The Scar’s Armada

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So, I am currently  in the middle of China Miéville’s The Scar. It’s Book 2 of the Bas-lag series, which I really wouldn’t call a series because the only thing it shares with Perdido Street Station (Book 1) is the universe it is in – aptly called, well, Bas-lag. This is only my second Miéville. Second! It’s very odd to be so involved with a writer after reading only one of his novels, and probably all of his articles and interviews that I could find online. So we need to remedy that. By reading everything in his bibliography, starting of course, with The Scar.

ANYWAY.

In Part II of The Scar, we are introduced to a pirate city hauled across the ocean – the city of Armada, a forest of ships. It looks like this:

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Armada by Majoh

For someone who’s literary background on anything nautical was mostly, errr naughty historical romances, it was daunting for me to picture a city of ships that sails as a conglomerate. I searched for fanart that would give me an idea of what it would look like and Majoh’s interpretation closely resembles how Miéville describes Armada – it’s less than a mile wide, with conjoined ships of all kinds, and bridges that interconnects this whole piratical web of craziness.

Another fanart of the city during the day:

Armada City by Medhi
Armada City by Medhi

This one looks a lot like Riften – probably my least favorite town in Skyrim because I get lost all time when I need to go to the Thieves headquarters, and because I kept falling from bridges. It is a probable conclusion that I will die if I get press-ganged into Armada. And yes, press-ganged will be the only way I could be there because no city-born would ever spawn someone who keeps falling from bridges.

Here’s another pretty one:

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by Franco Brambilla

In spite of all these wonderful Armada interpretations, my favorite is still this beautiful cover of the hardbound copy.

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I want this copy but I’m poor

The cover shows the true grittiness of Miéville’s pirate city – it is dark, alienating, and mysterious. I wish I discovered China’s works earlier so I would’ve had dibs on the hardcovers but oh well. My cover (reprinted UK edition, first picture) is very, VERY pretty too.

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Gradually, then suddenly: Prozac Nation

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A harrowing story of an egoistic girl’s breakdowns, suicide attempts and trysts with psychopharmacology. This was an engaging read – a proficient girl’s insight on her own mental health issues which happened, as Mike Campbell in The Sun Also Rises puts it, gradually then suddenly. I dropped Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man with only a hundred pages more to go to read Prozac Nation mostly because I was in a slump and had no patience for silliness and fantasies. I wanted to read something introspective, something real, something I could relate to, and this was the perfect book to accompany my PMS tendencies.

You see, there is a time (if I’m lucky, times if I’m not) in a month that I crash into a mild malaise. It’s like depression but not as scary or debilitating (they have a word for it now – “dysthymia”), and this was the perfect book for when I was deepest in the throes of err, dysthymia (this is such a fancy, pretentious word for something so unproductive). Anyway, I wanted, or needed an understanding companion, and I felt like Wurtzel spoke to me. She was honest, she was brutal, and she was mad and she knew it. I also related to her in many levels – raised by a single mother, abandoned by a father, excelled in her youth, liked Joni Mitchell, and seemed like a girl “full of promise”. Yep, we also share the same inflated ego, though hers is attested with scholarly achievements while mine is just a flaw, a cardinal sin.

Ultimately though, this was an annoying book whose only purpose, at the time of my reading, is to satisfy my own self-pitying.  Wurtzel is self-absorbed, annoying and a joyless burden – traits I think all depressives share, which Wurtzel thought was good. She wanted to come out as someone whose face you want to throw a book at, which I wanted to do at around the middle of Prozac Nation. I am, very obviously, ill-suited to be in any depressive’s support group, something I’ve always known but only confirmed after reading this. I am not equipped to handle clinical self-deprecation and I always feel a guilty boredom when people cling to me for help. I do love listening to my friends’ problems and I empathize, and I offer condolences and sometimes, my insights, but please don’t talk to me if you’re sadness is abstract, if your sadness is shamelessly self-involved, if the darkness you feel does not correspond to the external life you’re living with. Depressives don’t need friends who are busy with their own issues. They need therapists -trained listeners who can help them untangle whatever it is they need untangling from.

Anyway.

This is probably the first memoir I’ve read ever, or at least for a very long time. Are memoirs often like this? The verse was free-flowing and lyrically beautiful to the point that it read like fiction. I picked it up from a bargain bin thinking it would drive a point – like how America is The United States of Depression, but analysis of the drug-addled nation was only briefly touched.  This book was simply, well, a memoir about the despair and chaotic tendencies of Lizzie Wurtzel.

Her episodes were sometimes so ridiculous to be almost unbelievable, but I believe her. I mean she’s crazy and the fact that I found her unbelievable is a good sign that I have not crossed over the edge. I am still me, with a healthy sense of perspective, and an awareness of the spectrum of sadness. My filters still work. I guess that’s what memoirs give you, eh? A sense of perspective. Something to hold down your overblown sense of importance.

I can’t wait to read more books like this. Suggestions are welcome.

P.S.

There is a movie adaptation with Christina Ricci playing Elizabeth Wurtzel. She looks the part.

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The Lovable Strangeness of Perdido Street Station

If you know me IRL, follow me on twitter, or on tumblr, you’d know how I have fallen madly in love with China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station. I’ve talked about it so incessantly that a few people have asked for copies which I was happy to give, but made me anxious in retrospect. See, Perdido Street Station is NOT an easy read. It’s not the kind of book that would make you swoon right off the bat. It can be a backbreaker but Miéville turns the tables on the whole story about halfway through and anyone who wouldn’t persist that far would miss out on several of the greatest fantasy monsters.

The novel is an astonishment, the work of a brilliant world-maker with a stunning and inexhaustible imagination. In Perdido, we are in a degenerating cesspool of a city called New Crobuzon, where humans, xenomorphs, urban poor, altered criminals and cyborgs jostle and thieve and whore under the eye of a vicious, all-seeing militia.  China really takes the “show-don’t-tell” adage to heart and plunges you headfirst into a politically-charged world without any priming. You get to know the place as you read, and the world becomes another character.

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A garuda and a khepri in New Crobuzon. By Marc Simonetti.

Perdido Street Station shows us the limitless and awesomeness of story-telling. China’s words are powerful, strange, and poetic, all at the same time. His voice is so unique, and his ideas so wonderfully weird. I bet you a dollar that you can’t find another living writer that could wield wit, oddity, and command of the language as powerfully as he could.

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Perdido Street Station is a great book but it is not perfect. People will ramble on about weak characters, verbosity, and so on, which may or may not be merited, but on the whole people have their own ideas about how all novels should conform to a certain standard, so I take all literary criticisms with a grain of salt.

For example: People have complained about the weak plot but I particularly liked the ambiguity of the plot lines and the lack of clear resolution.  It was go-back-to-bed-depressing on some levels but I feel that all too often, fantasy and science fiction stories tend to be a bit sophomoric in plot and rely on a model right out of common fantasy tropes. Real life rarely gives us conflict resolution wrapped up with a ribbon and a bow, so why should fiction?

And this love is not blind to its faults – I know this can be a difficult book. Things can get tedious, some portions can get confusing. The fantastical science and even more fantastical math takes so much out of you but it was a sacrifice you give for a rewarding reading experience. Easily one of the best books I have ever read in my entire reading life – and this isn’t even Miéville’s best work yet – a revelation that makes this all-too exciting for me. It feels like an entire universe has unfolded before me, and I now have new planes to discover, new surreal reading experiences to be explored.

It’s been ages since I have felt this intense unraveling over a book. I am glad, and a bit surprised, that I still have this in me – a sordid and frightfully expensive nerdiness over a novel, a living author, and an unfamiliar genre. I love you, Mr. Miéville. Thank you for this book.