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).