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Kraken Paperback – March 15, 2011
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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"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
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
Oh, that's right, there's also a story. At heart this is a mystery novel about what may or may not be a plot to bring about the end of the world. It's fast paced with good characterization. It presents an almost plausible alternate reality that may invisibly exist all around us. It's especially interesting how ordinary people, we might call them "Muggles" are brought into an awareness of this magical realm.
Kraken centers around a scientist at the Museum of Natural History in London named Billy who is responsible for preserving a specimen of a giant squid, architeuthis. The squid is one of the most popular exhibits at the museum, but has also caught the attention of London's secret underworld of mages and cults, who believe it to be both a god of the deep and the harbinger of an apocalypse. The Kraken is stolen from the museum, although there is no practical way to remove it from the room. Billy finds himself flung into the depths of a London he never new existed, a reluctant prophet for a cult that worships the squid, as well a person of great interest to the various supernatural factions in the city. What follows is a fairly standard "chase the McGuffin" story in which Billy and his new allies attempt to locate the squid and stop the end of the world, while various antagonists hunt for him.
I won't reveal any spoilers here, because there's lots of great surprises in the book -- an unusual labor movement, a Star Trek loving mage (as well as an insightful look into a particular Star Trek trope that is often taken for granted by fans), a pair of terrifying immortal hit men called Goss and Subby, a man with a bizarre tattoo on his back and much more. However, for all the unique ideas, I can't help but think of Kraken as a crazier version of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, or a saner version of Grant Morrison's comic book series, The Invisibles - either way, it covers ground that other writers have explored in better stories. In many ways, it is a conventional urban fantasy novel, except unlike others in the genre, the characters are ciphers who exist to carry Mieville's big ideas. Billy, though the central character, is mostly unknown to us through the end. We know he's very good at pickling squids, but other than that, we learn very little about him as a person. Others we get to know a little better, but given the strength of Mieville's past protagonists, I expected more.
Overall, Kraken is an entertaining read, but not Mieville's best. If you're new to his work, I'd recommend starting out with Perdido Street Station and The Scar, both of which are worth your time.
I would recommend this to anyone who still believes the world holds wonders.
The premise is, essentially, that the London we know is populated by various kinds of magic users (no explanation is given for why some people have this ability) and haunted by various armageddon-obsessed cults, of which the majority of Londoners remain ignorant, seeing only the violent effects. See, it sounds pretty promising, right? But it all comes to nothing. Were this novel written after the 2011 London riots, I would have said it was Melville's attempt to write about those events - as it is, it is rather prescient/prophetic (in keeping with the prophets or Londonmancers of the novel).
The one interesting aspect is the Familiars' Strike, organized by a ultra-unionist disembodied spirit of the dead - again, though, this thread goes nowhere interesting.
Overall, I felt the novel was rushed and lacked Mieville's usual intelligent plotting and writing.