Friday 8 January 2010

Book Preview: Kraken by China Mieville

[Pre-order this book from Amazon
in the UK / in the US]


Whether he's to your tastes or your favourite fiction is more prosaic fare, there can be little doubt that few such fertile imaginations exist than that which China Mieville has mined in his increasingly diverse output this past decade. The oft-esteemed author made his name in speculative circles with a triumvirate of novels set in the wonderfully wretched world of Bas-Lag - the best of which, for my money, has to be The Scar, a perverse seafaring adventure that was also my first Mieville - but unlike so many once-promising new voices, this prominent proponent of the New Weird did not idly content himself by exploiting the wonderful world he had established until his dwindling legions of readers grew exhausted with it.

We might, perhaps, wish he had: neither the inevitable Young Adult experiment nor the abstract crime thriller that followed Un Lun Dun have quite recaptured the staggering sensation of exploring the seedier streets of New Crobuzon and its surroundings with one remade guide or another, and yet, Mieville's novels after Iron Council have not been without their strengths.

Un Lun Dun itself has been described as puerile, derivative drivel, and it's not difficult to see where such criticisms begin; sadly, I suspect those readers and sometime reviewers responsible for such slating resigned themselves to their ill expectations too soon, for Mieville, in the end, weaves a much more powerful and untraditional narrative than the blurb would have you believe. But I digress.

The City and the City, his last and arguably best effort notwithstanding the Bas-Lag books, was an existentialist crime thriller with a characteristic kick: the crime in question had been committed in an area on the fringe of two distinct cities that somehow exist in the same physical space. Mieville's greatest strength has always been in his settings, and the borderlines between Beszel and Ul Qoma - not to mention Breach - proved to be an environment rich enough in potential and subversiveness to rival the very best. Sadly, the brevity of The City and the City was a restrictive rather than a focusing force, and unless Mieville returns to its world, much of that inherent potential will unfortunately remain unrealised.

When it was finally delivered to the publisher - on the same day as the manuscript for that abstract murder mystery, in fact, which it bears repeating was a swan-song for Mieville's dying mother who sadly missed its publication - Kraken had for nearly three years been the subject of no small amount of rumour and conspiracy. Was it, at last, came the cries from speculative fiction forums, a fourth installment in the books of Bas-Lag? Would it mark a return to form for an author that had left many of his fans cold with a few divisive standalone novels?

A blurb on Amazon appeared a little while ago to answer that speculation. And the answer, disappointing to some, has resounded through the internet since: it seems that no, Kraken will have nothing to do with New Crobuzon. Nor, indeed, will it be the lengthy epic many might like; the provisional product details are very probably nonsense, but I shouldn't imagine we can expect much more than the 400 pages of New Weird excellence Amazon indicates.

Rather, Kraken looks to be another relatively short-form escapade into the series of nearly-real worlds explored in Un Lun Dun and The City and the City. The concept this time out, however, is high enough that crestfallen sorts might have reason to hope for a more memorable reading experience. Have an ogle at this:

"Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears?

"For curator Billy Harrow it's the start of a headlong pitch into a London of warring cults, surreal magic, apostates and assassins. It might just be that the creature he's been preserving is more than a biological rarity: there are those who are sure it's a god.

"A god that someone is hoping will end the world."

I'm hesitant to say much more about Kraken. When it comes to new Mieville novels, my hopes are always high, but certainly, the sales pitch gives several promising indications of an author returning to familiar footing - if not quite as well-tread as Bas-Lag lovers might like.

Here, once more and presumably with feeling, Mieville will explore another iteration of the titular city from his unfairly derided young adult effort, and indeed the drum 'n bass London he debuted with in the cruelly underrated King Rat. There's that, and oh, let's not forget a gargantuan sea-creature that can only recall the wondrous Leviathan used so cruelly to power the flotilla in The Scar.

My expectations, although slightly tempered, are for great things, but in all honesty, I'm part of the problem here. At the end of the day, I really would love another Bas-Lag book.

For the moment, though: this'll do, pig. This'll do just fine.


by China Mieville
2010, Pan Macmillan: London

[Pre-order this book from Amazon
in the UK / in the US]

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1 comment:

  1. I've been meaning to pick up those Bas-Lag books, and have Tor's free ebook of Perdido Street Station, but I've hesitated for some reason. I enjoyed The City and the City, but Kraken sounds more like my cup of tea.