Kraken by China Mieville
Del Rey, New York, 2010
Borrowed from the library.
I have admired and been astonished by China Mieville’s writing ever since reading Perdido Street Station. I find his work intense, multi-layered and somewhat twisted. Oh, hell. Sometimes very twisted.
Kraken is dark comedy, an urban fantasy with the city of London as one of the main characters, and there are many characters. It starts in the research wing of London’s Natural History Museum, where Billy Harrow, a curator and laboratory technician, is giving a tour. He leads group down a long hall and into a huge space where the main specimen has disappeared. A Giant Squid, the Kraken, preserved in a large metal and glass box, gone. It turns out that Billy had actually preserved this monster, and there lies the strange connection between the two.
All I could think of while reading this passage was a trip I took to a university fish collection. We entered a room by stepping down, the lip a protection against spilled preservative, and walking between shelves of jars and bottles of specimens, millions of them. The weirdest thing I saw there was an angler fish, denizen of the aphotic zone, squishy and gelatinous at sea level, with its little dangly bio-light hanging to one side. Billy, naive geek that he is, has no idea what he has just walked into, for the Kraken is considered a god by some and its disappearance has signaled the end of the world, all of it, every bit going up in flames.
London was full of dissident gods.
Why? Well, they have to live somewhere. A city living in its own afterlife. Why not?
Of course, they’re all over, gods are. Theurgic vermin, those once worshipped or still worshipped in secret, those half worshipped, those feared and resented, petty divinities; they infect everybloodywhere. The ecosystems of godhead are fecund, because there’s nothing and nowhere that can’t generate the awe on which they gaze…
The streets of London are stone synapses hardwired for worship. Walk the right or the wrong way down Tooting Bec you’re invoking something or other. You may not be interested in the gods of London, but they’re interested in you. From page 103.
Billy meets up with Dane Parnell, a Krakenist, a psychic special operative named Collingswood and a group of Londonmancers. And then there are the Angels of Memory. Even though the plot line reads like a romping police procedural, the novel is so dense that at times I had to put it down and take a breather. It is filled with bent cops, multiple magics, odd religions, cults and horrible villains. I will not forget my first meeting with Tattoo, a nasty crime boss, dragged from some evil, dark place or the funny and horrific pair, Subby and Goss.
Billy made a scratchy sound in his throat. The man put his finger to his lips , glancing expectantly at the boy, who slowly did as he did, and gestured shhhh at Billy, too.
“Goss and Subby do it again,” the man said. He unrolled his tongue and tasted the air. He clamped his hand over Billy’s mouth and Billy sputtered into the cool palm. The man went room to room, tugging Billy, licking floor, walls, light switches. He drew his tongue across the face of the television, leaving a spit-trail in the dust. From page 65.
Finally, within all of this, Kraken is a tale of the battle between knowledge and superstition. I didn’t see this coming, caught up in the characters and the magics and brilliant inventions of language and culture that is Mieville’s world building. I found it difficult in spots, as if over-stuffed, but that’s what made it all work. To tell the truth I cried at the end.