It begins with laughter. Shrieks that pierce the city twilight and emanate from an indefinite source. China Miéville spins on his toes, his eyes scan the surrounding buildings as he searches for the origin of the mad cackle. To his left – no! –his right, the lunatic hysteria echoes and refracts around the uniformly tall, uniformly functional, uniformly bland office blocks. The sky clouds over and rain begins to fall, as if nature itself is setting the scene for a climactic struggle, sympathetically aware of the dramatic tableau necessitated by the oncoming conflict.
Darkness doesn’t descend from the sky; rather, it seems to rise from the streets, and with a brilliant flash of lightning that arcs calligraphically across the heavens, China sees why: he is suddenly surrounded. A ring of men encircles him, each identically cloaked and hooded, as uniform as the architecture that compasses this urban arena. China Miéville can feel the presence of his nemesis. One of these men is genuine, one of them is: The Hooded Bastard.
Another blaze of lightning: and in its dazzling incandescence the hooded figures seem unnaturally to shift forwards, closing in on China Miéville. A moment’s pause and the onslaught begins. Several hoods break formation and charge at Mr. Miéville in a variety of overly dramatic and largely unnecessary flips and spins. China kicks one in the stomach, dispatches two more with his fists and catching a fourth assailant by the arm, throws him to the ground. But there’s no let-up, and a second wave of hooded aggressors attack. China holds his own, and amid a cascading flurry of hoods and cloaks, he fights on; battle-hardened after a baffling month of increasingly surreal conflicts.
China deflects and strikes, parries and counters; disposing of tens and tens of hooded goons. And still they come. China’s vision is obscured by the sweeping waveforms of black cloaks; his actions are not his own; his experience takes over and China becomes a spectator to the fracas, his body a violent disconnect from his mind. China enters a zen-state of hypnotic calm as time seems to slow and his arms and legs work of their own volition; kicking hoods, breaking limbs, deflecting attacks and striking with mechanical accuracy.
An age seems to pass, and then China Miéville finds himself to be the only figure standing, panting in the rain: the ground a disordered strew of prostrate and supine hooded doppelgangers. China bends down and pulls back the hood of the nearest figure to reveal… nothing. Just cloaks and rags; the hoods are all empty.
But then: clapping. China stands and spins to face the applauding figure of his nemesis; the real Hooded Bastard.
“And yet it moves” crows China’s foe “very well, I will take care of you myself.” And with this, The Hooded Bastard charges towards China, a wild banshee howl screeching from the darkness of his hood.
China Miéville is tired of these games, and he grabs The Hooded Bastard mid-run and delivers a stern blow to his abdomen. The Hooded Bastard collapses to his knees, wheezing, and China grips him by the throat.
With a sudden and violent jerk, China yanks back his nemesis’ hood to finally reveal his identity. The Hooded Bastard is: Paolo Bacigalupi, the man forced to share the 2010 Hugo Award for best novel with China Miéville.
“Yes, it’s me” he gasps, “but there’s something you should know” and looking China in the eyes, he begins to laugh “it doesn’t end here… there’s somebody else… somebody who forced me to do these things. All this time I’ve been working for… for –” but before he can utter the name, Paolo slumps forward: dead. A long, slender throwing knife protrudes from the back of his head.
China looks up and catches a glimpse of a figure: a dark, muscular silhouette runs down an alley, and away…
WINNER: CHINA MIÉVILLE