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Fantasy: Politics and Armchair Literary Critics

Is fantasy political? According to M. Harold Page’s “Why Medieval Fantasy is Not Inherently Conservative (Or Inherently Anything Political)” and Derek Kunsken’s “Is Fantasy Inherently Not Political?,” the answer is no. Both essays, which appeared on Black Gate, argue that fantasy is not inherently political. I fundamentally disagree with them. 

First of all, what does “inherent” mean? According to Merriam-Webster’s, “inherent” means: “involved in the constitution or essential character of something.” So, is fantasy inherently political?

Well, yes, fantasy is political. You see, fantasy is a form of literature, a form of art. And art is political. No matter if that work is the highest grade of literary fiction or your average epic fantasy, the work is political. Why?

Simple. Humans are political animals. When a writer writes a work of fiction, a part of his world view, his politics, is embedded within the text. And readers, no matter who they are, engage in a dialogue with the writer because they interpret the text through their own world view, which has a political dimension. (Matthew Johnson’s comment to Kunsken’s post reflects my own views).

I have to wonder what Page’s intention is when he opened his argument with all of those essays looking at the politics of fantasy. He certainly didn’t use it to bolster his case. Hell, Mieville’s interview (the first link) challenges Page’s formulation of escapism. Bourke’s post on Tor (second link) raises some interesting questions that could (and should have been) looked into. And Moorcock’s seminal “Starship Stormtroopers” seems to have been an outright afterthought. 

And that is what hurts Page’s argument. He doesn’t engage his sources. He uses them as a prop to rage against. Whether or not he is right about politics and fantasy is irrelevant. He doesn’t care. He reads for escapist purposes and reading deeper into the text doesn’t matter.

A deeper literary analysis will reveal the politics inherent in a work of fantasy.

But, you see, his own argument is political. Moorcock’s essay actually exposes the type of apolitical reading Page champions early on. And he himself reveals that he sympathizes with the more conservative elements (Paragraph 10, starting at the image of The Crown Tower). So, I wonder, is fantasy not inherently political?

Now, I will admit that I agree with the argument that fantasy is not inherently conservative. Not even medieval fantasy. Yes, many of the tropes would imply that fantasy has a conservative bent. And many works of fantasy are conservative. Maybe even the majority. But there are many fantasy writers whose works are not conservative. China Mieville and Michael Moorcock’s work come to mind. As does Ursula K. LeGuin and J.K. Rowling. 

(But remember, politics is relative. And a work of literature is interpreted with myriad meanings possible. )

Kunsken’s essay is problematic because he doesn’t prove his case. He essentially declares fantasy inherently apolitical despite the fact that most of his essay leads a reader (at least this reader) to believe that, to the contrary, fantasy is inherently political. Or is the new weird not actually fantasy? 

In my estimation, neither Page nor Kunsken prove their case. Instead, they rely on the knowledge that the comments will be, on the whole, friendly and back them up. In the end, their arguments, to me, ring hollow. 

Reading for pleasure is great. Reading to escape the travails of one’s life is great. But, so too, is reading to edify oneself. Indeed, it is absolutely great to do all three at once. They are not mutually exclusive. 


My Comics Run at the End of July

My comic book buying is spotty and inconsistent at best. I cannot always go to Bankstons (the local comic book shop) or Hastings. Nor can I buy all the books I would like. So, I buy only those books I want to buy when I can buy them. Which makes for a very interesting run much of the time. So, how was my last run?

Pretty good, I must say. I finally picked up Dial H #3 and Wonder Woman #11. And I finally picked up my first Marvel comic in years with Captain Marvel #1. 

As far as Dial H #3 is concerned, I want to do another joint review with Earth 2. So expect a quadruple review when I get Earth 2 #4 and Dial H #4 this Friday (I hope).

But, let’s take a look at Wonder Woman #11. I will admit that I haven’t been following Azzarello and Chiang’s run on the series. And seriously? I’m kicking myself for it.

Writing a good Wonder Woman series has been troublesome for years now. In the past decade, how many different takes on Wonder Woman have there been? Personally, Azzarello’s take on Wonder Woman is what I’ve been craving. I love it that Wonder Woman is firmly entrenched within her mythological context. I agree with Sara Lima of Comic Vine when she calls Wonder Woman the Greek mythological version of Fables.

This new take works far better than anything I’ve read in Wonder Woman from the past decade, at least.

Moving on to Captain Marvel #1this book is freaking awesome. Kelly Sue Deconnick does an amazing job with this first issue. As someone who is unfamiliar with Ms. Marvel, I feel that I did not need to know all of her back story. The essentials are given in a way that seamlessly fits into the story. And the characterization, amazing.

Dexter Soy’s art work is amazing. I rather like the “painted” style of coloring that some Marvel series have been utilizing for a few years now. And the art work here is very good.

So, if you haven’t picked up Earth 2Dial HWonder Woman, and Captain Marvel, why not? Don’t kick yourself later!

Looking forward, I am certain to continue collecting Earth 2 and Dial H. Other DC titles I’ll probably pick up first issues or random jumping on points.  I would like to pick up Wonder WomanBatman, and Justice League Dark, though.

As for drops? Well, I hate to do this, but I’m going to have to walk away from a few titles for now. Stormwatch during  Milligan’s run has been very lackluster. So until the direction changes or a new team is placed on the book, I’m done with the title.

The same is true for Teen Titans. I haven’t really kept up with Titans, but what I’ve read and heard does not give me much hope. So, again, I’m done till a new creative team comes on board.

In a previous post, I mentioned that Marvel had nothing that interested me. Well, I was wrong. Captain Marvel looks to be a keeper. And I’m planning on checking out Gambit when it hits later this month.

Looking out to the future, I’m excited by Uncanny AvengersAll New X-Men, and whatever new Young Avengers/Kid Loki/ Teen Heroes book has been teased (as long as it isn’t written by Allan Heinberg).

I realize now that I’ve given Marvel a short shrift over the past few months. I’m positively kicking myself for not having gone after Remender’s Uncanny X-Force and especially Gillen’s Journey into Mystery. But, there are always the collected editions. . .

Anyway, that is it for this post. The months to come look to be very interesting in the world of comics.

Double Issue Review

Today, I have two reviews of the first two issues of Dial H and Earth 2. Now, the easy review would be that I love both series and urge everyone to check both out. But, to do a just review, one must utilize depth.

Dial H

From the brilliant and creative mind of China Mieville, this series has all of the elements that makes a great Mieville story. The series follows Nelson, an obese out of luck Londoner, who happens on the H Dial when his friend is attacked by the gangsters he works for. Thus begins the random heroic career of a most unlikely superhero.

And that’s the key. Nelson should not be a super hero, but he is. And that, I think, makes this series work so well. Nelson is not even an everyman. He is someone no body would want to be. He doesn’t even want to be himself. Which introduces an amazing series of characterization shots.

Indeed, beyond the superhero surface is a heartfelt and compassionate study of identity and the desire to become someone else, someone heroic.

The progression of the series has so far been fast paced and addicting. And the villains have so far been very cool and extremely weird.

Mieville has found an excellent partner in Mateus Santolouco and the rest of the art team. My goodness, the art is gorgeous in a weird, somewhat surrealist style.

For those of you who have not checked out Dial H, what are you waiting for? Do it now!

Earth 2

To begin this review, one must acknowledge the controversies surrounding it. For one thing, the revelation of Alan Scott as a gay man in this new universe. And, of course, there are the deaths of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in the first issue during the final battle with the forces of Apokolips.

The thing is, you see, this series is a radical departure from the usual Earth Two depiction. Instead of these heroes existing in a Golden Age of Super Heroes, these heroes (Scott, Garrick, etc.) are the second generation of heroes (or wonders as the residents of Earth 2 call them).

James Robinson has embarked on something akin to an superhero epic. The old heroes, hell the old gods, are dead. Who will take their place when the world needs new heroes? I look forward to that answer.

The first issue is powerful and heart breaking. Especially the relationship between Batman and his daughter, Robin. And that last scene, wow.

The second issue picks up with the introduction of the Flash (Jay Garrick). In this reality, he gains his powers from a dying god (guess who). So, much of this issue is built around him learning how to use his new powers and his first experiences as a hero. Indeed, his growth as a character is very well done. He is, I think, going to develop in to a fine hero.

Less time is devoted to Alan Scott and the newly arrived Michael Holt. I look forward to seeing how Mr. Terrific integrates into this new world.

Moving on to the future Green Lantern, the handling of his sexuality and his love life is excellently handled. There is a touching frankness to it that is deceptively simple to achieve. And Robinson achieves it. Now, the question is, what will happen to Sam? That final splash does not look good for him. Again, making a reader worry for a newly introduced character mere moments after their introduction is an excellent achievement.

The art team on this book led by Nicola Scott is excellent. Again, I think the series is very well served by the art.

This series has me dying to know what is coming for the future Justice Society.

If you haven’t checked this series out, why the hell not. Get to it! Now!!

No Time but Today

Sometimes, if I brood on something for a while, I get a better handle on things. I’ve been thinking a lot about fantasy, history, and reading lately. Obviously, it has been a somewhat regular feature of my blog (that and Bas Lag). So, I’ve been brooding, and I’ve come to an interesting and obvious conclusion. No matter what time a fantasy is set, it is always reflective about the concerns of the present.

We can all accept that most fantasy set on secondary worlds take place in historic periods relative to our own day. Typically, these worlds are highly inspired by the medieval period of Europe. My argument is that while interest in the roles of English queens may provide an intellectual inspiration, more often than not, the work is not really about an alternate version of Queen Isabella or Queen Margaret.

Take King Arthur. He performs different meanings for different times. For the early myths, he represents a national hero, a defender from invasion. For the Pearl Poet, he represents an idealized court. For Malory, he represents another form of the idealized court. For Bradley, his myth represents a religious conflict between nascent Christianity and the Old Faith. The story of Arthur is a reflection of the concerns of the writer’s present colored through the lens of a mythic past.

Howard’s Hyborian Age is another excellent example of writing with the present in mind. There is a strong concern about the decline of civilization, of degeneration, of a loss of vitality. These concerns play into an early twentieth century dealing with the effects of modernism and the Depression.

Even Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire can be seen in this light. I would like to know exactly how much of the series was planed from the start and how much of it developed in the writing. I’ve heard that Martin is a gardener when it comes to his writing, so it would be really interesting to see how the series developed. Part of my curiosity lies in whether or not Martin originally intended to focus most of the attention on the war for the Iron Throne or if it gradually supplanted the epic conflict with the Others as the main focus.

I suspect the fascination with A Song of Ice and Fire has something to do with concerns about our own political issues. That the political problem, instead of being shunted to an impediment, has become the main focus is one I think needs to be addressed.

China Mieville’s Bas Lag novels obviously belong in this discussion due to the highly political nature of the narratives. Each one, in one form or another, are highly suspicious of authority. The novels are also highly challenging to the notions of neoliberalism and globalization. And, I think, in Iron Council, Mieville questions the efficacy of protest, of fighting for change. Is it worth fighting for freedom, for political change if the protesters are getting their heads smashed in?

History, myth, etc. are inspiration in fantasy. But authors are writing with the concerns of the present in mind. Now, some of these concerns may be optimistic or pessimistic. Some writers may be playing intellectual games with their inspiration, but they still write with the present in the background.

The fantasy genre has been changing for some time now. New voices are entering the field bringing in new readers or supplying readers with protagonists little depicted in the past. Ambivalence and ambiguity have places of pride, and the former certainties of the past, of concrete good and absolute evil, are being challenged. In the end, some readers will find that the protagonists seem to resemble them a little more while others will feel at a loss without their sure hero.

The War for the Future of Fantasy: A Rant

My mood has not been a very good one over the past few days. For one thing, I’ve been battling a series of colds for over a month now. For another thing, I’ve been pretty annoyed by some recent fantasy criticism. This rant is mainly an extended response to Brian Murphy’s recent blog question over at Black Gate. So, on with the rant.

How big is fantasy’s tent? Just because the latest thing in fantasy is gritty, mature, etc. heroic fantasy does not mean that gentler, more whimsical fantasy  is no longer being published. If you look hard enough, scour the internet for more fantasy sites, read a lot of recent literary fantasy short fiction, etc. You are bound to find the type of fantasy you want.

But of course, Murphy’s post is really more about navigating the future of fantasy. Is fantasy going to succumb to this new, brasher, school? Or will the paragons of tradition save the day? The issue, the attempted binary, is very obviously muddied. The focus is in the politics, both as influence and expression, and its conflict with whimsy, with imagination, with transcendence. Now, are China Mieville and Ursula K. LeGuin the best speakers for each camp?

China Mieville is, obviously, known as a very political writer. But are his sentiments of 2000 the same as 2012? As someone who follows Mieville, he seems to have softened his views while still maintaining his keen interest in politics. And LeGuin  herself is a very political writer, especially in the realm of feminism. So while their quotes set up a nice binary, neither writer is really bound to either “pole.”

Here’s how I look at this whole issue. As a writer, I write for today. What interests me, forces me to think, ignites my imagination? After I’m dead, let the critics and readers of tomorrow parcel out whether or not my work is dated or for the ages. Shakespeare, Dickens, Wells, Howard, Tolkien, etc. wrote for the moment. That we, as readers, still read them is because their works speak to us today no matter what they intended.

Now, lets move on to some of the comments.

Personally, I think that George R.R. Martin is overrated. When argued that A Song of Ice and Fire is the greatest fantasy series in the world (barring The Lord of the Rings), I could not help but be amused. I liked the first three books, and haven’t read the recent two. Liked not loved. I get that Martin intended to write a sweeping epic saga that includes a cast of hundreds. But there is too much going on with very little plot development. How, in two books, is the series going to be resolved?

And I don’t know if I really buy that Martin is as bloodthirsty as he is sometimes depicted. Yes, killing Ned is shocking because the reader is fooled into believing that he is the protagonist. He isn’t. He is a false protagonist. I would argue that Jon or Dany is the true protagonist. Also, besides the Red Wedding, has any major POV character been killed off yet?

Keeping with Westeros, we can all accept that it is heavily based on 14th century Europe, especially England. Now, a constant argument that I’ve heard from some Black Gate commenters is that it (and other similar worlds) do not reflect the religious culture of the period they are inspired by. I argued that religious faith in ASOIAF is subtle, but I do not believe that absolute fidelity is a necessity.

But I think my question was not quite answered. Why? Why is it so important to have that religious fidelity (or even focus)? And, after thinking about it, I should have followed up with what. What would this religious take look like?

I remember from my own readings of medieval literature, especially the romances, that religion is not overly important save as a matter of course. That Gawain attends church several times a day and a prayer concludes Sir Gawain and the Green Knight does not seem overly important to me. Now, I know that religious faith plays an important role (or is supposed to) in being a knight, doubly so for an idealized knight like Gawain. But there are other readings that are just as valid, and to me, more interesting.

And there is one thing to remember. Every scene, save for a few possible tangents, should be devoted to advancing the plot. Everything should be geared towards the inexorable, twisting path to a conclusion.

So, that’s my rant for today.

A Random Potpourri

I have nothing in the way of reviews, attempts at criticism, etc. So, I’ll just post a few snippets of stuff and an idea or two.

So, DC announced yesterday that they are updating their New 52 titles, cancelling six and adding six. It is troubling to see Mr. Terrific and Static Shock go (given the dearth of African American led titles). But I am excited about one of the new titles: Dial H by China Mieville. That’s right Mieville is writing a monthly comic book series. Digest that. I am expecting awesome.

Speaking of comic books. I had entertained the idea for a while that an online comic book magazine anthology (sort of like a manga magazine) could be a good thing. But the more I look into it, the less enthused I am. Unless I’m missing gems, the web comics I have seen have been serious let downs in both art and story telling. Then again, at my core, I think am more enamored of traditional publishing than I am of online publication (even though online publications are much easier to access).

The next round of the NFL playoffs begins tomorrow. Like last week, I’ll try to catch all of the games. I do have several teams I like still in there, and football is very conducive to free writing.

Moving the focus to the blog itself, I’ve been thinking of doing more features. Adding polls, pictures, etc. I don’t know what I would poll about, though.

Like I said in my “Rambling Changes” post, is it just me or are the recent slew of criticism, writer advice, and assorted genre nonfiction been mostly disappointing? Maybe I’m just tired of it all. There are still gems, but most of it has just started to annoy me.

Finally, a preview of what I’m working on in the upcoming posts:

A review of three writing guides: one for video games and two for comic books.

A review of a slew of graphic novels and collections. And maybe a rant about the looseness of the term “graphic novel.”

And (maybe) a review of some Leigh Brackett novels. Man I love old omnibuses!

Oh and one last thing. I don’t remember if I mentioned it in my post on uneasiness/ rejection of author politics, but I have another suggestion. If you really like an author but cannot stand his or her politics, check their stuff out of a library ( I read most of Miller’s Sin City through interlibrary loan a few years ago) or buy it through a used bookstore (the author does not get any royalties through resale). And if you shop at a local used bookstore, you can feel good about supporting a local business!

Random Musings on the State of Fantasy

My critical juices have been flowing recently (thanks in large part to Black Gate Magazine and The Night Bazaar websites). So, I’m going to unleash a few hundred words of my musings about what I believe when it comes to fantasy as a genre.

I believe in experimentation. Why limit oneself to the old standby, the stereotype Fantastika Medieval shell world that has been the typical setting since before Tolkien? Okay, it is likely that instead of the Medieval Shell, we’ll be seeing the Classical Greek Shell, the Babylonian Shell, the Caliphate Shell, the Shogunate Shell, ad infinitum with the stench of exploitation added in.

What I mean by Shell, or stereotype, is that the worlds often used by commercial fantasy, the endless rehashes of Tolkien, Dungeons and Dragons, etc. very often seem to come from past fantasies. Tolkien was a professor, extremely knowledgeable about Medieval Northern European literature. I’ve read some of his academic work, and he is quite brilliant. Tolkien had the background knowledge to create Middle Earth. Now, those who followed him, his clones and their clones, do they have as much knowledge about the equivalent historical period? I would doubt it.

And that’s the point. You see, there needs to be some knowledge, some research involved to make it work. It cannot be just a continued rehashing, a copying, of the same stereotype devoid of what it is. It becomes an empty shell for the same empty kind of story. As Kameron Hurley states in her essay “Garbage In, Garbage Out, and All That:”

“When it comes to creating new people and new worlds, you’re only as good as what you take in. So if all you read are Tolkien knock- offs and endless re-runs of Saved by the Bell, well, it’s highly likely that your fiction is going to sound a lot like a watered- down Tolkien rip-off populated by 20th century teens. Garbage in, garbage out, and all that.” (17 August 2011 Night Bazaar)

I couldn’t agree more with her statement. So much of fantasy seems to be endless repetitions of Tolkien xeroxes or RPG game sessions without any research or knowledge. This brings me to Matthew David Surridge and Sean Stiennon’s posts on Black Gate. They seem to be arguing that the way to go is to focus more heavily on making the medieval world as “realistic” as possible. What they mean by that is, I think, focus in on one frame of time, say the Wars of the Roses, and explore the mindsets, the technologies, the way of life, etc. of the period and go from there. This approach is a must if the work at hand is a work of historical fantasy, but would a work set in a secondary world be too hampered by such a strong binding to Earth’s history?

Yes and no, I think. The key is, I think, to be aware of the history, the psychology, etc. and apply it to a new world. And depending on how the writer wishes to proceed, how closely the work follows Earth history. There are dangers in being both too narrow and too loose.

When I first read Sean’s post, I was troubled, and still am, by the implication that the writer has to follow, be bound, by the period of their inspiration. While some readers welcome this new devotion to verisimilitude, there is undoubtedly a limit on the potentials for expression inherent in this argument.

George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a fine, if not the finest, example of what is called for, but where would that leave works like Mieville’s Bas-Lag series, Morgan’s The Steel Remains, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Howard’s Hyborian Age, and (equally close to my heart) Kishimoto’s Naruto and Mashima’s Fairy Tail? Non of these works are completely bound by specific time periods. But they all work magnificently at combining different temporal, cultural, and civilizational influences into fantastik wholes. Should these works be denigrated in favor of “realist” fantasy?

I argue no, one can have both. But it takes a skilled writer, imaginative mind, and willingness to do the research to make it work, whether it is historical fantasy, secondary historical, or sheer crazy goodness. That is what I believe.

Bas-Lag Reading Project Iron Council Parts Nine and Ten: “Sound and Light” and “The Monument”

The reasons why I’m condensing the final two parts of Iron Council are: I want to focus this post on Judah’s relationship to the Iron Council and explore why he does what he does, and to be honest, I’ve rather grown tired of these posts at the moment.

The moment that Judah releases his time golem is the moment that every event in his life depicted in the novel becomes relevant. He learned golemetry from the Siltspear, whose greatest magic is the production of these time golems during the hunt. In a way, I think that Judah is making up for his past failure. He could not save the Siltspear, he did not have the power and knowledge at the time. It only comes later, when he has something he wants to protect.

That something is Iron Council. It is, in part, what he identifies with. As a “leftist,” as a dissident in New Crobuzon, he is automatically sympathetic and willing to aid Iron Council in its initial striving for freedom. Indeed, he is instrumental in defending the perpetual train. He has a stake in it as the great defender. And he has a stake as its prophet in New Crobuzon.

However, I am not so sure that Iron Council is the only reason why Judah returns home. New Crobuzon, despite its horrors, injustices, and monstrosities, has an undeniable stranglehold on her citizens. Why else does New Crobuzon command such loyalty from those who would like to see the government fall? Perhaps it is a dream of creating a new New Crobuzon, one that is going to be like Iron Council writ large for all of Bas-Lag to see. A place of freedom, tolerance, and economic equality.

The dream of Iron Council, the dream of a new New Crobuzon is one fated to disappoint. The Collective has failed in its attempt to create a new New Crobuzon, and Iron Council is late to the battle, to the moment. Iron Council is marching to history, but history has already passed them by. And now, history will forever pass them by. When will the time golem expire? What happens then?

Was Judah right in imprisoning Iron Council in a time golem? Yes in the that he saved them from certain destruction. He knew that Iron Council was doomed. But did he have the right to steal the choice of Iron Council to return home, to fight for a reborn New Crobuzon? That is a harder question. Ann-Hari’s response is a deadly no.

This further raises the question as to whether or not Judah does this for ulterior motives beyond saving the Council. Did he do it for his own benefit (though he knew he was likely to die)? Is he truly even a Councillor?

It is clear that Judah’s intention was for Iron Council to flee elsewhere from New Crobuzon, to be the roving lord train among its environs. That Judah was manipulated by Wrightby through Pennyhaugh is without question. And how much influence did Drogon have on the decision to return to New Crobuzon?

In a way, I suspect that Judah always intended to freeze Iron Council in time if he failed to persuade them to not confront New Crobuzon. Why? Because Iron Council itself, the physical embodiment of the dream, the birth of a third Crobuzon must survive. For Judah, the physical symbol cannot be destroyed because the dream will die. The myth, the dream cannot exist without the physical form, without Iron Council. If Iron Council is destroyed, then so is the dream of liberating New Crobuzon.

And with Iron Council now frozen outside of time (and within the precincts of New Crobuzon), the dream is not dead, it lives on. Even though the Collective has been destroyed and New Crobuzon is undergoing a dizzying level of repression, the dream remains. The physicality of successful resistance is there, a monument. And the survivors of the Collective are grouping, Runagate Rampant is still there, telling the truth of both Iron Council and the Collective.

What Mieville is getting at here, is a symbolism for the endurance of the dream of Marx, of the Commune, of all of the failed movements to supplant industrial capitalism. Though the individual movements falter, the dream itself remains in every protest against economic and political injustice. Iron Council will always be there, no matter what thaumaturgies New Crobuzon throws at it.

As Marxism is at its root an economic theory, indivisible from capitalism, so Iron Council’s fate is tied to that of Wrightby. The whole novel can be seen as a gambit on Wrightby’s part to use Iron Council’s return as a means of finding a way to complete his railroad, his holy dream. Perhaps, he is the one who instigated the Militia sending a force to destroy Iron Council in the hopes that it would return to fight?

It is fitting, then, that Iron Council rests near the TRT station. It is a constant reminder that Capitalism is linked to Marxism, a ying and yang.

And that is why Iron Council must return to New Crobuzon, the two cannot live without the other.

This ends my explorations into the world of Bas-Lag. I will be returning to it, however, as I do intend on doing more in depth looks at certain aspects Bas-Lag. But that may be a while. I’m exhausted.

Bas-Lag Reading Project Iron Council Part Eight: The Remaking

A rant is coming. “The Remaking” is the conclusion of the subplot of Iron Council. I both love this section as the best written, but I also find it frustrating that there is no Remaking.

What I mean is that New Crobuzon’s Commune (called the Collective) is doomed to failure. Indeed, the Militia has shrunk the areas under Collectivist control down to just three districts (Dog Fenn, Smog Bend, and Heath Barrow). Kinken has been destroyed (by those damn Quillers rather than the Militia), and much of the rest of the city is in pretty bad shape.

And Ori is reflective of that. Ori is the erstwhile protagonist of the even numbered sections, but Ori only appears in the third chapter and has been completely destroyed by the revelations of his being used by Toro and Spiral Jacobs and his knowledge that the Collective is doomed. He is a shell, an observer, he is cut off and adrift.

Perhaps, however, I am wrong that there is no permanent Remaking going on in the city. New Crobuzon will bear the scars of the conflict for years, decades to come. The Khepri have largely been expelled from New Crobuzon (Kinken destroyed, Creekside’s status is unknown, but the Khepri seems to have been hit pretty hard by the Quillers).

But, what I meant by the Remaking not holding, not lasting is that Spiral Jacobs’s attack, the many named city killer ritual, is a dud. Had the heroes not intervened, the city would have been destroyed. New Crobuzon is saved however, and I have a huge problem with how it is saved and that there is no after effects, even as what ever the Urbomach is almost came through.

I like the fact that Spiral Jacobs bested Judah Low. Judah is a great somnaturge, but he is no match for Spiral Jacobs. So, in a way, it is nice seeing Quarbin take out Jacobs. But I also see that as a cop out. Quarbin acts as a quick fix, a means of getting information quickly (though at the price of who Quarbin is). That Quarbin saves New Crobuzon is excellent, how Quarbin saves New Crobuzon is a stinker. He just asks the Hidden Moment for aid and everything is done? Such a disappointment.

That New Crobuzon would be saved is beyond question, though how Spiral Jacobs could be defeated is the source of tension. The thing is that the New Crobuzon-Tesh War is the subplot. The coming of Iron Council to New Crobuzon is the main plot, so it stands to reason that the more tension filled ending comes with Iron Council’s fate.

What bugs me is that there is no residual of the failed attack. New Crobuzon should be marked in some way, the murderspirit was just beginning to appear as Quarbin learns what he needs to do. That frustrates me as a reader.

But the murderspirit is damn cool. The entity of the too many epithets was going to possess the entire city, New Crobuzon become a ravenous monster set on devouring its own people. Brutal.

This raises the question, as I mentioned earlier, of why Tesh is doing this.  Is the difficulty in communication going both ways? What logical sense does it make to destroy New Crobuzon. While it is the enemy now, economically, it can be made a decent trading partner after an agreeable conclusion to the war. And Tesh seems to have been in the stronger position at the time. So why try and destroy it? This almost reverses the assumptions about the Grindylow of the Gengris. Of course, it does give a highly emotional sendoff for Ori and takes a little away from the rebellion in New Crobuzon.

That the Collective is doomed to fail is beyond question. Just like the Parisian Commune in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War failed. It is difficult to overthrow a government, a system of doing things that are beneficial to some. It is clear that the Collectivists did not have the entire city on their side, perhaps they did not even have half of the city. And Parliament, the Militia, is at that moment unwilling to compromise. I wonder, really, if Stem-Fulcher’s assassination did not really strengthen the resolve of the government to fight on.

As I mentioned in my last posts on The Scar, it is interesting to note that there is a movement in the Middle East that is seeing the removal of many of the regions longstanding dictators. The reason the Lovers fell in The Scar is because they relied on the support of those they governed, they ruled through, perhaps, the illusion of consensus. When they lost the support of Armada, they had to give up. And their forces refused to attack the crowd. This is the key.

New Crobuzon’s government has not lost the backing of the Militia and the powerful elite that supports it. That there are a few defectors is unsurprising, but a loosely organized movement is unlikely to win against a better trained, better equipped, and motivated force. The only way New Crobuzon will change is if enough of the elites support change or if the Militia (or enough of it) switches sides to make the difference.

That’s it for now. Next time the fate of the Iron Council in “Sound and Light”  and “The Monument”

Bas-Lag Reading Project Iron Council Part Seven: “The Stain”

The outskirts of the Cacotopic Stain is the featured setting in this section. Personally, there is a sense of disappointment. Is this all there is to the Stain? Changes to geography, mutations, inchmen, and a car transformed into a giant cell? All of these events, encounters, and mutations are cool, but could there not have been more?

“The Stain” is basically running, trying to escape the murder squad sent after it and trying to reach New Crobuzon in time to aid in the revolution there. And the urgency rises as a new threat unfolds.. .

The attack of the inchmen is, perhaps, my favorite scene in this section. These Torque born monsters do a number on the foraging party. Pomeroy is killed, and Judah experiences moments of weakness. Indeed, Cutter’s point of view is very well done. The fear and terror is palpable.

The reason, of course, why Judah is weakened is because the Militia have begun tripping his golem traps. They won’t stop the Militia, but those creatures should delay them for a while.

As Iron Council rolls towards New Crobuzon, refugees from the city begin appearing. They tell of the Collective and its conflict with the government. Of the freedom spirals that have become symbols of the revolution. However, Quarbin interjects himself.

The spirals are not freedom signs. They are a summoning, a marker for a murderspirit, an entity that will destroy New Crobuzon. And Spiral Jacobs is revealed as the tramp ambassador of Tesh.

This raises an interesting question, though. Why are the Tesh wanting to destroy New Crobuzon? What benefit is it to them? Or is it they are desirous of a quick end to the war (much like New Crobuzon appears to be)? What ever the reason, the stage is set for a confrontation.

Next time, Judah Low vs. Spiral Jacobs in “The Remaking.”