to be about 'the real world' doesn't mean they reverberate in it with more integrity.Precisely because you read and write books with society in your head, the 'escape' that Tolkien and others aspire to is doomed to fail. In fact, it's precisely those kind of escapist books that take the real world for granted which are most shackled to thinly veiled and highly ideological versions of that world.
Second off, in my experience, books that try to discuss things like racism, industrial conflict and sexual passion in explicit terms (well, maybe not the sexual passion part) generally tend to be, as novels, shit. Mary Gentle's Rats and Gargoyles is no exception - it's probably the most boring thing I've read (well, attempted to read) in the past decade. The moment a writer starts trying to "reverberate in [the real world] with more integrity", rather than, you know, trying to write a good story, you know he's lost it. He might as well give up on the thing as a novel right there and then. Fiction should always, always be about story and that's all that a fiction writer should care about when he's writing.
Thirdly, escapism is a worthwhile thing in itself, and not something to be sniffed at. As somebody who isn't a card-carrying member of the Pretentious Socialist Worker Party Elite, I like to sometimes jack my brain out of the Capitalist hellhole in which I find myself and in which my "every human impulse is repressed" and just, you know, think about something mindblowing and weird and get away from the world. Am I supposed to feel bad about that because China Mieville thinks I should constantly be engaging with "the real world" and if not I'm being "mollycoddled" and "comforted"? Fuck that.