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Krakenolatry--China Mieville's Kraken

Posted on 2010.07.01 at 03:41
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China Mieville's Kraken is absolutely brilliant, his greatest imaginative opus since Perdido Street Station.  It's a Noir-Weird thriller drowning in murky atmosphere, where arcane and techno-magic fly fast and furious, and dark, dead-end streets lead to doors of dreams and terror.  The mystery uncoils around the corpse of a giant squid.  Relic to some, god to others, the Kraken is destined to blot out the world in a cloud of inky chaos.  The double-London Mieville creates, like most of his cities, is a front-and-center character as much as the cast. His word/magic/world-building thrilled me to no end.

Charged with finding the missing Kraken and preventing the apocalypse, are squid-embalmer and museum curator, Billy Harrow, and the knack-detective, Kath Collingswood.  Kath, with her cool distain and bag of urban magic tricks, is Mieville's best female character yet.  What impressed me most is the way he combines her snarky remarks, with vivid body language that speaks volumes on its own.  If only Betty Davis was alive and in her prime to play her!  Along the way, Billy hooks up with squid-enforcer, Dane, who sees Billy as a prophet for his tentacled god.

With its terrible beauty, beautiful terror, and bizarre cast of characters, Kraken brings to mind Clive Barker's epic, urban fantasies, but it's not only Mieville's scariest book, it's his funniest, the humor ranging from lampblack to laugh-out-loud absurd.  Goss and Subby, two of the villains, are carved from the same rotten meat; killers-for-hire and horrifying, sociopathic clowns.  Goss' dialogue, with its dissociative, cockney-thick wordplay, gave me the feeling I was trapped in an echo chamber with a madman.  The clowns are hired by The Tattoo, a living snarl of ink, trapped on the skin of a punk-boy slave who can't escape his skin.  The Tattoo celebrates that wonderful, subversive body-horror that you find in the older films of David Cronenberg.

I loved Mieville's Lovecraftian themes, the descriptions of the Krakenists and their tentacular temple, his nods to Michael Moorcock, and hilarious Star Trek geekdom, which, who knew, could serve as a major plot device?  Mieville has such a gift for finding the perfect blend of the absurd, grotesque, and the beautiful.  I plunged in and wallowed like a squid in a pool of chum.

Aside from the sinister humor and baroque phantasmagoria, the book has surprising compassion for faith in diversity, and at the same time is a dark mirror to the horror and pettiness perpetrated in the name of  God(s).  Best of all, the inkblot climax elevated the book with Mieville's deep philosophy: Art and the Word can build the world, burn it down, and resurrect it.  History is a scab on the skin of ideology, and imagination the philosopher's stone of reality.

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