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The Scar by China Mieville
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The Scar (original 2002; edition 2004)

by China Mieville

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3,672921,434 (4.11)196
Member:firstfloor1
Title:The Scar
Authors:China Mieville
Info:Del Rey (2004), Mass Market Paperback, 608 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, science fiction paperback

Work details

The Scar by China Miéville (2002)

  1. 10
    City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (davisfamily)
    davisfamily: A mystery within a unique setting. Interesting mix of Religion and Politics.
  2. 12
    The Book on Fire by Keith Miller (MyriadBooks)
    MyriadBooks: For the depiction of the city.
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    Scar Lover by Harry Crews (bertilak)
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This is an interesting work of rather dark fantasy that manages to impressively transcend the fact that it is the story of – in the protagonist's own words – a "violent, pointless voyage." It's the second book by the author dealing with the world that contains New Crobuzon, and I haven't read the first one, Perdida Street Station. If I had read that first book, I might have been a little less puzzled by some things, but really the plot of this second book stands alone.

The world of this story is wildly imaginative. There are many strange species of beings and a sometimes bewildering mix of semi-steam punk and magical technologies. Mieville could have made almost anything possible with this mix, but chooses not to. The limits of the magic aren't explained, but they are stated. The crowning glory of Mieville's invention in this book is its setting: Armada, a floating pirate city made up of a patchwork of old boats linked together into an almost organic whole. It's an intriguing concept, imagined in spectacular detail. If this were science fiction, I'd have to say that it couldn't actually work, but this is fantasy and - hell, who cares?

Mieville's writing is powerful and gritty. He does his characters' psychology well. The language is cruder than what I prefer to read, but I'm beyond being shocked or offended by it. It matches the world he's invented. This is not a nice place, and as long as you don't expect nice things to happen, you'll be fine. The main protagonist, Bellis, spends a lot of the story not being very effective and not even having a clear goal. This made it a little hard to get into the story at first. Normally it would be considered a flaw, but this is a story about people manipulating and using each other and Bellis is often on the receiving end of that despite her efforts to the contrary. The surprises have to do with unraveling the power structure of Armada and the purposes of its various denizens. Lots of intrigue, lots of double-crosses. And violence. Still, I spent a lot of the book waiting for the central conflict to emerge from the murk. It did eventually, though excruciatingly slowly.

All the major characters are well-drawn although the back-stories of the two central ones, Bellis and Tanner, take too long to be revealed. We never do know what Tanner's crime was that got him punished by New Crobuzon. (Maybe these two characters were introduced in the first book and we're supposed to know?) It doesn't matter to the story, but it disturbed me that Tanner never once thought about it and nobody ever asked. I was a little annoyed by the over-use of a few words – "cosseted" being the worst offender. (I don't think the more familiar synonym, "pampered" was ever used.) Mieville also has a habit of launching into what seems a description of significant time passing, only to jump back to specific events at the beginning of that time without so much as a "but" to cover the dislocation. In spite of these minor concerns, and the fact that I prefer a more feel-good story, I did enjoy reading this and recommend it to anyone who likes a dark tale. ( )
1 vote Carol_W | Jul 7, 2015 |
The Scar is the second novel in the Bas-Lag series. Set in the same universe as the preceding novel Perdido Street Station, and taking place in the aftermath of its events, it nevertheless stands alone, following different characters and unlocking new areas in the fictional universe.

The Scar follows the story of Bellis Coldwine as she becomes involved in a plot to raise a mythical avanc from the depths of the sea and sail the pirate city Armada through the hidden ocean to the Scar; a tear in the universe, leaking possibilities.

The Good

Characters

While Bellis isn't an unsympathetic character, and dutifully fulfils the roles of susceptible pawn to other characters in the book and passive narrator in her ongoing letter to no-one, it is Tanner Sack who provides the heart and soul to this novel. His relationship to Shekel is perhaps the only one of any genuine feeling, and his journey of adapting to his new life in Armada, the most engaging.

One of the most intriguing characters is Uther Doul. He has great presence within the novel, both as a physical being and in the depth of his history and his power as a manipulator. The initial tension between Bellis and Doul was brilliantly handled, and I'm almost sorry that it didn't go further.

Imagination

One of the key strengths of this book is its imaginative underpinnings. The bas-lag universe is rich with interesting species; The Scar includes many of the species from Perdido Street Station, such as the Cactacae (humanoid cacti), the Kehpri (humanoid scarab beetles) and arguably the most interesting/ grotesque, the Remade (creatures who have been literally 'remade'; their bodies magically combined with machines or organic elements), and introduces us to new ones such as Scabmettlers (human-like creatures whose blood when shed congeals to form a protective armour), Cray (underwater creatures, half- lobster, half-man), Vampir (self-explanatory), Anophelii (mosquito-like people) and central to the plot; the Avanc (a large, other worldly sea creature used to pull Armada through the hidden ocean to The Scar).

Imaginative feats in themselves, these species and their interrelationships also underpin many of the central themes of the novel. An example of this is the language of the Anophelii.

Language and the Anophelii:

Bellis Coldwine's occupation as a linguist and translator immediately centralises language as a theme, and the Anophelii act to politicise this theme.

The male and female of this species are distinct; the male being humanoid vegetarians with sphincter- like mouths and the female, winged blood-suckers with a bony proboscis that extends from their mouths for feeding.

Following a gruesome attack on the landing party when they first arrive on the Island, our sympathies for the she-anophelii are limited, but this changes when we witness the death of one particular female:

That night, as one of the men was taken to his room, a she-anophelii came close to him, screaming gibberish, her hands extended, and a cactus guard shot her dead with his rivebow.

Bellis heard the thwacking report and watched through the window slits. The he-anophelii crooned with their sphincter mouths, and knelt beside her body, and felt her. Her mouth hung open, and her proboscis lolled like a massive stiff tongue. She had fed recently. Her still-plump body was cut almost in half by the rivebow’s massive, spinning chakri, and enormous gouts of blood were soaking into the earth and pooling in dusty slicks.

The males shook their heads. A he-anophelius beside her plucked at Bellis’ arms and wrote something on her pad.

Not necessary. She did not want to feed.

And then he explained to her, and Bellis’ head swam with the monstrousness of it.

The she-anophelii are driven by an insatiable, all-consuming thirst. Without anything to sate them, they are monsters. Yet after they have fed, they are of equal disposition to the male of the species; quiet, contemplative and intelligent.

The 'screaming gibberish' of the she-anophelli was an exercise in curiosity and an attempt at speech. Unable to communicate in a way that could be understood, she was deemed a threat, and shot. The ability to communicate is a matter of life and death.

As a race, the Anophelii once ruled much of the world in an empire called The Malarial Queendom which caused much death and destruction. Out of necessity, their species was quarantined to one small Island, guarded by bloodless Cactacae.

They cannot speak in any language recognisable beyond their own species, and write in the ancient and near forgotten language of High Kettai (in which Bellis is a specialist). This inability to communicate parallels their political situation and the danger in bringing language to the Anophelii is perceived as tantamount to setting them free and handing them back their power.

The importance of having a voice is thus underlined as we see Bellis in her role as translator, "a conduit, and nothing more", and therefore powerless.

Possibility Mining and Reality Bending

Another interesting element of this novel is the various ways it plays with reality. Through Uthur Doul's possibility sword which can strike in all possible places at once and Fennec's grindylow statue which allows him to move at angles and in spaces that make him invisible, traditional senses of space and time are continually challenged.

The idea that the Hedrigall that returns on a raft following his desertion, may in fact be a "possible Hedrigall" who has seen the demise of a "possible Armada" causes the final rebellion against the lovers plans. The belief in multiple versions of not just objects and circumstances, but of people, further destabilises any solid sense of identity which had already been made unstable by the existence of the Remade and the Lovers.

Ultimately, the existence of "possibilities" and their potential for manipulation by the seemingly omnipotent Uther Doul, removes any sense of culpability for Bellis, who while saddened by the events that have befallen herself and her friends (particularly Shekel's death), feels herself a pawn in a larger game.

This reality bending is an enjoyable element of the narrative, literally adding dimension to the novel. It defies resolution and compliments the final image of the single Lover rowing out into the unknown.

The Bad

Characters

Bellis's passivity and coldness, while a central feature of the novel and a deliberate aspect of her character, can sometimes be frustrating and ring a little hollow, and while the various manipulations she falls prey to are well orchestrated, for a character who begins the novel as a feisty, no-nonsense woman, by the end she's become somewhat damp.

Narrative Style

There are points in this vast novel, where the phrasing falls off or descriptions lose the richness which usually characterises the more imaginative leaps. A particularly persistent issue for me was the number of uses of the words 'aft', 'agog' and to a lesser extent 'aghast' and 'puissant'. In the context of the novel, this is a small criticism, and it's perhaps commendable to take such relish in unusual words, though it did become a distraction for me (albeit an entertaining one). All told, I would have preferred not to notice such an abnormal preference for the "arse-end" of the ship and to have been served up some less conspicuous descriptors.

The Ugly

There are some particularly ugly moments in this novel and as with its predecessor, they are delivered with relish. I have chosen just one example to demonstrate this joy in grotesquery that I find foundationally appealing in Mieville's fiction; the grindylow statue:

Finally, he swallowed and turned to the statue so that its face regarded him. He brought it close, hesitated, and turning his head slightly in a ghastly parody of passion, he began to kiss its mouth.

He opened his own lips and pushed his tongue into the statue's craw. He felt the cold thorns of its teeth, and he probed further. The figurine's mouth was cavernous, and the man's tongue seemed to reach into the centre of the little piece. It was very cold to his mouth. He had to steel himself not to gag on its taste, musty and salt and piscine.

And as the man wriggled his tongue in the stone throat, something kissed him back.

He had expected it- hoped for it, relied on it. But still it came with a jolt of nausea and shock. A little flickering something tonguing his own tongue. Cold and wet and unpleasantly organic, as if a fat maggot lurked at the statue's core.

The taste intensified. The man felt his gorge rise and his stomach spasm, but he kept his bile down. The statue lapped at him with stupid lasciviousness, and he steeled himself to its affections. He had asked a boon of it, and it had graced him with a kiss.

He felt saliva flow from him and, abominably, back into him from the statue. His tongue numbed at its slippery touch, and the coldness faded back towards his teeth. Seconds passed and he could hardly feel his mouth. The man felt a tingling like a drug pass through his body, from the back of his throat down.

The statue stopped kissing him; the little tongue was withdrawn.

He pulled his own tongue out too fast and tore it on the obsidian teeth. He did not feel that, did not realise until he saw the blood drip onto his hand.

Lovely.

There's also a wonderful description of the stinking pus-clumps of a decaying avanc, the re-remaking of Tanner Sack, the defeated Brucolac (vampir) agonisingly roasting in the sun for days and days and a host of other grim occurrences all deliciously described.

Conclusion

The Scar

While this novel is not flawless in its execution, it remains a wide ranging feat of imaginative brilliance. There are plenty of layers for the critic to mull over, and an engrossing plot for the casual reader to enjoy. Its depth and scope makes the most of its 700 odd pages without ever feeling like its dragging; there's something new and interesting on every page.

Despite the criticisms I have made, I do rate this novel very highly and would certainly reccommend it to others. The word I keep coming back to in thinking about this novel is "rich"; it's so densley packed with imagination and interesting themes and ideas that you could dip into it many times without hitting the bottom, which for me is the sign of a good book. Though for a better one, try Embassytown. ( )
  Victoria_A | Jun 9, 2015 |
A really interesting book and pushed beyond Perdido Station and drew me into the world of Bas-Lag. The imagery and characterization was very good and totally drew me in.
China is a great writer who created a world beyond any I have read before.
Sometimes hard to read but always satisfying. Enjoyed it very much.
  Ben_Harnwell | Apr 26, 2015 |
I was up until 2:30am last night to push through and finish this story. I couldn't leave it so close and unfinished.

This is the second China Mieville novel I've read, the first being the earlier Bas-Lag novel, Perdido Street Station. Mieville has amazing vision and imagination that gives extraordinary depth to his world-building. He also likes bugs!
On top of this, he is a highly skilled writer who has an incredible ear for language which makes his descriptions and action all the more evocative than your average author; it really jumps of the page and demands your attention - sometimes alluring and poetic, sometimes coarse and debased. It is language which really resonated with me. There is so much to appreciate about the way Mieville tells a story (i think I had to look up 3 words in a dictionary just a couple of pages in!)

All that said, it really did take me a long time to get into the story. Around 40% in I was wondering if I'd have the stamina to see this one through to the end. It meandered quite a bit and though not a direct sequel to Perdido Street Station, laboured too much in setting the world. Looking back after the story I wonder how much of the earlier content was really required? I did also find at times the characters of Uther Doul and the Brucolac to be drawn too close, at times coming across as almost the same character - perhaps the authors intention - I am not intellectual enough to break the story down too much.
The story picks up pace and gets really good int he second half, though I think there was almost too much packed in for my tastes - it was like a double-shot of[a:Brandon Sanderson|38550|Brandon Sanderson|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1394044556p2/38550.jpg]. The confluence of events at the end of the novel left me somewhat unfulfilled - I can handle a novel being left a little open ended and with questions, but I felt a little cheated by the climax and denouement.

I only finished the book last night and in updating my Goodreads profile felt compelled to add my thoughts, but I really believe this is a novel that is best savored and pondered after completion. i think it's a story that will stay with me for some time.

China Meiville's The Scar - a complex Scotch before a roaring open fire in an ancient and isolated manor house. ( )
  StaticBlaq | Apr 26, 2015 |
I tried sticking with it, but I just couldn't get interested in the characters. Even though Bellis is, refreshingly, a female main character, she doesn't really seem to do anything, and I could not "get" her character sufficiently to really enjoy the plot, and the admittedly very lyrical descriptions did not so much endear the world to me as pause the alFinishedy very slow plot. ( )
  Mothwing | Jan 4, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miéville, Chinaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mège, NathalieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, EdwardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Villa, ElisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wood, AshleyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Yet the memory would not set into the setting sun, that green and frozen glance to the wide blue sea where broken hearts are wrecked out of their wounds. A blind sky bleached white the intellect of human bone, skinning the emotions from the fracture to reveal the grief underneath. And the mirror reveals me, a naked and vulnerable fact. --Dambudzo Marechera, Black Sunlight
Dedication
To Claudia, my mother.
First words
A mile below the lowest cloud, rock breaches water and the sea begins.
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I am the Brucolac, and your sword won't save you. You think you can face me?
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Haiku summary
New Weird pirate yarn:
Floating collectivist state/
Sea-beast chariot!
(Longshanks)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345460014, Mass Market Paperback)

In the third book in an astounding, genre-breaking run, China Miéville expands the horizon beyond the boundaries of New Crobuzon, setting sail on the high seas of his ever-growing world of Bas Lag.

The Scar begins with Miéville's frantic heroine, Bellis Coldwine, fleeing her beloved New Crobuzon in the peripheral wake of events relayed in Perdidio Street Station. But her voyage to the colony of Nova Esperium is cut short when she is shanghaied and stranded on Armada, a legendary floating pirate city. Bellis becomes the reader's unbelieving eyes as she reluctantly learns to live on the gargantuan flotilla of stolen ships populated by a rabble of pirates, mercenaries, and press-ganged refugees. Meanwhile, Armada and Bellis's future is skippered by the "Lovers," an enigmatic couple whose mirror-image scarring belies the twisted depth of their passion. To give up any more of Miéville’s masterful plot here would only ruin the voyage through dangerous straits, political uprisings, watery nightmares, mutinous revenge, monstrous power plays, and grand aspirations.

Miéville's skill in articulating brilliantly macabre and involving descriptions is paralleled only by his ability to set up world-moving plot twists that continually blow away the reader's expectations. Man-made mutations, amphibious aliens, transdimensional beings, human mosquitoes, and even vampires are merely neighbors, coworkers, friends, and enemies coexisting in the dizzying tapestry of diversity that is Armada. The Scar proves Miéville has the muscle and talent to become a defining force as he effortlessly transcends the usual clichés of the genre. --Jeremy Pugh

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:27 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A group of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, find themselves on the Armada, a floating city whose bizarre leaders harbor a sinister agenda.

(summary from another edition)

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