24 Following

Books, You Guys!

I read a lot of everything. Mostly fantasy and sci-fi, or speculative fiction or Slipstream or New Weird or whatever we're calling it now, some comics, some literary fiction, mysteries, la dee da. And...well. I do like a kissin' book.

The Scar (New Crobuzon Series #2)

The Scar - China Miéville It took me two days to get through the last 50 pages of China Miéville's The Scar. Not because I was bored, or because the story was particularly impenetrable, but simply because I did not want the book to be over. I did finish it, however. And for a good ten minutes after the last sentence I found myself staring into space, stunned and cut adrift and wishing for another 50 pages. When I eventually sat down to begin this review, I realized that I had no idea what made the book so amazing.And that's Miéville's magic. His prose is chaotic and distinctly purple. His characters are often under drawn, brought into the story for a few brief moments before being sacrificed under the wheels of the frenetic plot. And yet he rarely introduces anyone who isn't instantly fascinating, and all of the deaths seem to mean something. Somehow, he always seems to make it work.I'm getting ahead of myself.The Scar isn't a sequel to Perdido Street Station, although it takes place in the same world and Miéville includes enough winks to Perdido to keep us nerds happy. The story follows a handful of New Crobuzon refugees and criminals who, after their ship is commandeered by pirates, find themselves press-ganged into a new life in the strange city of Armada. The story is primarily told by Tanner Sack, a criminal and slave who has been offered redemption in a new home; and Bellis Coldwine, a fugitive translator who always seems to find herself near the center of Armada's varied and bloody intrigues. Bellis is an interesting character. She's presented from the beginning as cold and unemotional, an image she seems to put a lot of work into cultivating. Of course, we find that she's not so cold as she seems, but we're still mostly spared from the angst and self-deceit seen in so many "heroes" of fantasy. We're also told almost nothing about her background, and certainly nothing that doesn't pertain directly to the story at hand. She's nearly a cipher at first glance- an impression helped by the book's emphasis on her profession as a translator- but as the story moves she becomes incredibly compelling.And if Miéville gives us so little on the protagonist, the supporting cast is even less detailed. The characters are drawn in broad, impressionist strokes that do more through implication and imagery than lesser writers do with chapters of backstory and description. Every character serves a purpose, and you can generally count on anyone who is introduced by name having an important role to play somewhere down the line.The plot, for all its complications, is tight and quickly paced. As the press-ganged find themselves wrapped in layer upon layer of conspiracy and betrayal, the reader finds themselves handed threads of plot at almost dizzying speed. But just as Miéville only describes his monsters in bits and incomprehensible pieces, he keeps the reader just informed enough to be unable to see the big picture. When he finally does sideswipe us with a revelation, it always makes perfect sense.The economy of plot and characterization give Miéville room to do what really makes his stories special. His world is a mishmash of genres often described as "science fantasy" or, in his own words, "weird fiction". Steampunk airships coexist with elemental magic and Lovecraftian monsters. There are pirates and spies and scientists and wizards, and an impressive variety of original races and settings.Miéville describes all of his creations with obvious glee, occasionally losing control of grammar in his enthusiasm. He makes up for these missteps with his seemingly limitless imagination and energy- the reader hardly has time to be upset about a misplaced comma when pivotal moments and incredible inventions are flying past them on every page.And yet, the world of Bas-Lag is a hard one. There doesn't seem to be any such thing as an innocent man, and ordinary citizens are constantly finding themselves caught up in the machinations of ruthless leaders and unfathomable powers. Much like any good fantasy, The Scar is less about Miéville's lunatic world and more about the way people struggle and adapt and somehow survive. His honesty about the human condition lends a very real edge to the story- it would be hard to accuse him of shying away from difficult topics or showing his readers (or his characters) any undue kindness.All of the things that make The Scar interesting are things that could cause other books to fail entirely. The fact that Miéville has managed to put them together into such an incredibly good read makes him one of the most exciting writers I've come across in a long time, and a refreshing addition to the genre. Whichever genre it is.