Kraken by China Miéville
Random House, 2010
Hardcover, 528 pages
Hardcover, 528 pages
British fantasist Miéville mashes up cop drama, cults, popular culture, magic, and gods in a Lovecraftian New Weird caper sure to delight fans of Perdido Street Station and The City & the City. When a nine-meter-long dead squid is stolen, tank and all, from a London museum, curator Billy Harrow finds himself swept up in a world he didn't know existed: one of worshippers of the giant squid, animated golems, talking tattoos, and animal familiars on strike. Forced on the lam with a renegade kraken cultist and stalked by cops and crazies, Billy finds his quest to recover the squid sidelined by questions as to what force may now be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Publishers Weekly
Kraken by China Miéville is definitely in his New Weird genre. Set in a London you won't recognize (reminiscent of Un Lun Dun and The City and the City) Miéville has created a totally new and weird world full of myths, cultists, magic, and murder. In the opening of Kraken, Billy Harrow, a cephalopod specialist at the Darwin Centre at London’s Natural History Museum is giving a tour when the prize specimen, Architeuthis dux, or the giant squid and the tank it is preserved in are discovered to be missing.
This crime results in Billy's introduction to a previously hidden population of London, including a cult of squid worshippers (the Congregation of God Kraken), the criminal mastermind called Tattoo (who is literally a tattoo), the FSRC (the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit), Wati (a spirit from ancient Egypt), and Londonmancers. The most terrifying characters, feared by everyone, are the violent duo Goss and Subby, a malevolent old man and a seemingly simple boy. The theft of the squid has somehow set into motion an apocalypse... or two.
Kraken's roots are firmly planted in geek culture. It is both satire and parody. There are lots of references and allusions to various science fiction stories and shows, both the new and classic. There are prototypical characters found in almost all science fiction and fantasy novels, but Miéville's characters are all given a different little twist. Actually, the supporting cast of characters is so varied that it can threaten to overshadow the main characters.
Miéville's eloquent prose continues here. Readers have to pay careful attention to his word choice and descriptions. Sometimes this made reading Kraken feel like work rather than pleasure - until another little gem of a description or word play came up and then I appreciated the care taken in the word choices. Still, at over 500 pages, sometimes a reader will want a break from quite so much thought needed. (Or perhaps my week of work made me want more pure pleasure in the reading rather than careful consideration of the specific words.)
I did feel that Kraken could have been edited down a bit for length. There were a few places where the plot seemed to stall and wander aimlessly. Admittedly, Miéville did get it back under control quickly, but still the places where the plot seemed to meander were evident. All in all, though, I still enjoy Miéville and am going to read more of his previous novels.
An everyday doomsayer in sandwich-board abruptly walked away from what over the last several days had been his pitch, by the gates of a museum. The sign on his front was an old-school prophecy of the end: the one bobbing on his back read forget it. opening
"Can I just . . . ?" he said. "Let me explain about what'll happen when we're in there." Billy had evolved his own pointless idio-superstitions, according to one of which it was bad luck for anyone to speak the name of what they were all there for, before they reached it.
"I'm going to show you a bunch of the places we work," he said lamely. "Any questions, you can ask me at the end: we're a little bit time constrained. Let's get the tour done first."
No curator or researcher was obliged to perform this guide-work. But many did. Billy no longer grumbled when it was his turn.
They went out and through the garden, approaching the Darwin with a building site on one side and the brick filigrees of the Natural History Museum on the other. pg. 5
There were children: mostly young boys, shy and beside themselves with excitement, and vastly knowledgeable about what they saw. There were their parents. There were sheepish people in their twenties, as geeky-eager as the kids. There were their girlfriends and boyfriends, performing patience. A few tourists on an unusual byway.
And there were the obsessives.
They were the only people who knew more than the young children. Sometimes they did not speak: sometimes they would interrupt Billy's explanations with too-loud questions, or correct him on scientific detail with exhausting fussy anxiety. He had noticed more of such visitors than usual in the last several weeks. pg. 6
Everyone would be staring at the great tank in the centre of the room.
This was what they came for, that pinkly enormous thing. For all its immobility; the wounds of its slow-motion decay, the scabbing that clouded its solution; despite its eyes being shrivelled and lost; its sick colour; despite the twist in its skein of limbs, as if it were being wrung out. For all that, it was what they were there for.It would hang, an absurdly massive tentacled sepia event. Architeuthis dux. The giant squid. pg. 8
But this time when he opened the door he stopped, and stared for several seconds. The visitors came in behind him, stumbling past his immobility. They waited, unsure of what they were being shown.
The centre of the room was empty. All the jars looked over the scene of a crime. The nine-metre tank, the thousands of gallons of brine-Formalin, the dead giant squid itself were gone. pg. 10
That wasn't the only reason Billy glanced repeatedly behind him. He thought he heard a noise. A very faint clattering, a clanking like a dropped and rolling beaker. It was not the first time he had heard that. He had been catching little snips of such misplaced sound at random moments since a year after he had started at the centre. More than once he had, trying to find the cause, opened a door onto an empty room, or heard a faint grind of glass in a hallway no one could have entered. pg. 13
Billy had bad dreams. He was not the only one. There was no way yet he could know that night sweats were citywide. Hundreds of people who did not know each other, who did not compare their symptoms, slept harried. It was not the weather. pg. 18
"We're the bloody cult squad, Harrow," Baron said. "Why d'you think we we're called in? Who do you think's responsible for what's going on?"
"Teuthies." Vardy smiled. "Worshippers of the giant squid." pg. 41
"That's what gets converts these days," Baron said. "It's a buyer's market in apocalypse. What's hot in heresy's Armageddon." pg. 53