Monthly Archives: February 2011

Bas-Lag Reading Project- The Scar Finale: Lookout

This post is going to be a long one. There is a lot of summing up and analysis to do. And I don’t want to break it up into two or more shorter posts. This covers “ The Lookout” and the “Coda” of The Scar. Now let’s jump right in.

“The Lookout” clearly references the returned Hedrigall (or nigh-Hed). This raises the question, is this the Hedrigall that abandoned Armada shortly after the Crobuzine attack? Or is this Hedrigall who he claims to be, one from an alternate reality who witnessed the destruction of Armada at the Scar? This is left ambiguous. The acknowledged coincidences beggar credulity. But we are talking about possibility and the breakdown of the certain here, so anything is possible.

Like “Morning Walker,” two conflicts figure large in “The Lookout.” The Brucolac’s Mutiny and the Fall of the Lover. Personally, the Brucolac’s Mutiny is a better combat sequence than the Crobuzine Assault. And the People’s Mutiny is the best written of all.

And given the events transpiring in Egypt and Tunisia (as well as Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya) as I write this, I feel that it is pertinent to speak about Tanner Sack and the role of the people of Armada in overthrowing the Lovers (at least temporarily). Mieville is a socialist and his politics, whether you agree with him or not, informs his work. And I think that he could not resist allowing the citizens of Armada from having a successful mutiny. In terms of piracy, as Tanner Sack states, without the consensus of the citizens, the Lovers (or any of the other rulers) have little power. The Lovers knew that and forgot it in the end. While the revolution on Armada was temporary (the male Lover and the Brucolac returned to power), it does deliver a powerful statement about what it takes to effect change.

Thinking of the mutinies, one has to wonder about Uther Doul’s role. It is obvious that Doul never intended on going along with the Lover’s plans, but why did he not stop her or them from carrying it so far. Why did he rely on others to do it for him? Is he afraid of having power? Or did he want to be a loyal henchman and could not act on his own because of his bought loyalty? Who knows.

What is likely certain is that Doul, at some point just before or during the expedition to the Anophelii Island, picked Bellis as someone he could use. He also likely knew that she was involved with Silas Fennec. He utilized both, likely, to spread dissent towards Garwater’s rulers. For some reason, it had to be the people of Armada turning the city around and no one else.

The loss of Fennec before he had a chance to spread the truth and the unexpected revelation of the truth by the Lovers themselves stymied Doul’s possible plan. So he went to his back up plan-stowing Hedrigall away and then having him pretend to be an alternate Hedrigall with a tale of doom for Armada. And given that he knew Bellis knew of the closet and her acquaintance with Tanner Sack, he could expect that she would give Sack the opportunity to hear Hedrigall’s tale.

But that does not explain why he did not act alone, or turn on the Lovers and aid the Brucolac in his mutiny. Unless it is that the people themselves had to turn the city, that he could use the excuse that he cannot fight the will of the city. That is why he had to stop the Brucolac. The only legitimate way for the city to be saved is if the people themselves take to the decks and demand that things stop.

The Lovers are brought down because of a lie, because of suppression of the truth and information. They wanted to hide what the possible alternate Hedrigall had to say, and Tanner, and the people, beat her to spreading the word. They were caught before they had a chance to admit the truth. And it cost them dearly.

I don’t like the Lovers. A cool concept, but not interesting. “A cut up fuck and his psychopath woman,” as Bellis states to Carrianne. But reading the breaking up of their relationship and their oneness is heart wrenching. It also raises the question, were the Lovers ever truly united? Or was it that they miraculously had an almost perfect symbiosis for too long a time. Clearly, the female half of the Lovers had been more dedicated to the Scar Quest than her partner. In the end, it raises the question, what was she really after? Just to see it or to become a god. For what reason? She had a cushy life, power, and respect as one of the Lovers. So why throw it all away for a mad quest?

In the end, the Lover, both of them singly, is rather pathetic. She a mad cast out seeking a nebulous and uncontrolled power. He lost and forlorn, always missing her. In the end, they are not one, but two.

This brings up the Scar itself, the namesake of the book and the core symbolic image. In the end, does The Scar refer to the geographical Scar that the Ghosthead created or does it refer to the scars that physically and emotionally mark the characters: Bellis and Tanner’ destroyed backs and the Lovers’ scarification. I don’t know, although I suspect that it is likely both.

The Bas-Lag novels are all titled after major features that form a backdrop and organizing image- Perdido Street Station as a symbol for all of New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station, the Scar in The Scar, and the Iron Council in Iron Council. But with the Scar, it is never reached. It is a quest that is failed.

And I think that that is Mieville’s point here. How many resources are you willing to expend, how much danger are you willing to entail, to undertake the quest? The journey to the Scar cost Armada dearly in terms of resources, man power, and danger. And while the success of the quest might have brought great benefits, fame, and power to the city, in the end was it truly worth it or what the people really wanted. History remembers the great deeds, both triumphs and follies, but in the end, it may not be worth the expense. And maybe hubris on the part of the rulers. . .

Now, let me take some time to talk about the grindylow of the Gengris. They finally make an appearance even though they have been the Interlude protagonists throughout the novel. I should have discussed them earlier, but know makes as good a time as any.

The grindylow are fish men. Hagfish-like heads, humanoid torsos, and eel or hagfish tails. And lots of teeth. The grindylow of the Gengris are truly a fearsome race. And misunderstood.

The grindylow have similar concerns to other species in Bas-Lag. It was, I think, an example of in world racism to bestow such high importance to the magus fin. It does have great power, and New Crobuzon might have fancied that as well. But the real theft was one of information.

The Gengris invasion of New Crobuzon was a lie, but the best lies have a good amount of truth. But it is not the Gengris who were planning the invasion but New Crobuzon. Silas describes the lands to the north of New Crobuzon and the Gengris as rich and desiring trade with New Crobuzon. But the Gengris, as the masters of the Cold Claw Sea, do not allow for trade from their end. But a canal would cut the distance, and cut the Gengris out. There would be war. And Fennec had the information that would aid in a Crobuzine victory. As he did with Armada. But he failed to get the information back home. It is therefore likely that either the canal project will be canceled or a war with the Gengris will be a more uncertain thing.

Whatever else one may say about the Gengris, I like them. Their attack on Garwater is entertaining reading to say the least. And their thaumaturgy is very interesting. I wish more could be said about those reality altering psychopaths.

 

So, this concludes the second part of the Bas-Lag Reading Project. Look for me to tackle Iron Council in a few months and look for a review of Mieville’s Embassytown in the next few months (after it is released). The Scar has been an engrossing and fun read. Mieville is a difficult and challenging writer, but sticking it out will more than pay for itself in the end.

So, for my next reading project, look for either Fairy Tail, Naruto, or Fullmetal Alchemist (once I figure out how I want to approach them).

 

 

Advertisements

Bas-Lag Reading Project- The Scar Part Six: Morning Walker

The penultimate part of The Scar, “Morning Walker,” references, obviously, the flagship of the New Crobuzon fleet that attacks Armada halfway through the part. “Morning Walker” actually has two battles- the Crobuzine attack and the capture of Silas Fennec.

Silas Fennec is a rat. He used whatever he stole from the Gengris (what everyone assumes to be the magus fin, and in reality in Fennec’s notebook) to entice, to blackmail New Crobuzon into mounting a rescue mission thousands of miles from home. And results in the loss of, allegedly, half the entire Crobuzine Navy.

What I find interesting about this whole thing is that the conflict did not need to happen. I understand why it happened, pirates never trust the authorities. And many of Armada’s Remade citizens would face brutality and renewed enslavement if New Crobuzon captured the city. Also, New Crobuzon has attacked Armada in the past when the two were on opposite sides in the Pirate Wars (which saw New Crobuzon completely annihilate the rival city state of Suroch (as mentioned in Perdido Street Station and here in The Scar). So, it is natural for Armada to distrust New Crobuzon intentions (even though the Pirate Wars occurred several centuries ago). And add to that the fact that the leaders of Armada (especially the Lovers) are highly aggressive. So a battle seems inevitable, and it creates a moment of tension that briefly threatens the completion of the Lover’s quest to the Scar.

About the battle itself, I am to a degree unsatisfied, unconvinced by it. I am not a military historian or any kind of expert, but I have a hard time seeing New Crobuzon actually losing the battle (as they do). It is clear that New Crobuzon has to lose the battle for the story to continue. But I don’t quite buy it. I can see that the cobbled together ship bombs would be effective, but that sudden introduction still does not satisfy me. And don’t even get me started on Uther Doul. Whenever he enters a battle, there is little chance of excitement because he always wins. And it gets rather boring.

But he does raise a question that struck my fancy. Was the fleet that attacked Armada really almost half their Navy? For the premiere power in Bas-Lag, the relative smallness of their fleet seems shocking. This raises more questions about New Crobuzon that I raised in my earlier series on Perdido Street Station– how powerful is New Crobuzon?

New Crobuzon is a city-state. And it seems that the city-state is the dominant political entity on Bas-Lag. When nations are mentioned, it is always uttered in terms of the core city. This may imply that all are city-states. A city-state has less resources than a larger state, but at the same time, the city-state does not have the same expenditures that a larger state would entail. So perhaps, my vision of a British comparable navy is off base.

Moving on from the battle, I want to focus more on Bellis Coldwine. Her confidence in herself, her comfort in her actions faces a devastating assault during the Crobuzine attack and the resulting events as she accepts her punishment for her unintentional treason (if you can even call her actions treasonous since she has no loyalty to Armada).

Coming so close to power in Armada, Bellis becomes “drunk” on her connections to Fennec, Doul, the project, and the Lovers. And she hopes to use those connections to foment dissent against the journey to the Scar. Her hopes are dashed as her usefulness is ended as Kruach Aum can understand Salt, Fennec’s betrayal, and Doul’s uncertain relationship.

Of course, as Bellis hopes to play Armada, she is played like a violin by Fennec and Doul. And she doesn’t even realize it until it is too late. That is Bellis’s sin though, her self importance and desire to see herself as special.

 

 

Is John Cena Bad for Business?

In 140 characters or less, yes and no. He’s great for business as far as marketability and merchandising. He is the Hulk Hogan of this generation, ( if you don’t believe me, go check out the late 80’s/early 90’s…) which is a blessing for WWE, but is hindering the growth and evolution of the company in general. Is John Cena actually bad for business, or are the decision makers the real problem? Now I’m not going to pretend to know the first thing about actual business principles or ideas, but I do know that repetition, predictability, and general idiocy is probably not the best things for business. So to answer my own question, no John Cena is not bad for business, the writers, bookers, Vince McMahon, and anybody else who has anything to do with the viewed product, they are the ones to blame.  Repetition has become the bane of wrestling fans.  If you need an example of WWE repeating themselves, look at the tentative main event for Wrestlemania, it once again features John Cena. If this isn’t enough of an example, look at who has main evented most of, if not all the pay per views this past year. If you guessed John Cena or Randy Orton, pat yourself on the back. I don’t know if its WWE not having any faith in the younger guys not being established enough to focus a main event around, or if its just a simple lack of creativity, but if they quit focusing on a handful of guys to “carry” the company and actually let some of the up and comers have a shot, they would more than likely have new stars for fans to cheer for or boo, instead of the handful WWE has allowed them to for the last few years. If you need an example of WWE being predictable, just watch last nights Elimination Chamber ppv, and get back to me when you’re finished. Done? Ok, now you understand. WWE needs to curb the predictability, as that would make for a more enjoyable viewing experience. A simple example I have is this…when you watch an NFL game, you don’t always know the outcome, and sometimes even who you think will win doesn’t. It is unpredictable because it is real. I understand WWE is a scripted entertainment show, but there are ways to cut down on the predictability of the content.   My comment about general idiocy is mainly directed at the writers and bookers,  who choose to put certain things on TV and ppvs, that are simply idiotic. For example, if you didn’t catch a recent episode of Smackdown on SyFy, Kofi Kingsotn, the intercontinental champion, has been fueding with Alberto Del Rio. I understand the WWE has and will continue to push Del Rio to Pluto, but why have it be at the expense of your intercontinental champion? Does anybody else remember when the I.C title meant something, or did I just imagine that part of history? Also, WWE has so much faith and time behind Del Rio, that they jumped him straight to main event, sort of like what they did with Sheamus, and what happened to that? Oh yeah, now he’s jobbing out to Mark Henry, but remember, Sheamus is a two time world champion, and the reigning King of the Ring. Idiotic writing and booking to say the least. WWE can right the ship if they just take a huge step back and look at what they’re doing, and who’s doing it. Push more stars, limit the few main eventers to a more marquee matchup feel, and fire whoever keeps booking Randy Orton and John Cena into Main Events. Or they can just keep on keeping on, and wait around for viable competition that will actually make them have to evolve, but I don’t see any competition coming from anybody anytime soon.

 

 

Bas-Lag Reading Project-The Scar Part Five: Storms

Storms bookend the fifth part of The Scar, one real and one artificial. This is where the avanc is raised and the conflicts for the rest of the novel are laid down. There are two key point of “Storms” that fascinate me: who is the antagonist and Uther Doul.

 

Bellis is undoubtedly the protagonist of the novel. She has the most point of view chapters and much of the action is colored through her goals and desires. With this laid out, we can ask: who is the antagonist?

Personally, I think that it is the Lovers. What is Bellis’s goal? To return home to New Crobuzon (and to save them from a Gengris invasion). While the lingering menace would be the Gengris, the immediate opposition to Bellis achieving her goals is embodied in the Lovers.

From their original presentation as a powerful, highly in love, and united duo, the Lovers degenerate into two people wishing to become one. As Bellis states, it is not love so much as masturbation. Most characters seem to see them as a great force, as strong leaders. A power seems to rest in their unity and the mirrored scars that they inflict on each other.

But for Bellis, that power has been rendered null. She does not see, either because of her own desire to return home or Uther Doul’s manipulations, or accept their charisma. I wonder if that is not Doul’s plan. Of course, I’ll get to what Doul’s plan is at the end, when everything is revealed (or maybe not).

 

Uther Doul is the lieutenant of the main antagonists. He is perhaps the strongest warrior in all of Bas-Lag. Indeed, he is nigh on unbeatable. On one level, he is as boring as hell. And on another, he is perhaps the most enigmatic character in the novel.

In terms of combat, he comes off as extremely boring. He can’t lose a fight. Or at least he doesn’t during the course of the novel. This unbeatable quality rather makes him boring.

But he is saved as a character by his back story and his mystery. What is he after? Does he secretly oppose the Lovers’ final plans? If he does, why not cut them down himself instead of manipulating the Brucolac and Bellis to do it more haphazardly? Is this a case of obfuscation for the sake of obfuscation?

Some of Doul’s history if revealed (and it gives us a chance to talk about his home city of High Cromlech). High Cromlech is a necropolis, a city of the walking and living dead. The city is a caste society headed by liches called thanati. A lich is a fully functional undead individual. Below them are the quick- humans still living. The quick are composed of a small number of free living who do jobs that the thanati do not wish to do and the zombies too incompetent to perform. Other quick are raised on farms where they will most likely be snuffed and transformed into zombies, or if they are lucky, adopted by the thanati as a member of high society. Below the quick are the zombies, the primary workforce of High Cromlech. At the very bottom of the ladder are the vampir, who are treated with the same disdain as homeless junkies. It is this attitude towards vampir that prevents the Brucolac from intimidating Doul. While most people shake on seeing a vampir, Doul only sees the pathetic junkie.

Doul himself comes from the free quick. His mother seems to have been a respected, important business woman. Long after Doul left the city, she had herself snuffed and transformed into a thanati. This mirrors, perhaps, retiring to the country after years in mercantile business in the Victorian period.

All of this is interesting, but it doesn’t answer the core question: what does Doul want with Bellis? It is clear that he is cultivating her for some reason that remains unclear. She is certainly attracted to him and is inscribing to him similar feelings. Personally, I think that he had little interest in her until he saw her looking at the female Lover. Something caught his eye looking at how Bellis reacted and he decided to approach her. Gauging her responses, he decided that she could be of use to him. But what remains unclear at this moment.

The implication, as stated earlier, seems to be that he opposes the Lovers’ plans, but is unwilling to directly intervene. A very “cool” character, if not one of my favorites.

 

The Oscars!! (and why i hate award shows)

The Oscars are just around the corner, so you know what that means…four hours of E! entertainment’s coverage of what people are wearing!! But seriously, The Grammys have just passed, the Golden Globes are but a distant memory, now we must trudge through these last few miles, until once again the Oscars are in the rear view mirror of 2011. If you couldn’t figure it out, I hate award shows.

I hate award shows mostly because they are tired, shallow, boring, and honestly narcissistic. If you were to be given an award at your job, 9 times out of 10 you actually earned it. You were given employee of the month honors for doing an exemplary job at whatever it is that you do. But if you were nominated for a Golden Globe for example, you wouldn’t have to be exemplary, or even better  at what you do than anyone else, you just have to be more popular, which doesn’t in any way make you better. And speaking of the Golden Globes, what a fucking joke those nominations were. Johnny Depp nominated twice for best actor in a comedic performance? REALLY? I saw the Tourist, the only thing funny about it was how bad it was, but both Depp and Angelina Jolie were nominated for it. Ridiculous. I would honestly like to know who nominates these movies and actors, and what credentials they have to be making the selections. I mean come on, Red was nominated for best Comedy as was the Kids are Alright, yet both were hardly funny. If you use the same thought process that these so called “experts” used to make their selections, then The Expendables should have been nominated for best Comedy because it contained a few one liners.

I’m not a delusional fan/sore loser/conspiracy theorist, I understand my favorites aren’t always going to win, or be nominated. I’m honestly just happy they haven’t been canceled yet. I want to believe  that movies or actors or television shows win because they are simply better than all others nominated, but sadly, I can’t. It almost feels as though the winners are chosen to fulfill an agenda, or for social or political reasons. For example, Glee has won the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy two years in a row, but hasn’t won an Emmy, which is a TV only awards show. Personally, I feel like the Emmys got it right last year, Modern Family is simply hilarious.

Agendas and conspiracies aside, I am intrigued to see who wins the Oscars this year. Granted, I haven’t seen every movie nominated for best picture, but I plan on seeing most of them before the actual ceremony. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of my personal favorites who weren’t nominated. The Town was a fantastic movie, considering the fact it was directed by Daredevil himself, Ben Affleck. Jeremy Renner did receive a best supporting actor nod, but I really feel like this movie deserved a nomination. Also, Buried, starring Ryan Reynolds. That movie was absolutely phenomenal. Ryan Reynolds gave the performance of his career, literally carrying the entire movie, as he was the only character present. I have yet to see 127 hours, but it’s hard for me to see how it could be any better than Buried. Enough with the snubs, lets get to the predictions! ( because I’m so good at predicting!) Best actress is Natalie Portman, eve though I haven’t seen Black Swan, she is my frontrunner. Best actor is probably going to be Colin Firth, seeing as he won the Golden Globe and the SAG award, although I haven’t seen the King’s Speech either. Best supporting actress is Melissa Leo, although I would prefer it to be Amy Adams. Best supporting actor, same movie. Christian Bale, he was terrific in the Fighter. Best animated feature goes to Toy Story 3, because it’s the only one nominated for best picture, makes perfect sense. And finally, the Oscar for best picture goes to….The Social Network…right now. I may revise it after I see Black Swan, True Grit, and 127 hours, but for now it’s the best picture I’ve seen from those nominated.

Give me your thoughts and opinions on whose going to win, and your thoughts on award shows in general in the comments section, I will respond to any and all comments, both positive and negative.

Bas-Lag Reading Project- The Scar Part Four: Blood

We come now to the fourth part of The Scar– “Blood.” This part deals with the anophelii and the adventure to the Island of the Anophelii. And so, this post will be all about the anophelii. Why? Because they are damn cool.

In a way, the anophelii are the shadow insectoids to the khepri. While not exact, there are many similarities. Each can be described as a functionally one gender-sentient race. Khepri males are little lobster/ scarab like things that lack intelligence. And anophelii women, though capable of intelligence, are so consumed by hunger that they rarely have the time to even attempt to learn. And both khepri females and anophelii males have an ambivalence about the opposite gender, although the khepri are more disdainful than the anophelii.

Both races are, in some ways, exiles and refugees. The khepri fled their homelands to avoid a catastrophic event and now exist as scattered refugees. Meanwhile, the anophelii are limited to a single island in perpetual exile. Neither will be independent and both are ghettofied.

The anophelii’s ghetto is controlled by Kohnid on the island of Gnur Kett. The Kohnid use the anophelii males to enhance their own academic reputation. Essentially, the anophelii are imprisoned scholars and theorists. And they never get adequate recompense for their labors.

Given their enforced isolation, it is doubtful that any of them should know of, care about, or have the ability to remonstrate.

But why are the anophelii treated this way? Because the anophelii are mosquito people. And the women of the species are blood drinkers, like their insect counterparts. They lack understanding when they are driven mad by hunger, which can last for up to a year or more. And only when sated can they even hope for a brief moment of lucidity and (perhaps) horror of what they are.

The anophelii are imprisoned because, at some point in the past (a thousand years or more), the anophelii were more numerous. They inhabited a considerable tract of land in Rohagi’s warmer south. The Malarial Queendom is the name given to the anophelii empire.

From what I can tell, the Malarial Queendom did not last long. But what constitutes a long temporal endurance? Decades, a century? Given the nature of the anophelii, I do not think that the anophelii dominated Rohagi for long. Given their nature, I would guess that they are like various barbarian tribes that swoop in, conquer some lands or states, rule for a time, and then collapse quickly under attack by other groups.

It is stated that the anophelii were driven out and actively exterminated from all of Rohagi save for the isolated island from which they have no escape (until Armada comes calling). But the reign of terror lasts long after their near annihilation. And it is mentioned that they are a dying race.

This raises the question, how did the anophelii rule? Was it a plunderous terror, or did the Malarial Queens actively rule? Were they brutal or were they conscious of the wrongness of their actions? What of the men? Were they the true rulers, or did they act as scholars and politicians? It is hard to see the little men of the island, the earnest scholars, as engaging in atrocity. But times and cultures change.

Still, the anophelii are one of the greatest creations of Mieville’s highly imaginative mind.

 

 

Bas-Lag Reading Project- The Scar Part Three: The Compass Factory

An avanc. Or should that be a fucking avanc? The third part of The Scar is entitled “The Compass Factory.” The title refers to an event at the end of the section in which a mysterious individual (Silas) breaks in and steals a compass. But this section also deals, mainly, with Bellis’s maneuverings to escape and get a message to New Crobuzon.

“The Compass Factory” is a rather short section and is high on political intrigue. Bellis discovers more of what the Lovers intend to do, Uther Doul and the Brucolac make more sustained appearances, and Tanner and Shekel get character development.

I have debated with myself whether I want to continue my discussion of Armada’s politics or focus a bit more on Bellis.

The most interesting aspect of this section is the presence of Uther Doul. Uther Doul is clearly the most mysterious and supposedly interesting character in the whole novel. He gets more scene time later in the novel, but for the moment, he is a cypher. What is he, personally, after? Is he as loyal to the Lovers as he appears, or is the Brucolac correct in assuming, insinuating that he is as opposed to the final leg of the Lovers’ plan as the Brucolac himself?

For the moment, all we know is that Uther Doul is one hell of a fighter, a scholar, and a cypher.

The Brucolac is another interesting character. A vampir or ab-dead in a position of authority, who rules the freest and most secure riding in the city. He is as hard core as Uther Doul, but not as hard. He knows that the Lovers’ plan goes beyond just raising the avanc, the god whale.

While there are indications that there is more to the plan than just raising an avanc, it is not until after the raising that the full plan is revealed.

But that does not mean that one cannot speculate on the opposition to the raising itself. Using the avanc in much the same way as a seawyrm is bridled to a chariot ship, Armada will be able to increase its ability to move from one location to another at a remarkable rate. At the present, Armada can only go a few miles an hour, but with the avanc, that rate could increase to perhaps twenty or more. With this increase in speed comes the temptation to be ever more assertive. This new assertiveness could, potentially, lead to aggression and a confrontation with another power, like New Crobuzon. There is an encounter between the Militia and Armada later in the book, but a full scale war would most likely have a far different conclusion.

Perhaps this plays into the fact that Armada seems to be in a similar state of decline as New Crobuzon. While the Grand Easterly symbolically ended the period of New Crobuzon’s golden age, the acquisition of the ship may have signaled a similar weakening for the pirate city that the Lovers wish to restore.

But I will deal with their wider plans later.

 

 

Bas-Lag Reading Project: The Scar- Part Two: Salt

It’s been almost a week now since my first post. As I mentioned earlier, I should finish The Scar by tomorrow. And I’ll finish my postings over the next two weeks. Baring anything interesting happening. Now, onto my post.

The second part of The Scar is devoted, by and large, to orienting the reader to the city of Armada and the hints of something bigger going on, of some conspiracy. This second aspect I will deal with in part three.

“Salt” refers to Salt, the language of the pirates and, by default, the lingua franca of Armada. I use italics when referring to the floating pirate city because that is the standard when discussing ships. And that is what Armada really is, a city ship, a city composed of pirated and pirate ships.

Mieville’s use of the name, armada, comes from what it is, an armada of ships. Now, he could have chosen any other name for a collection of ships, but Fleet, Flotilla, Squadron, etc. really does not have the same emotive power as Armada.

There are two reasons, I think why Mieville decided to work with pirates for this novel. For one thing, pirates have been, for most of human history, among the most democratic groups of people. A ship’s captain ruled only by the sufferance of the crew. If the captain lost the confidence of the crew, he was out- either demoted or killed. Compared to the harshness of organized navy life, being a pirate is a good alternative. And the second reason is that pirates are cool.

Armada, I think, challenges and interrogates the idea of pirates as democratic. Can the direct democracy of the ship be applied to a city state, like Armada? Depends where in the city one lives.

The city is divided into a number of autonomous districts called ridings. The most important and dominate is Garwater, led by the “benevolent autocrats” called the Lovers. Their rule is by the whipping post, a traditional maritime punishment. Other important ridings include Dry Fall (led by the vampir called the Brucolac), Curhouse, Clockhouse, Jhour, etc.

Bellis is an unwilling citizen/ subject of Garwater. She is assigned to work in the great library of Armada called Grand Gears Library (located in Clockhouse). For much of the first third of the section, she is highly depressed and resentful. It is here that perhaps the most emotionally powerful defense of New Crobuzon is mounted by Bellis during her dinner with Johannes. Here, Bellis reveals why she loves her city despite the fact that it is for most people a shit hole, a nightmare. And it is here where Johannes turns the tables on her and argues for Armada and the people who will find a better life with the pirates rather than with either New Crobuzon or Nova Esperium.

Despite Bellis’s recognition that she needs to know more about her city, she still desires to go home, that Armada will never be home. In this, she meets an ally in Silas Fennec, or Simon Fench. Silas is in many ways just like her, except that he is a spy who seemingly cannot abide to remain in one place too long. The two bond over their love of their city (and desire to protect it from the grindylow of the Gengris (which will come later).

In addition to Silas, Bellis interacts with Shekel, the cabin boy. Living with Tanner Sack and in love with the older Angevine, Shekel goes to Bellis in the hopes that she can help teach him how to read. This is, perhaps, the most touching and human part of the narrative. It allows Mieville to explore the beauty and mystery of reading from the perspective of one who has been illiterate for the first seventeen or eighteen years of one’s life. This humanizes Bellis and paints her in a far more sympathetic light. And Shekel continues to act as the “wonderment” perspective. The scene of Shekel in the children’s section, alone, discovering the power of words is just amazing.

And for Tanner, this section explores his speedy adaptation to the city has he commits himself to Garwater and Armada. He does this by further Remaking himself into an amphibious being. This places him into a liminal and powerful position. As well as conveniently giving him a role to play later on in the book.

The section is really all about Armada. Giving texture, substance, and experience of the pirate city. But it also has one powerful ending as Bellis discovers what the Lovers are planning to do. . .

 

 

Theories and Definitions

I have three The Scar posts waiting for editing, and I’m hoping to have them out over the next two weeks (of course I should finish the novel itself by the end of this week). But this whole debate about “realism” in fantasy just keeps dragging me in. Hopefully, this will be my last word and I can go back to talking about Mieville.

What do I think is going on? Part of the problem is certainly a lack of definitions, of a consensus of what is meant when we throw around terms like “realism” and “fantasy.” My definition comes from my edition of Harmon and Holman’s A Handbook to Literature. In that book, “realism” is defined as a genre that attempts to explore middle class life in the nineteenth century. It is highly mimetic and emphasizes character and psychology over plot. From the late nineteenth century, realism has largely, in various permutation, influenced most of mainstream literature.  One can say that there are elements of realism in fantasy, as I said in various comments, that verisimilitude and character are important (read the writing blogs that I read). The idea is to make the secondary world as believable as possible so that the readers are not lost at the beginning (or at the first sign of the fantastic).

But I think that “realism” and “realistic” are being misused when other terms could be more appropriate. I posited that Comedy and Tragedy (as Aristotle and the Elizabethans understood it) and Northrop Frye’s theories might be better terms to explain the issues at hand. But I am not so sure right now (of course, they do work to explain fantasy in general).

Taking a cue from science fiction, I would like to posit the notion of “mundane” fantasy. Mundane fantasy, like mundane science fiction, is about secondary worlds in which little or no magic exists. And the magic, the supernatural, and the fantastic, might just be illusions or parlor tricks if it exists at all. And if we are talking about this mundane fantasy, then I agree with the naysayers, I don’t like the idea of it.

Now, if we are talking about the new violent, explicit strain in fantasy, I think that this strain has existed since Howard and the pulps (just not as explicit- hell read the old epics). I would posit you to take a look at SF Signal’s sword and sorcery mind meld from a few months ago. What we are seeing is, perhaps, a diffusion of sword and sorcery influence on the wider body of the fantasy genre. But if you still are not convinced or happy with that, then how about we posit a style rather than a genre- the “brutal” style of fantasy.

Now with this in mind, I think that for a lot of those who dislike Martin, Morgan, and Bakker for the explicitness of their work, you can rage about the brutal style and not bring in clunky old realism. And if it is a lack of fantasy, then tear apart the mundane secondary genre.

I won’t say categorically that there will be no more posts on this issue. But for now, I want to get back to Mieville. However, I do see the potential for a new series of posts where I hash out an analysis of fantasy. Unfortunately, that means I still can’t get rid of my monstrous theory anthologies! Augh!

Super Bowl predictions!! (and alot more)

Today is the day before “The Big Game”, so I thought it’s only fitting I write this post today. This will not be one of my typical posts about football, this is more a celebration of the 2010-2011 season, followed closely by my “Big Game” predictions.

I would first like to celebrate the amazing turnaround the Dallas Cowboys had after firing Wade Phillips. It is astounding how much better an offensive unit can play once you fire the Defensive Coordinator. Just imagine how good they’re going to be once they have a full season under the new head coach/same offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, and how well Tony Romo is going to play once he watches game film and sees, well, even John Kitna can do Romo’s job pretty well. It’s always super bowl or bust in the big D, and I for one believe they should change that moniker to, lets say Bust or Super Bowl, there’s a lot less pressure that way.

Speaking of Teddy Bear Phillips, he was hired as the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans, who I believe were ranked just below atrocious this season. Can he fix the defense? Honestly it can’t be much worse so I’d have to say yes. But I’m going to offer some outside the box thinking on this one…Draft or acquire a big time wide receiver, say 1B to Andre Johnson, move Kevin Walter to the slot ala Wes Welker, and always have Arian Foster in the backfield, just make the offense as unstoppable as possible, that way defense only has to hold opposing teams to say…27 points or so.

Now that I’m done talking Texas teams, I want to discuss the end of year awards that were handed out recently. I’m ok with Tom Brady winning offensive player of the year, if this means he won’t be the MVP. If he is the MVP, well I’m sorry, but I call bullshit. MVP stands for most valuable player, so it should go to the player who meant the most  to his team, and as New England proved the year Brady went down, he’s not really the most valuable player on that team. Unlike most people, I don’t buy into the bullshit the NFL and other sports broadcasting companies shovel out. As was proven a few yeas ago, the system in New England is more valuable than the players running it. Easy example, Brady gets hurt, Matt Casselll steps in, and the Patriots go 10-6, barely missing the playoffs. The last few years, Brady has been there, and they lost in the super bowl, then they lost two straight playoff games. Score one for me. On the other hand, without Michael Vick, the Philadelphia Eagles wouldn’t of had a shot this season, especially since Kevin Kolb went down with a concussion so quick into the season. I would have preferred Clay Mathews to have won defensive player of the year, but as usual, the NFL darlings got their wish with Troy Polamalu. Now I’m not taking anything away from Troy, he’s one helluva player, but Clay Mathews meant way more to that defense than Troy did this season. Coach of the year is a joke, sorry Bill. It’s hard for me to vote for a guy who got bounced in their first playoff game, at home, against a divisional rival…But the shining light for awards came in the form of the Rookie of the year awards. Both well deserved, I can totally agree with both.

That brings us to the grand finale, the Super Bowl, featuring the Green Bay Packers against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Obviously if you saw my previous Super Bowl quick post, you know I’m rooting for the Packers, and that is because I despise the Steelers. My dislike, and some would say hatred, for the Steelers comes from many different avenues, the main ones being, they Bitch and Moan and Cry too much. James Harrison break the rules, which were already set, no rules were changed, nothing was added, the NFL decided to actually start enforcing the rules, and James Harrison bitches and whines about it. Dude, I’m sorry, but there are tons of defensive players who play harder than you, and are quite better than you, not getting flagged or fined for illegal hits. And why is that Mr. Harrison? It’s because they play the game hard, not dirty, while you play the game dirty, simple as that. Hines Ward, who has been voted by other players as the dirtiest player in the game, comes out and complains of an 18 game regular season, Hey Hines, aren’t there 4 preseason games? You probably play about a full game and a half in preseason, so what the fuck are you complaining about? If you weren’t too busy blindsiding dudes, you would know if there are two more regular season games, that means two more regular season game checks, more games more money…simple as that. Oh yeah I almost forgot about “Big Ben”, that son of a bitch. I find it quite funny how a guy can go from being accused of rape, to being suspended for “personal conduct violations” to playing in the Super Bowl. It may be just me, but what better way for the NFL to clean up “Big Ben” and his horrible image, than to have him win the Super Bowl? And don’t give me that “ NFL is not rigged” shit, if it’s not, explain to me how only three teams have represented the AFC  since 2003, yet every year since the 1997-1998 season, it has been a different NFC team?(by different I mean no back to back, a few teams have gone to multiple Super Bowls in that time frame.) Lets get back on topic here, Fuck “Big Ben”. Yeah that’s it. All I’m going to say about this is, People are still angry and upset with the NFL for allowing Michael Vick to play Football, but everybody has forgiven Rottenburger for “being accused” of raping two women, admitting to at least having  relations with one.  At least Vick actually served his time, “Big Ben” was suspended yes, but in my opinion, he should have sat out the entire season, I guarantee that would have made him focus on his job, and appreciated all the things he was given.

And as for the game, Green bay 35 Pittsburgh 31, in Overtime. Pittsburgh kicks a field goal, new OT rules Green Bay gets the ball, scores a touchdown.

If you have any comments or complaints with this post, please feel free to comment, I will respond to any comments, thoughts or opinions.