Stephen's Reviews > Kraken

Kraken by China Miéville
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Oops...in my excitement, I seem to have Mievilled all over myself. Pardon my gush.

So the ONLY reason this gatling blast of brainstorming outréness is not yet nesting on my all time favorite shelf along with  Perdido Street Station and The City & The City is that my feeble grey matter is still trying to process whattheFrench I just read. I grasped the big picture, though my neurons were white-knuckled and straining, but there were so, so, SO many reference gems, idea snippets, bizarre sound bytes and fluttering flashes of “just beyond the real” that I’m convinced I will be picking flakes of fantastic out of the narrative even after completing a second reading of this artwork.

 Not quite as ground-breaking as Perdido Street Station or as technically brilliant an execution as The City & The City, but with more densely packed, hip-literate prose and myth-spiced techno-jargon as both of those books combined. This is word-sensei writing and full-throttle imagination paired with hyper-threaded story-crafting on a scale that only Mieville himself has ever even come close to before.

 This is a hard-core concept porn performance by the biggest, girthiest word-smither working in the spec-fic industry today. Despite my brain gasping for oxygen and begging for a moment of calm in the story’s relentless prose storm, the eyegasms kept coming and coming on almost every page. It has been a while since I have been this impressed by the combo of prodigious imagination and the writing chops to get it all effectively on the vellum.

 This is a roller-coaster into otherness just beyond perception and my captivation meter was pinned on lock down every single minute of the story.

PLOT SUMMARY:

 A plot summary for this book doesn’t really seem fitting, but I will give it the short and sweet so I can move on to the good stuff.

 “London was full of dissident gods.”

 Billy Harrow works at the Darwin Institute where the prized exhibit is a preserved specimen of Architeuthis (i.e., a giant squid). While conducting a tour of the institute, “Archie” miraculously disappears and sets off a countdown to the apocalypse featuring the most imaginative rogue’s gallery in the history of literature (yes, in all of literature). From ink-born tattoo crime lords, to chaos Nazis and the most bizarre pair of supernatural hitmen since writing found paper. 

  THOUGHTS

Mieville’s primary focus in this story is on deconstructing the underpinnings and motivations for religious belief. Actually, it’s much, much more grand and "in your grill" than the why's and wherefores of religious belief (not to mention more basic in its reader applicability), but I don’t want to give hints regarding the actual philosophical boxing match at the heart of the narrative. Thus, since religious belief forms the surface narrative thread and Mieville has a creative explosion discussing a plethora of apocalyptic religious sects and their faith tenets, I will let the explanation suffice.

While addressing big, serious issues of innerness and autochthonal psychology relating to why humans think and act the way they do, Mieville spreads his insight over a canvas that is a most fascinating riff on the magical London memorialized by such pop staples as Harry Potter and Neil Gaiman. However, this is a London that has more in common with New Crobuzon than it does with Hogwarts and Mieville drenches this background in his unique brand of the politically-charged new weird.

For example, at one point the plot picks up that the Union of Magical Assistants (UMA) has gone on strike. In typical Mievilleian fashion, he describes it thusly:
There were pickets of insects, pickets of birds, pickets of slightly animate dirt. There were circles of striking cats and dogs, surreptitious doll-pickets like grubby motionless picnics; and flesh-puppets, pickets of what looked like and in some cases had once been humans.

Not all the familiars were embodied. But even those magicked assistants who eschewed all physicality were on strike. So – a picket line in the unearth. A clot of angry vectors, a verdigris-like stain on the air, an excitable parameter. Mostly, in the middlingly complex space-time where people live, these pickets looked like nothing at all. Sometimes they felt like warmth or a gauzy clot of caterpillar threads hanging from a tree, or a sense of guilt.
That kind of writing and descriptions just floors me and makes my brain juice bubble. And these kinds of paragraphs are all over this work.

Now, is it true that the plot can be rather Gordian in its knottiness and more than a little jumbled for wide swathes of the story? Yes, granted. The narrative is dense and the visibility can at times be limited behind a curtain of swirling fog. My reaction...I could care less, because I trust my navigator to get me to my destination. I just thank Cthulhu that I'm not the one driving.

Bottom-line, this is an experience book, where the journey through clever, gorgeous prose is worth a few scratches of head and the beauty and majesty of the commentary more than outweighs the periodic moments of stunned confusion. Until I've read this again (and maybe again) I will continue to believe that my befuddlement is entirely my fault and China Mieville has done precisely what he set out to do. 

I am a fan and this book has only deepened my respect for this singularly gifted individual. This novel squeezed my brain and left it wrung out, twisted and parched. I am thankful and happy as a result. 

5.0 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 55) (55 new)


Jason Brilliant review as always Stephen, but man I was so disappointed with this book. All things squids being equal, I thought Mieville made this one too accessible and too purposefully done. I struggled to make it through evev though i am unquestionably a huge fan of his.


Stephen I hear you, Jason, and you are certainly not alone in that assessment. I just found so much "wonder" in almost every page of the story and found Mieville's prose so smart and fun to read that I had just loved it. Also, I thought the "end" reveal (i.e., what the whole thing was really about) was nothing short jaw-dropping. I didn't like Un Lun Dun, but have loved everything else I have read by him. I think his style just suits me.


message 3: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Quite the amazing review. I need to read more Mieville, Peridito Street was amazing and I have been neglectful of him.


Stephen s.penkevich wrote: "Quite the amazing review. I need to read more Mieville, Peridito Street was amazing and I have been neglectful of him."

Thank you, s.. I hope you find his other works as amazing as Perdido Street Station.


message 5: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Aside from this one, are there others of his you would recommend most? I probably should just pick up where I left off in that series, but this sounds too good to not get my hands on soon.


message 6: by Nandakishore (new)

Nandakishore Varma Thanks for the review, Stephen. It has convinced me that it is high time I read China Mieville.


Stephen s.penkevich wrote: "Aside from this one, are there others of his you would recommend most? I probably should just pick up where I left off in that series, but this sounds too good to not get my hands on soon."

In addition to this one, I loved The Scar which is a sort of sequel to Perdido. I also loved The City & The City which is especially good if you are a fan of noir, mysteries. Any of these would be terrific places to pick up Mieville again after Perdido.


seak UMA was easily my favorite part of the book. I still can't get how awesome that is out of my head, not that I want to. Great review.


message 9: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Thank you!


message 10: by seak (new) - rated it 4 stars

seak Thought you might be interested. A couple of us pulled together an interview of the man himself on my blog right after reading Kraken. I asked him to explain Wati and he did somewhat.


message 11: by Donna (new)

Donna 'concept porn'. I like that.


message 12: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie What? No photos?


message 13: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus I'm with Donna.

Beautifully made, passionately inspired. O brave new website that has such men in it!


Stephen Nandakishore wrote: "Thanks for the review, Stephen. It has convinced me that it is high time I read China Mieville."

Your very welcome, Nandakishore. I hope you enjoy his work.


Stephen Seak (Bryce L.) wrote: "Thought you might be interested. A couple of us pulled together an interview of the man himself on my blog right after reading Kraken. I asked him to explain Wati and he did somewhat."

That is really, really cool, Seak. I love the way he described this book and the Wati.


Stephen Donna wrote: "'concept porn'. I like that."

Thanks, Donna.


Stephen Stephanie wrote: "What? No photos?"

I went a little photo happy in last night's review of "The Bet" so I thought I would give your browser a rest. I'm sure they will be back soon.


message 18: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie Stephen wrote: "Stephanie wrote: "What? No photos?"

I went a little photo happy in last night's review of "The Bet" so I thought I would give your browser a rest. I'm sure they will be back soon."


phew....I can breath again.


Stephen Richard wrote: "Beautifully made, passionately inspired. O brave new website that has such men in it!"

Thank you, kind sir. That is most gracious.


Stephen Stephanie wrote: "phew....I can breath again."

Don't make me float Mr. Electrolysis from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...that thing is potent.


message 21: by Stephanie (new) - added it

Stephanie Oh, how could I ever forget that one. It's burned into my retina.


Stephen Stephanie wrote: "Oh, how could I ever forget that one. It's burned into my retina."

I know, that one had an excessive amount of eww.


message 23: by seak (new) - rated it 4 stars

seak Stephen wrote: "Seak (Bryce L.) wrote: "Thought you might be interested. A couple of us pulled together an interview of the man himself on my blog right after reading Kraken. I asked him to explain Wati and he did..."

He was such a nice guy too. I don't know why I thought he'd be any different, I guess I pictured him being more pompous, but he was so excited to win our crappy award.


message 24: by Stephen M (new) - added it

Stephen M I'm using the phrase "Mievilled all over myself" from now on. Great review, I can't wait to get around to this one.


Stephen Stephen M wrote: "I'm using the phrase "Mievilled all over myself" from now on. Great review, I can't wait to get around to this one."

Thanks, Stephen. I'm glad you liked it.


Jonathan How does Perdido Street compare? I didn't particularly like this one but I was wanting to compare much in the same way with Tigana and The Fionavar Tapestry...


message 27: by Zoe (new)

Zoe This is terrific review Stephen ,as always.
Well,for long time I have been thinking to read one of his books,but what kept me away was the feeling that I wouldn't be able to understand his writing concepts,after your review I think I will give it a try...
Thanks for sharing your thoughts here with us.


message 28: by Bill (new)

Bill Great review, you've almost inspired me to give him another try (failed after 20 pages of Perdido Street Station).

Now go clean yourself off...


message 29: by Preeti (new)

Preeti Thanks for this review, Stephen. I'll be honest - this doesn't sound like a book I'd read, but when I read one of your last highly recommended books (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter), it turned out to be a big winner, so I might attempt this one.


Stephen Jonathan wrote: "How does Perdido Street compare? I didn't particularly like this one but I was wanting to compare much in the same way with Tigana and The Fionavar Tapestry..."

Jonathan, I think in terms of chaotic, "kitchen sink" world-building, Perdido is fairly similar to this one. Most people liked Perdido more than this, but if you really didn't care for this one you may find a similar reaction to Perdido. You might want to try The City & The City as it is less chaos but still very much a Mieville creation. If you have a better experience with that one, maybe moving on the Perdido then.


Stephen Sara wrote: "This is terrific review Stephen ,as always.
Well,for long time I have been thinking to read one of his books,but what kept me away was the feeling that I wouldn't be able to understand his writin..."


Thanks, Sara. If this is your first Mieville, I would recommend starting with Perdido Street Station. Not sure why, I just think it is a great intro to Mieville's work and this book is really, in Mieville's words, the "conclusion" to this portion of his career.


Stephen Preeti wrote: "Thanks for this review, Stephen. I'll be honest - this doesn't sound like a book I'd read, but when I read one of your last highly recommended books (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter), it turned out ..."

Thanks, Preeti. If you don't read a lot of speculative fiction, this may be a bit jarring, but Mieville's prose is something that should be experienced.


Stephen Bill wrote: "Great review, you've almost inspired me to give him another try (failed after 20 pages of Perdido Street Station).

Now go clean yourself off..."


Thanks, Bill. All clean now. :)


message 34: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent This one didn't make me Mieville all over myself as much as The City & The City or Perdido Street Station.


message 35: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgh ANOTHER lover of The City & The City and I can't figure out what I am doing wrong and why I can't find my way into that bloody book and it's making me a CRAZY PERSON!!


message 36: by Bob (new)

Bob Milne I have yet to give China a shot - got a recommendation for a first read?


Stephen Bob wrote: "I have yet to give China a shot - got a recommendation for a first read?"

I would recommend Perdido Street Station as the best place to start.


Stephen Dan wrote: "This one didn't make me Mieville all over myself as much as The City & The City or Perdido Street Station."

Do you think it might be that you're prejudiced against squids?


Stephen Richard wrote: "aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrgh ANOTHER lover of The City & The City and I can't figure out what I am doing wrong and why I can't find my way into that bloody book and it's making me a CRAZY PERSON!!"

Sir, relax and deep breath. I think it is time for one of those nice pills and a lie down. You'll feel better.


message 40: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent Stephen wrote: "Do you think it might be that you're prejudiced against squids?"

You've seen all the Jordan Krall books I've read. How can you ask that question?


Stephen My bad, sir. You are right. You've always been at the forefront of the pro-cephalopod movement. I wonder what is driving your lack of Mieville for this one. Could it be that:

--you don't like phasers?
--Star Trek?
--bad guys that literally fold people into oragami?
--chaos nazis?


message 42: by Richard (new)

Richard Derus Stephen wrote: "RSir, relax and deep breath. I think it is time for one of those nice pills and a lie down. You'll feel better."

I'm sipping a cheap-and-cheerful Yellow Tail Shiraz while waiting for the bagna cauda to be ready. I'll be fine in a few minutes.


message 43: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent There was so much great shit going on in this book that I lost track of what was going on sometimes. Mieville throws amazing ideas on the page at a Grant Morrison-like pace.


Stephen I hear you and I think that is probably one of the biggest critiques I have seen of this one. Too much flash and not enough story. I think City & the City is the best pure story and Perdido does a great job balancing between world-building and plot (although that one was also heavy, heavy on the cool ideas).


message 45: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent Stephen wrote: "I hear you and I think that is probably one of the biggest critiques I have seen of this one. Too much flash and not enough story. I think City & the City is the best pure story and Perdido does a ..."

I'm going to have to re-read Perdido for review purposes this year.


Stephen I keep meaning to as well, but I want to read Embassytown first and maybe Iron Council. Then I may read through his entire catalog again.


message 47: by Brandon (new) - added it

Brandon Excellent review, Stephen.

I wasn't all that impressed with The City & The City but you've made me want to revist Mieville.


Catie Great review Stephen! I can't wait to read this one now.


Stephen Brandon wrote: "Excellent review, Stephen.

I wasn't all that impressed with The City & The City but you've made me want to revist Mieville."


Thanks, Brandon. I hope you enjoy this one more.


Stephen Catie wrote: "Great review Stephen! I can't wait to read this one now."

Thanks, Catie. I hope you love this.


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