Bas-Lag Reading Project: The Scar- Part One: Channels
And now we come to the second part of my Bas-Lag Reading Project. The Scar is widely praised as being the best of Mieville’s Bas-Lag books. To be honest, I didn’t like it that much the first time I read it. But when I gave it another go a year or so ago, I fell in love with it as much as I did Perdido Street Station. Like my series of posts on Perdido Street Station, I will do a post concerning each part of the novel and focusing on a few things that catch my eye.
The Scar is similar in structure to Perdido in that the strange prologue and interludes continue. However, this prologue and the interludes are different. The prologue and the first interlude seemingly have no bearing on the narrative at present (of course that changes towards the end). And Bellis narrates the second interlude as she is introduced to Armada for the first time.
The first part is entitled “Channels,” and it obviously means a channel for adventure, for movement. This first part is buildup, a channel that leads to the main narrative. The main characters are introduced and their immediate circumstances investigated.
Bellis Coldwine is not a bitch. Yes she comes off as a bitch, but she is not one. In the world of New Crobuzon, of the vaguely Victorian culture that exists there, a woman has to be harsh to succeed in life. This is pointed out as her books, the ones she wrote, are written by a “B. Coldwine.”
And it is arguable that Bellis is acting in such a manner because she is being forced to do something she does not want to do- leave New Crobuzon. For those in the know, Bellis is the ex-lover of Isaac before Lin. As a part of that circle, the Militia of New Crobuzon is actively looking at her, even if she had nothing to do with Isaac’s escapades. She loves New Crobuzon and does not wish to leave it. And she intends to return, hopefully after a year.
I personally like Bellis as a character. She has a dry wit and way of approaching things that makes her plight all the more meaningful. She is unlikeable and she herself causes most of the troubles that befall her. But that is what makes her an excellent character.
She is joined by two other character who get point of view time- the Remade Tanner Sack and the cabin boy Shekel. Tanner (and to an extent Shekel) act as a counter balance to Bellis. I can imagine that Mieville wanted another character that bared some resemblance to Isaac or a more Mievillean character. Shekel is, I think, more of a wonderment character. His youth imparts a sense of excitement and passion that is infectious.
I like all three characters. They do not sound alike and each of their motivations are different (even though Tanner and Shekel have to wait until part two to get more character development).
Another thing that fascinated me in part one is Salkrilkator, the capital city of the Cray Commonwealth. Even though the city is only explored in two chapters, the city is amazing in its too brief appearance. The Cray are human lobsters. Human torsos on lobster bodies, like a centaur. There are two parts of the city, a smallish above water quarter for humans and other air breathers, and a larger underwater city that serves the Cray (and other water breathers).
The Cray of Salkrilkator has good relations to New Crobuzon with the later city clearly being the dominant in the relationship. It is New Crobuzon who gave Salkrilkator the ability to industrialize (given that steam power does not work underwater). How weak of a position Salkrilkator has in relation to New Crobuzon is not explored, but it seems that even a merchant captain can threaten two members of the ruling elite over the loss of the Sorghum.
To be honest, I wish more had been done with Salkrilkator, but the Cray city is only a dry run for the pirate city.