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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).

 

 

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.

 

 

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.