Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Perdido Street Station, Empty.

First things first: Amazing book. Like Bolano, I feel like there's a blast radius after the book finishes. It weighs on me and so I went to Butcher's Storm Front and was reinvigorated. The “new weird” designation makes sense for Mieville, as there's usually a new strange creature around the corner or at least, at every chapter.

A bit spoiler, but something that's fun. The city's leaders are talking to the Ambassador of Hell, in a private chamber, in which they require spell protection (which has a very limited time frame) to even enter. They are standing in front of the seated Ambassador, who is dressed in a natty black and red suit and speaks as a charming human negotiator would. If they blink involuntarily or stretch, however, for a brief instant, the illusion breaks, and the room is viewed as a festering, fiery pit of shrieking souls, in which there is a lot of screaming and the Ambassador is revealed as a hyena headed grotesque creature.

But: They can hear reverberations of the screaming, screeching words the Ambassador is saying. The Ambassador and the group can't come up to a deal, so the group leaves and as the group is going back upstairs to the normal part of the building, one of them realizes something: Guys, I don't think the screaming voice was the reverberations. I think the normal voice we heard was the reverberation.

Holy shit. Instead of mankind piercing the illusion of sweetness of devils, as so often happens in fiction and literature, the sweet voice is what the humans convinced themselves of to ignore the voice they believe to be true, the shrieking and screaming. Smile a moment: What other horror can you convince yourself isn't so bad?

It's that kind of reversal that endears me to Mieville. Mieville's characters and writing can be elegant, stubborn, grounded, ornery or dropping huge, poisonous hints to the reader, something that sticks out for a page, like a secret between Mieville and the person that pays attention. Also, he's smart and super liberal, so that doesn't hurt, either. This a committed Socialist, not a fly by night operator that fucked a co-ed with a poster of Che Guevara on their pasty, mauve dorm wall. A guy who, in the year 2001 received 1.2 percent of the vote as a Socialist candidate for the House of Commons.

I've been working on a review that says something to the effect of: Kraken was Mieville having fun, after what I imagine was a grueling writing process of The City & The City, since Kraken has so many of Mieville's favorite things (and completely ridiculous bullshit) in close proximity. He's got his two male leads running around with Star Trek props, which, thanks to the power of magic, have transmuted into working phasers, a cephalopod MacGuffin, gimp mask Nazi assassins and the crux of the book being decided by who has most powerful and sprightly imagination.

Perdido, then, comes a decade prior (Perdido, 2000, Kraken, 2010), and incidentally, is weird and no fun. It's a scary book. Sure, there's a circus of strange, but that's aqs much to show Issac's state of mind than actual levity. Case in point: Lin ends up brain damaged thanks to the beast that Issac unleashed, Issac pissed off everyone who has a powerful organization in the city, the person to whom he promised flight and there's another woman with Issac, who is not brain damaged.

And now, they're disguised and leaving the incorporated limits, weighed down by Lin, who is now significantly less competent, Issac's guilt and everyone's culpability in a plan that saved New Crobuzon at the cost of a basically innocent human life, the lives of their assorted friends and the ire of every power player in the city.

On the plus side, our heroes (???) met a for real God, the cryptic, nonsensically verbalizing Watcher, a spider of titanic proportions, who'se plenary existence is very much put into danger by the terror of the last half of the book, saved a city, even if they never can take credit for doing so.

I'm not sure what that arithmetic shakes out to, but I know it left me cold, in the best way. Luckily enough, I had Butcher's first Dresden Files book to start, and that's where I'll pick up in the next piece.

Since we discuss hell in this, a little heavy metal feels appropriate. And by a little, I mean five minutes worth of some of the finest vintage available. Here, have Dead Fathers Wading in the Bodygrounds, by Trap Them.

“We're the healers, we're the providers, we're the shelters and the badges and the sirens and the cadence and the martyrs. We are the old graves digging the new.” Good old fashioned doomy metal, nastier and with attention to detail. This is not supposed to make you happy. This is supposed to dump a half empty gascan on the rage inside you. Put your horns up, child, and bang your head.

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