starlady: A can of gravity from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (in emergency break seal)
[personal profile] starlady
Miéville, China. Kraken. New York: Ballantine Books, 2010.

It's getting down to the end of 2010, and I have to say, this is one of the best books I've read all year. Why have I not seen it tearing up the internet? Because, seriously, it's so hugely awesome.

So. Our protagonist Billy Harrow is an unassuming curator at the Darwin Centre of the Natural History Museum in London, where our story takes place (because understand this: there is no other city like London). Billy had the singular indistinction of being the lead preserver of the museum's Architeuthis (i.e. giant squid) specimen, and he has the singular dishonor of being the guy leading the tour group who discovers that the squid has been stolen, tank and all, out of the center of the Centre. This impossible fact is the catalyst by which Billy discovers a whole other London, a Heresiopolis, which is peopled by people and beings with knacks for all sorts of knacks, from teleportation to Londonmancy, as well as cultists for gods of all kinds, including a sect that worships kraken and who think him their prophet, and a particularly unorthodox branch of the Metropolitan Police including the awesome and foul-mouthed witch Constable Collingswood.

I can't really say too much else without massive spoilers, but let me just say: this book is amazing, and it's really funny. (I should note, however, that it's founded on stolid atheism, and so may not be for everyone.) I love China Miéville, but normally he can be counted on to bring the depressing; in Kraken, however, his sense of humor or at least his razor-sharp wit is on full display, and the results are hilarious. I'm sure people on the planes, trains, and buses on which I read this book thought I was bonkers because I was laughing out loud all the time. This despite the fact that the book is about the ends, or rather the end, of the world--there's only one this time.

A lot of the humor comes from Miéville's determined skewering of several sacred cows of sff, particularly Star Trek (a ha ha! the Star Trek running bit! omg!), but he's still on his quest to deromanticize everything in the fantasy genre, and I liked the fact that Billy, as he grows more knowledgable, knows enough to be disappointed in the trite, kitschy rules of magic in the secret city. The reader, of course, is both disappointed and delighted. I also liked the fact that Miéville's leftist principles have again been given full throttle, this time in the form of a union of familiars organized by an ex-shabti come back from the afterlife. Iron Council made me doubt whether Miéville actually believes that the future is anything but Orwellian, but Kraken holds out at least a glimmer of hope. (I also think I could construct an argument skewering Dan Simmons out of this book without too much trouble.)

It's also pretty full of awesome characters; I particularly liked Collingswood, the police witch, and Marg, Billy's friend Leon's girlfriend, who isn't willing to take no or her own ignorance for an answer. Indeed, in some respects my only complaint about the book is a familiar one, that Billy isn't an actual character so much as a character function. However, by the end of the book he's doing enough to seem like he has a personality that it's almost convincing. The book also has an absolutely brilliant semi-twist ending that someone a bit faster than me on the uptake, or on a straight read-through, might have been able to spot, and was totally brilliant.

Anyway, so much for Miéville does Lovecraft. Next up is Embassytown, which is apparently Miéville does space opera, and I can't wait.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-09 19:19 (UTC)
juniperphoenix: B&W photo of Ringo Starr reading a book with text: "Books are good" (A bloomin' book!)
From: [personal profile] juniperphoenix
This sounds awesome. *makes note for winter break reading*

Have you read Foucault's Pendulum? This sounds as though it appeals to a similar spirit, although FP takes itself (or at least its characters take themselves) much more seriously.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-09 19:32 (UTC)
seekingferret: Two warning signs one above the other. 1) Falling Rocks. 2) Falling Rocs. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Ooh. I haven't been following this because I've been down on Mieville because my rule is that after an author I love puts out two straight mediocre novels I stop anxiously awaiting his work, but Perdido Street Station and The Scar got into my head for weeks.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-01-12 19:41 (UTC)
seekingferret: Two warning signs one above the other. 1) Falling Rocks. 2) Falling Rocs. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
Read it these past few days and loved it, despite being surprised that I was loving it. There's so much that should have annoyed me: Mieville's tendency to dump exposition in a tedious and condescending narrator voice, his shabby grasp of exotic words he's throwing around more for feel than content, the chilly friendship between Dane and Billy we're supposed to believe is life-changing... I loved it anyway. The mystery was great and compelling and as you say, guessable but still interesting.

Though for the record: Shadchan does not mean what Mieville apparently wants it to mean.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-09 22:06 (UTC)
nan: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nan
Wow, this sounds pretty awesome. I'll have to give it a shot. :D

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-10 16:54 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] royalarchivist
Oh!! This sounds really awesome. I bounce hard off Bas Lag stuff but I love Un Lun Dun, so I think I must try out this book. ^_^

(no subject)

Date: 2010-12-12 05:37 (UTC)
ravenholdt: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ravenholdt
Okay, now I Have to read this book - sounds just my style.:)
(Its been far too long since Ive read any good Pratchett...but I need something a tad more solid..)
This sounds perfect. Thanks much for the rec! :)

Belated Kraken

Date: 2011-02-01 16:20 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I just wanted to say, I finished Kraken yesterday, and I loved it! (I held off reading your review until I'd read the book for myself, hence the late comment.)

You're quite right that Billy doesn't have much of a personality, especially after he starts becoming more competent in the world around him. Just as you'd expect him to be growing as a character, there's less and less there that's sympathetic. But it didn't bother me that much, because I found it let me focus more on the array of other awesome characters who aren't the "main character," like Wati. (<3 Wati!) I think Mieville does best with secondary characters or sidekicks rather than traditional protagonists, as in Un Lun Dun. It's one of the things I like about his work.

I'm looking forward to Embassytown, too!

Re: Belated Kraken

Date: 2011-02-01 21:51 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I wasn't bothered either, not least because Kath Collins and the action plot had started pulling their weight at that point. I like Wati a lot too, and I may or may not have lol'd forever at him inhabiting a Captain Kirk action figure, omg.

I always feel like Miéville is doing it all intentionally, though I suppose I should concede that I may be giving him too much credit. At any rate, though, I really enjoy his books.


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