Kraken by China Mieville.


March 2015
Recommended for fans of Harkaway’s The Angelmaker, O’Malley’s The Rook
 ★    ★    ★    ★   1/2

“Enter that room and you breached a Schwarzschild radius of something not canny, and that cephalopod corpse was the singularity.

I rather get why Miéville’s normally fantastic fanish fans don’t like Kraken much. I will note that I’ve had intermediate success with Miéville, finding a couple of his works quite memorable and some quite putdownable. Kraken is one I enjoyed muchly, primarily due to its absurdity, the absence of didacticism, and its clever-clever use of language. Speaking of, however, I would have like a bit more on the language front, specifically the description sort of language, words that might have given more insight into what was happening. As it was, I felt rather like Arthur Dent after meeting Ford Prefect. 

“Sometimes you can’t get bogged down in the how,” Baron said. “Sometimes things happen that shouldn’t, and you can’t let that detain you. But the why? we can make headway with.”

But I rather suspect idea satiation of the text was part of the point, and, indeed, Miéville says, “it was a bit of a kitchen sink” of ideas in Kraken. Again, not knocking it. The first book of Miéville’s that I truly respected and whatever else, because love isn’t the sort of word you use with that book, was Embassytown, which was a bit of a mind-bender of a science-fiction book. Science-fiction being what it is, it’s easier for me to take those realities with a grain of salt, or, in that case, with a rather large tub of popcorn to help all that salt go down, because, wow, was that book ever idea-dense. This is idea-dense too, but in a creative, silly, bizarre candy-shop sort of way, not so much a philosophical one.

“And yes, no, it couldn’t have, no disappeared, so many metres of abyss meat could not have gone… There were no giant tank- no squid-shaped holes cartoon-style in the wall. It could not have gone, but there is was, not.

Kraken is, nominally at least, about Billy, a man who is a museum curator at the Darwin Centre. He’s leading a tour group when they discover the star attraction–a perfectly preserved specimen of a thirty-foot giant squid–has disappeared without a trace. Dane the security guard is also mysteriously absent. As the police go through their investigative routine, Billy makes a gruesome discovery in the storage rooms. A special division of police make Billy an offer, but before he can think twice, events have spiraled out of his control into weirdness. What follows is a journey across London, through a city with dissident gods and magic-workers, where “crime overlapped with faith” as Billy seeks to understand his role in world-changing events and recover the squid.

“What my colleague is getting at,” Baron said, “is we’re facing a wave of St.Johns. A bit of an epidemic of eschatologies.”

My most serious challenge was developing an emotional connection to the characters. None really seemed sympathetic, and while I’m mentioning it, Billy was more than a bit Arthur Dentish in the beginning, wandering around and saying, “what? what? I don’t understand” all the time when he really needed to get with the program. The police are little help; although they contribute to the attempts towards law-n-order, they are just as apt to handcuff those preventing the apocalypse as much as those starting one. Perhaps the one I felt most affection for was a millennia-old rebellious spirit, leading a strike of the city’s magical assistants and familiars against exploitation. The villains were truly horrific, and Miéville deserves kudos for imbuing them with scary life in such brief appearances.

Goss and fucking Subby. Sliding shifty through Albion’s history, disappearing for ten, thirty, a hundred blessed years at a time, to return, evening all, wink wink, with a twinkle of a sociopathic eye, to unleash some charnel-degradation-for hire.

There was no specificity to Goss and Subby.”

On the other side, the language is something else, something that makes me enjoy it and yet makes my brain work a bit too, because not only does he flat out improve my vocabulary, he takes a rather deconstructionist approach to structure at times. Often it takes me a minute to work out meaning. I think. Or at least glean on to partial intention. I most definitely feel like is one Miéville that you can re-read for more meaning, if only you can stand the story. I don’t mean that in a snarky way, despite how it sounds. I’m reflection on my own experience with his works, how some were like a full five course dinner of things I liked but were arranged in unusual ways, but some of his works were like five course dinners of things I mostly didn’t like, except for maybe the appetizer and dessert. Not to take away from the creativeness of it as much as the saturation of the effort.

You know what else is enjoyable about his stories? Utterly unpredictable. There will be no tropes here, or, if they are, they shall be used ironically and with abrupt changes in meaning to turn reader assumptions sideways. There’s so much that is fun, good, and oh yes! here: the Sea, the motif of the ink, the angels, the museum, the ramifications of a disappearing skill, the smallest ode to Star Trek, and the squiddity of it all. There is satisfying ending, even if it isn’t precisely the one expected. While I originally rated this slightly lower, it grew on me the more I thought about it, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to read it again. This might be one worth adding to the library for the sheer inventiveness, the languageness of it. Yes, I think I will.

“We’ve been arguing about books,” said Marge.
“Best sort of argument,” said Billy. “What was the substance?”…
“Virginia Woolf versus Edward Lear…”
“I went for Lear,” said Leon.”Partly out of fidelity to the letter L. Partly because given the choice between nonsense and boojy wittering you blatantly have to choose nonsense.”


About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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9 Responses to Kraken by China Mieville.

  1. Steph says:

    Granted I’ve only read two of Mieville’s books but this is my favorite. The absurdity and complexity I loved.

  2. thebookgator says:

    oh-oh. You’ll be sorry you said that.

  3. Stephen Fisher says:

    Huge fan of Mieville. A very unique and literate voice in sic fi. Elements of Mieville’s inventiveness in Perdido Street Station and the Scar remind me of another author I recently found, Kameron Hurley. In her God’s War Trilogy she creates an anti-heroine and fully realized, brutal world unlike anything I have ever read. The gender and religious elements that drive the story are allegorical to ethnic and factional fighting that so dominates conflict in our world.

    The first paragraph of God’s War provides a perfect introduction: “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert. Drunk but no longer bleeding, she pushed into a smoky cantina just after dark and ordered a pinch of morphine and a whiskey chaser. She bet all of her money on a boxer named Jaks and lost it two rounds later when Jaks hit the floor like and antique harem girl.” If this paragraph intrigues you at all, you will be wowed by this book.

    • thebookgator says:

      Wow, Stephen, that is a power-punch quote. Hmm, I tried The Mirror Empire and didn’t get very far–I tend not to do well with war scenarios, but maybe God’s War is different enough that I’ll do better. Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll add and move it up the TBR list.

  4. Pingback: The City & The City by China Mieville | book reviews forevermore

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