This Census-Taker is a new novella by China Miéville. It’s a fairy tale, of sorts, more the Brothers Grimm, than Walt Disney. True to Miéville’s style, it’s not clear when or where the story is taking place. It’s a story told by an older man, about when he was a young boy. The boy lived near the top of a hillside, overlooking a poor, war-torn village below. The boy’s home and the village are separated by a deep gorge with a bridge spanning it.
The boy’s father is a magic-key maker. The keys the villagers pay him to make for them can bring love, fix broken machines, change the weather, or any one of a number of things his father agrees to. It’s not made clear how his father does it, nor why. According to the man’s memory, it’s just what his father did. It’s not important to the story.
The story begins with the boy running down the hill into the town. He’s hysterical because he just witnessed his mother killing his father, or his father killing his mother; someone killed someone back in his isolated home. The authorities in town don’t believe him, and when his father comes looking for him, they return his son to him, because the boy belongs to him.
Although his father speaks kindly to the boy, and assures him he’s loved and safe, the boy lives in fear. A few time he witnesses his father brutally kill animals by beating them, and he suspects he’s killed more people than just his mother. He tries to escape, but is caught each time.
Eventually a peculiar man shows up at the boy’s house while his father’s away. He wears glasses and a tie, and carries a gun. He explains to the boy that he’s the census-taker and has come to speak to the boy’s father. He may be the only person capable of freeing the boy from his father’s care.
This Census-Taker is the Miéville equivalent of Coke Zero; it gives you a taste of the weirdness in Miéville’s mind, but it’s not the full experience. Still, it’s satisfying and well worth the day or so it takes to read it.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆