Puissant review of ‘The Scar’ by China Mieville

China Miéville‘s The Scar is another puissant piece of prose, combining puissant imagery and some truly creative concepts (e.g. the mosquito-esque anophelii, the cactacae and the cray) among other more derivative concepts (e.g. the floating city, the avanc, the grindylow). Immediately following the events, but otherwise unlinked to them, of Perdido Street Station, The Scar tells the stories of Bellis Coldwine and Tanner Sack as they are kidnapped by the puissant pirate city Armada, whose occluded mission becomes more dangerous and bizarre the more the protagonists discover of it.

Overall I loved this book. Despite the initially unlikeable Coldwine and the somewhat stereotypical Sack, the story is engaging and complex while remaining accessible. Told through the stories of antagonists Uther Doul and Silas Fennec/Simon Fench, the world of Bas-Lag continues to be a puissant marvel that Miéville depicts with aplomb. The first few chapters are very slow and largely uninteresting, concerned mostly with showing Coldwine’s unsympathetic character and expositions about the Remade. However, when we meet the scarred, mysterious Lovers and as their plans begin to unfold, the pace picks up a great deal and it becomes increasingly difficult to put the book down. Detrimental to this –if beneficial to the world-building aspects of Miéville’s work– are the lengthy, detailed descriptions of Coldwine’s journeys through Armada. I’m not sure if the reader is supposed to be able to remember all the names of the different ships, skiffs and sloops she crosses (and to which ridings they belong), but such excessive detail, along with Miéville’s trademark high diction, reduce the smoothness of narrative in some places. This same burgeoning detail made me skim whole paragraphs in Perdido Street Station.

I consider myself to have a fairly extensive vocabulary, but Miéville is definitely an author who is best read on a Kindle, with its in-built dictionary. That said, I was in this instance reading a hard copy. (Rare, if regrettable, for me these days; there’s nothing quite like the smell and feel of a new book). I kept going to click for the next the pages instead of turning them.

But I digress….

New Weird, the genre to which Miéville’s Bas-Lag work belongs, is distinguished from other speculative fiction genres in part by its high, literary-style diction. This vocabulary, utilising obscure, archaic and argot words, can be alienating to the reader, making them feel like the author is talking down to them, bludgeoning them with their linguistic superiority. And I’m fine with that, I can keep up, but what I can’t cope with is Miéville’s repeated committing of a literary sin: the repetition of a conspicuous word in close proximity. If that isn’t carved in stone somewhere it damn well should be.

English: Author China Mieville at Utopiales 20...

English: Author China Mieville at Utopiales 2010 (France). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What he did in Perdido with ‘lugubrious’, he does in The Scar with ‘puissant’. Over and over again he uses the same word to describe anything he can possible attribute it to. I read the median 50% of the novel in one evening and when I woke up the next morning I had had the words ‘puissant’ and ‘puissance’ echoing in my mind like a neurotic parrot. According to one reader, the words ‘puissant’ or ‘puissance’ appear twenty times throughout the novel. I would wager that it was more than that, but I am not prepared to buy the book in kindle format to prove my point. It does not just appear in the narrator’s voice, but also in the dialogue, which somehow made it more annoying. Miéville is clearly an intelligent man, who would’ve had to get through likewise intelligent editors and proofreaders before going to print. I can therefore only assume that this feature of his writing is deliberate and with cause. As for what that cause, perhaps he is employing the Brechtian technique of distancing the reader from the text in order to make them look beyond the medium to the message it contains.

Personally I like to read books as is and then analyse the teeth out of them later. Maybe that’s just me.

The only other thing that lets The Scar down is the ending, such as it is. I read one review that used the term ‘blue balls‘ to describe it. After a heady, driving pace throughout the second half of the novel, our anti-climactic vision of the Scar is a second hand, maybe-vision of a possible impostor whose orating voice sounds suspiciously like Miéville’s own. During the epistolary Coda, we are left wondering, “So all that was for… that…? Really?”

But where the ending is equally as open as that of Perdido Street Station, the journey is equally as exhilarating and worth the ride. As long as you can develop ‘puissant’ blindness before reading.


Uncomfortable in our skin: the body-image report >> via The Guardian

A very interesting article by Eva Wiseman that articulates my views on this subject with plenty of primary and secondary research to back it up. Pro-read.

The Guardian on Facebook.

My love, my choice: on Cynthia Nixon and why gay is sometimes better « Thought Catalog

My Love, My Choice: On Cynthia Nixon And Why Gay Is Sometimes Better « Thought Catalog.

Building the Master’s House: How the Construction of Heterosexuality Happened >> Autostraddle

Autostraddle — Building the Master’s House: How the Construction of Heterosexuality Happened.

Above is a post from Autostraddle that I feel is important for any self-aware and interested person in our society to read. The allusion in the title is to an article by Audre Lorde, mentioned in my post on the patriarchal critique in The Color Purple, the full text of which I have managed to unearth here.

Is ‘Fringe”s Peter who he seems to be?

loving the M. C. Escher reference in this picture

Well Fringe  certainly turned their cliffhangers up a notch with last Friday’s episode. [No spoilers ahead]. September’s revelation to Olivia would have been a nail-biter most weeks, let alone the mid-season hiatus, as S04E08 ‘Back to Where You’ve Never Been’ would have been if not for a scheduling rearrangement stateside. We could have been waiting weeks!

Anyway, the point of this post is to ask the question that occurred when I read the io9 review of the episode. As the author of that post, Charlie Jane Anders, notes, Peter’s determination to get ‘back’ to ‘his own’ universe whatever the cost is incredibly selfish and out of character. And with the infiltration of shapeshifters having been shown to be as widespread as it is, my query is:

Could peter be a shapeshifter?

The shapeshifters, as the pawns of their boss, would have a great deal to gain from the universe cracking abilities that Peter was seeking in this episode [see how I didn’t spoil that?] and Peter’s single mindedness certainly emulates that of the aforementioned pawns, not to mention his tenuous, poorly explained return to the show at the beginning of the season. It’s just a thought; weirder things have happened on Fringe, like back in Season 1 when they dropped the bomb that there was a second universe.

Another point I’d like to raise is that of the second incarnation of Walternate. Anders seems convinced that this concerned, paranoid Water is genuine. I, however, remain to be convinced.

With regard to the future of the show, it has been said in various articles quoting the producers and other notable people’s at FOX that this increasingly likely to be the last season of Fringe, which gives them half a season to wrap up a series. While I can see this as possible at this stage, I think it would be a shame to rush such an intricate plot to a stunted conclusion.

Living the dream of a fifth season…

gEO :):-

What’s in a name?

In varying religions of the world, to be able to name a thing (or person) is to have control of it, such as Catholic priests needing to know the name of a demon before it can be cast out. Similar premises exist also in Pagan belief systems. When people have your name they’ve got you pinned; from the register being called at school to your ‘paper’ trail in adult life right up to your tombstone/tasteful wall plaque. This person was/did these things. Names are bestowed, though often changed by the individual; I’ve lost count of the people I know —across several generation I might add— who prefer to use their second names and there are innumerable people who shorten their names as I have done.

Spartacus is the name given to him by Batiatus, who refuses to even hear his true name

One of the first things we learn to speak and to write, to deny a person their name is to deny them their identity. This can be done by giving them a new name and refusing to acknowledge their true/preferred name (as seen in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, left), using the wrong version of the right name or even, as seen in the prison systems of yore, by ascribing them a number and addressing them by it without exception.

I recently moved to a new city and got a new job which involves me working in any one of 22 different places, in which there are dozens of new people, about three of whom have grasped my name. It’s Geo. It’s not that difficult to grasp. It’s as short as you can get Georgina without just addressing me as “G”. Despite this I have thus far been (and continue to be) referred to as any one of the following:

Georgia, Georgie, George, Cleo, Chloe, Joey, Jojo and yesterday I was even addressed as Shelley. Add to this the painfully inaccurate spellings of any of the above that I have seen (e.g. Gorja, and Gorga) and I am left feeling like the guy from Scrubs:


Helloooo, identity crisis.

I’d sign off, but I’m not sure who I am today. Could be Shelley.

Happy New Year to whoever you are, from whoever I am


Christmas: meh to mesmerisation, merriment to moderation

I was musing last night on the difference between the Christmas Eves of childhood and the Christmas Eves of adulthood. These are not supposed to be hard and fast rules or even, perhaps, applicable to the majority of people, just observations of how the changes in a person can be measured against a constant.


Christmas Eve night as an infant: excitement though no clue what’s going on, lots of colours on the ceiling. Meh.

Christmas Day: wake up and return to sleep in semi-regular bursts throughout the day because that’s how one rolls.

Christmas Eve night as a child: excitement of Christmas, wonderment of potential presents, inability to sleep, plotting with one’s brother how to sneak through the house to bust Santa in the act of depositing presents.

Christmas Day: spring from bed at five a.m. and pester one’s parents.

Christmas Eve night as a teenager: excitement of Christmas, wonderment of potential presents, inability to sleep due to seemingly perpetual insomnia, the reassuring knowledge that Santa isn’t a big fat man in a conspicuous coat who must be pleased in order to receive gifts.

Christmas Day: slouch from bed at seven a.m. and pester one’s parents.

Christmas Eve night in one’s early twenties: excited carousing loosely predicated upon it being Christmas, loud pubs, rolling in at three a.m. with dirty take away food having paid through the nose for a taxi after midnight. Possibly passing out fully clothed.

Christmas Day: crawl from bed at ten a.m. at the behest of one’s parents. Endure the mother of all hangovers, communicating in pained grunts and attempting to stay away from bright lights.

Christmas Eve night in one’s early thirties: civilised consumption of alcoholic beverages in a not-too-loud environment where one can mull upon the world with one’s other, now cultured friends. Try to acquire take away food involving salad. Go home before the taxis hike their fares. Sit in bed ‘til three a.m. watching the teevee and drinking water so that there will be no hangover the following day.

Christmas Day: get up at nine a.m. feeling fine and spend time with one’s parents having coherent conversation. Take pleasure in both the lack of hangover and the company of kin, the presents having become a secondary if not tertiary concern.

I’ve got no comment on the rest of the Christmas behavioural pattern, having not been there yet, but in the meantime

Merry Christmas :):-

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