This Census-Taker is my first read for the Hugo Awards this year. The Hugos are a clean enough list this time that Free SF Online is listing them again. The book is up for a novella award.
Mieville is inconsistent, which drives fans nuts in some ways. The City and the City was one of the most brilliant social speculative fiction books I have ever read. He is incredibly daring in the topics he takes on, and his style is unique.
But sometimes he just misses, and gets published anyway. This is one of those time. This Census-Taker is set in a place with a recent chaotic past, where there is some technology but it's not all tied together. I thought of somewhere like Croatia when I read it. The protagonist is a young boy in a family that seems schizophrenic in a very detached sort of way. The father is definitely mentally ill. Neither mother nor father seem comfortable at all with the rest of their town, or the world. The father has a talent for making "keys" that make wishes come true in a limited way, thus the speculative element. He also has a thing for killing small animals. The book opens as the narrator, as an adult, describes himself running into town shouting about his father killing his mother.
The perspective of the book is supposedly adult, as I said--the narrator refers to himself living in another country, writing in a different language. But the point of view of the book never seems to depart from that of the boy. A series of sad events are described in the limited perspective of a seven year old, and aren't really informed by the adult perspective of the narrator. It just kind of ploughs along. I kept waiting for the action, or resolution, or something to start. It eventually does resolve, but you feel like it never really got started.
So I'm not real sure why it was nominated for a Hugo, beyond name value, and I can't really recommend it. Two stars for me.