"The Soft Intelligence": 5 Underrated Literary Cephalopods by China Miéville
It was Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Diolé who named cephalopods 'the soft intelligence', in the subtitle to their 1973 book Octopus and Squid. At first, the adjective seems vaguely simpering, as if these ambassadors of alterity are in fact safe, unthreatening, cuddly. But immediately comes a strangeness. If they are a, no, the soft intelligence, what are we? Hard intelligence? Soft unintelligence? Why are they soft intelligence singular? Is each but an iteration of some tentacular totality? What strange sentience. An opaque collective.
There are rules to this exercise. No invented species nor chimerical monsters--though this doesn't preclude gigantism nor a little taxonomic vagueness. Thus the 'huge, brown, glistening bulk' of William Hope Hodgson's 'mighty devil-fish' in The Boats of the 'Glen Carrig' would be permissible: haploteuthis ferox, that hitherto unknown squid that assailed the English coast in H.G. Wells's The Sea Raiders is not: still less would be Cthulhu, despite his admirably tentacular visage. And as the effort here is to overturn a few rocks less jostled to see what coils beneath, much celebrated ceph-lit has been left alone. Captain Nemo's nemesis is not here. Benchley's Beast is absent, as is Lautréamont's octopus spirit from Maldoror. The astounding ruminations on the octopus-as-bad-ontology in Victor Hugo's otherwise 'prodigiously boring book' (Sebald) Toilers of the Sea, remain indispensable--but elsewhere. See China Miéville's full list of underrated literary cephalopods at Omnivoracious, Amazon.com's books blog
From Publishers Weekly
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. Even Miéville's eloquent prose can't conceal the meandering, bewildering plot, but his fans will happily swap linearity for this dizzying whirl of outrageous details and fantastic characters.
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