To Scar the Armada

China Mieville's The Scar

The Scar is a novel that grows on you. I’ve read this a few days before but I wanted the layers and layers of stories to grow on me before I write about it, so I’ve since let it simmer down ( but not without moving on to other books: The Metabarons series and Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary).

The Scar is a fantastic adventure book and Miéville has this way of letting you feel an initial gut reaction to the concepts he presents encased in a wild ride, but leaves you on your own to ponder on the book’s complexities. It is a very weird book – very unusual in its plotting, in its story-telling but very brilliant. Miéville is not afraid of telling the story he wants to tell and he respects our intelligence and writes accordingly.  If you want fluff entertainment – he can give you that, but he also makes (or forces) you to think. About mercantilism, suspicion of authorities, and the “game of thrones”, where people are played as pawns in the game of power. It is very deep, layered and labyrinthine but it is so much fun.

And I love this kind of writing. I mentioned when I talked about Perdido Street Station about the lack of spelled-out resolution. And The Scar is the same way. They’re written as grand slices of life – China chooses not to tie up every loose end and detail to us the fates of every characters into some ride-into-the-sunset kind of credit roll chapter. Those kinds of books can be great too but this – this is memorable. This is Real Life – the kind with no real endings apart from death.  The Scar is like chancing upon some people in your time, travel with them for a while, and part ways without knowing what will happen to them.

Which leads us to the aftermath. There is always an aftermath – a potent hangover that hangs above you like a dark cloud. A weird mixture of joy, sadness and loneliness. I’ve noticed this after reading Perdido Street Station, and again with The Scar. A very coherent Miévillian describes this phenomenon thusly:

“Sometimes a book ends and leaves you feeling hollowed out, yet with a feeling that your chest is under a great pressure. This is what happens when a book builds tension and engrosses you so fully that by the end of the book you are physically responding.

Most authors release this tension during a climax, and you achieve some sort of completion and end the book sated and satisfied. But occasionally the author denies you a climax. This is not the same as an anticlimax, as the author has not made obvious and deliberate attempts to dodge your expectations. Instead the book more or less stops.

I’ve come to see this as a great artistic achievement, because done correctly it leaves you with a memorable and haunting sensation.”

You’re godsdamn right.

The Scar is a great book – a masterpiece of fiction. It is more tightly controlled than the very verbose Perdido Street Station with its long-winded sentences and pages and pages of fantastical computer calculations.  This is more restrained and less staggering and I would highly recommend this to people as the gateway book to Miéville’s works.

Wild sea battles; creatures a mile wide; possibilities that could be mined; possibilities that could be harnessed (in a SWORD!); and a chasm at the end of the world, jagging accross the face of the Hidden Ocean – teeming with the ways things weren’t and aren’t but could be. The Scar was definitely another great Miéville book. I can’t wait for Iron Council!

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:

Armada_by_Majoh
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.

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.

pss

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.