China Miéville’s contribution in October is to get away from ideological battles and go back to the dazzling reality of events. There is no schadenfreude here about the revolution’s bloody aftermath, nor patronising talk of experiments that failed because they were doomed to fail. Known as a left-wing activist and author of fantasy or what he himself calls weird fiction, Miéville writes with the brio and excitement of an enthusiast who would have wanted the revolution to succeed ... The story is old but Miéville retells it with verve and empathy. He brilliantly captures the tensions of coup and counter-coup and the kaleidoscope of coalitions that formed and then broke. There is wonderful detail on small points too ... his moral is that we should keep trying. Change is not doomed to make things worse. With a different external environment and different actions by the main participants, the October revolution might have had a better outcome. Its degradation was 'not a given, was not written in any stars.'
This gripping account is a re-enactment of the Russian Revolution, month by month, by an author who has used the fantasy genre to convey political messages ... The book’s conception is in line with its dramatic (occasionally melodramatic) style: Miéville confesses to have done no original research here, instead distilling his sources into an informative page-turner. If he occasionally gets his facts wrong (the new-style date of the October Revolution, for instance, is November 7, not November 5 as mentioned), that feels unavoidable in such an enterprise. Revolutions rarely go without a hitch.
Miéville's academic past and interest in leftism give him the background he needs to handle a potentially mind-numbing task ... Miéville doesn't neglect the misery, confusion, and violence that led up to the revolution. He's especially evocative when he chronicles the scenes on the chaotic streets. But much of the value of October comes in his mastery of how the intricacies of human decision-making play out in Petrograd (the once and future St. Petersburg), Moscow, and beyond.
Miéville is a committed leftist and proud partisan in this engaging retelling of the events that rocked the foundations of the twentieth century. His goals are not condemnation or hagiography. In a blow-by-blow account of the year 1917, he hopes to reintroduce history to a world that has a habit of forgetting it … The author’s point is that history must be understood in its moment, not just in a future context unknown to its participants. With his painterly touch and zest for characterization — Lenin is as mercurial as he is brilliant, a ‘striking, prematurely balding man with distinctive narrow eyes’ — he sets the scene in St. Petersburg, eventually renamed Petrograd and then Leningrad, the seat of the revolution … If October is, at times, a maze of names and bureaucratic wrangling, Miéville’s métier is rendering atmosphere and character, and reminding us just how remarkable this single year was.
...a recasting of the Russian Revolution as a captivating narrative … Because Miéville is so narrowly focused on the moment, seldom shifting into the near future and never to our own era, these passages have a special power; we feel we are seeing these figures in real time, yet we can’t help bringing the future to bear on them … Like any good storyteller, Miéville revels in the phantasmagoric aspects of this true tale. As factions battle in the streets during the ‘July Days,’ Russia’s middle and upper classes fall into a nihilistic decadence … The achievement of October is to make this history fresh and urgent. The age of communist revolutions may be a distant memory, but the drive for social change, be it peaceful or violent, is not.
Miéville is fully aware of the horrors that followed this massive achievement but convincingly argues that the Russian Revolution’s 'degradation was not a given'; its formative moments carried immense potential for every kind of human liberation, which could so easily have become the dominant force of the new order. As an acclaimed storyteller with a doctorate in political philosophy and a commitment to leftist activism, Miéville is an ideal guide through this complex historical moment, giving agency to obscure and better-known participants alike, and depicting the revolution as both a tragically lost opportunity and an ongoing source of inspiration.
...there is a sense of dark foreboding throughout. The author questions whether it was inevitable that Vladimir Lenin and his cohort would shift increasingly to the left and embrace violent insurrection. No: events were constantly shifting and up in the air, and Miéville presents the action with his novelist’s eye ... An intriguing march to revolution, told here with clarity and insight.
It has all the makings of a novel, and though Miéville sees the event as a ‘story,’ his telling, drawn from the vast secondary literature on the revolution, is a rather straightforward and conventional political history, capped on a note of guarded optimism … His book, pitched somewhere between an introduction and a selective account of 1917, can be heavy going and dense with esoteric terminology. (Parse, for example, the difference between ‘‘left’ entryism’ and ‘‘right’ socialism.’) One wishes for more of the kind of atmosphere Miéville evokes in this passage: ‘Secret routes wound across the top of Petrograd, a roof-world above the courtyards, secret skyline walkways.’