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Kraken: An Anatomy by China Miéville
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Kraken: An Anatomy (2010)

by China Miéville

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If reading a book is like walking along a road, with a few detours and side trips, then Kraken is like riding a roller coaster with slow rises, stomach wrenching twists and falls, and breathtaking views.

Miéville gives us a story that opens, innocently enough, in the London Natural History Museum, following a tour guide through the rooms where preserved specimens float in jars, past the jars of animals collected by Darwin himself, to the piece-de-resistance, the giant squid, only to find . . . nothing. It's gone. Tank and all. Billy Harrow, the curator, feels like the earth has opened up under him.

This is the beginning of our adventure which introduces us to a cult which worships the squid (and other cults worshiping other equally bizarre causes), the FSRC (Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit), and a cast of amazing and amazingly talented characters.

Miéville includes bits of humor in this story to remind us not to take it too seriously. For instance, helmeted thugs who, when unhelmeted, are shown to have large hands in place of their heads - knuckleheads. ( )
  mamzel | Jul 4, 2014 |
Having read and adored China Miéville's Railsea, it was very interesting to read Kraken, which was full of the same crazy, wonderful imagination, and which was for sure an absorbing, engaging read, but which I didn't love the way I loved Railsea.

My first explanation for this was that the storytelling was tighter for Railsea. Kraken, like Railsea, was bursting at the seams with cool ideas, inventions, and conceits, as well as a vivid landscape, compelling (sometimes terrifying) characters, and delight in language and words. However, whereas Railsea took all these ingredients and baked them into a delicious novel, in Kraken, I felt like the ingredients were all just left on the shelf, and I was supposed to admire them there.

And really, even as just ingredients, they were pretty dang admirable: Hallucinogenic squid ink, angels of memory, a shabti activist who's unionized familiars, golems, and other magical servants, haruspices who study the entrails of London, the embassy of the sea, chrono-fire ... Yeah, I loved these things. Not to mention the most terrifying assassin thugs I've ever come across in literature. The book is worth reading just to encounter these things as items on the shelf. It's kind of like the Think Geek catalogue, where you scroll through thinking, Wow, this is cool. And this is cool. And hey, this is really cool.

But I like novels better than catalogues, and although Kraken did have a plot, it was a pretty bare-bones one that often got lost amidst the train of fabulous Miéville creations, so much so that the characters had to keep reminding one another what their objectives were and prompting one another to explain the significance of this or that happening or development.**

And I thought that was the thing that stood in the way of my enjoying Kraken as much as Railsea. It was all Miéville's fault. But no.

Upon further reflection, I realized the problem was my missing sense of humor. When I thought about the novel after finishing it, I kept on having Shaun of the Dead pop into my head. But Shaun of the Dead is funny, I'd think to myself. Whereas this book is. . . And at about that point I realized that Kraken was funny. I'd just been missing it.

In my defense, I started reading it in Timor-Leste, where all the urbane, too-cool-for-school young Londoners just seemed completely alien and distant and surreal. So there's that. But you'd think that when I got to the picketing familiars or the homemade tribble or the magic iPod, a lightbulb would have come on in my head. Instead, I just thought those were isolated moments in an overall story of suspense and horror. And for sure there was suspense and horror, but the story is being played for laughs. The reason the apocalypse talk wasn't particularly terrifying wasn't because Miéville wasn't able to make it terrifying, it was because he wasn't trying to make it terrifying: he was trying to make it funny.

When I thought over the story in that light, the fact that the adventure wasn't highly plotted no longer seemed like so much of a flaw. Same with the somewhat abrupt and random changes in character (e.g., the flip-flop in power dynamics between Dane, the kraken worshipper, and Billy, the protagonist, or paranormal cop Collingswood's sudden change in attitude toward her immediate superior toward the end of the book). You forgive a lot in the name of humor.

That said, the character I liked best, Dane, was the most straight-arrow-sincere guy in the book . . . and probably the least humorous. And even in the name of humor, the perpetual profanities coming out of the mouths of all the characters were a little wearing. That sort of thing is funnier for me on the screen than in print.

But all the same, it was a totally absorbing book, and all the things I've complained about didn't keep me from *loving* things like the angels of memory, the embassy of the sea, and Wati the union-organizing shabti. I'm eager to read another Miéville--maybe Embassytown.

**For example, p. 128: Dane, the kraken worshipper, to Billy, the protagonist: "There's a god to save," and again, on p. 133: "We've got a god to find." And on page 146, "Because we have a god to find." For the paranormal police, the big questions of the book can be put in these terms: "Whatever it is has to do with the fucking squid ... If we knew who'd taken the bugger..."--questions they're still asking themselves in much the same language on page 294: "Why the bollock can't we find the squid boss? Who's got it?" Billy, meanwhile, frames questions for Dane like this: "You know what we're going to find out, though, right?" (245) or "You know what it's going to say" (250). And so on. ( )
  FrancescaForrest | May 12, 2014 |
Having read and adored China Miéville's Railsea, it was very interesting to read Kraken, which was full of the same crazy, wonderful imagination, and which was for sure an absorbing, engaging read, but which I didn't love the way I loved Railsea.

My first explanation for this was that the storytelling was tighter for Railsea. Kraken, like Railsea, was bursting at the seams with cool ideas, inventions, and conceits, as well as a vivid landscape, compelling (sometimes terrifying) characters, and delight in language and words. However, whereas Railsea took all these ingredients and baked them into a delicious novel, in Kraken, I felt like the ingredients were all just left on the shelf, and I was supposed to admire them there.

And really, even as just ingredients, they were pretty dang admirable: Hallucinogenic squid ink, angels of memory, a shabti activist who's unionized familiars, golems, and other magical servants, haruspices who study the entrails of London, the embassy of the sea, chrono-fire ... Yeah, I loved these things. Not to mention the most terrifying assassin thugs I've ever come across in literature. The book is worth reading just to encounter these things as items on the shelf. It's kind of like the Think Geek catalogue, where you scroll through thinking, Wow, this is cool. And this is cool. And hey, this is really cool.

But I like novels better than catalogues, and although Kraken did have a plot, it was a pretty bare-bones one that often got lost amidst the train of fabulous Miéville creations, so much so that the characters had to keep reminding one another what their objectives were and prompting one another to explain the significance of this or that happening or development.**

And I thought that was the thing that stood in the way of my enjoying Kraken as much as Railsea. It was all Miéville's fault. But no.

Upon further reflection, I realized the problem was my missing sense of humor. When I thought about the novel after finishing it, I kept on having Shaun of the Dead pop into my head. But Shaun of the Dead is funny, I'd think to myself. Whereas this book is. . . And at about that point I realized that Kraken was funny. I'd just been missing it.

In my defense, I started reading it in Timor-Leste, where all the urbane, too-cool-for-school young Londoners just seemed completely alien and distant and surreal. So there's that. But you'd think that when I got to the picketing familiars or the homemade tribble or the magic iPod, a lightbulb would have come on in my head. Instead, I just thought those were isolated moments in an overall story of suspense and horror. And for sure there was suspense and horror, but the story is being played for laughs. The reason the apocalypse talk wasn't particularly terrifying wasn't because Miéville wasn't able to make it terrifying, it was because he wasn't trying to make it terrifying: he was trying to make it funny.

When I thought over the story in that light, the fact that the adventure wasn't highly plotted no longer seemed like so much of a flaw. Same with the somewhat abrupt and random changes in character (e.g., the flip-flop in power dynamics between Dane, the kraken worshipper, and Billy, the protagonist, or paranormal cop Collingswood's sudden change in attitude toward her immediate superior toward the end of the book). You forgive a lot in the name of humor.

That said, the character I liked best, Dane, was the most straight-arrow-sincere guy in the book . . . and probably the least humorous. And even in the name of humor, the perpetual profanities coming out of the mouths of all the characters were a little wearing. That sort of thing is funnier for me on the screen than in print.

But all the same, it was a totally absorbing book, and all the things I've complained about didn't keep me from *loving* things like the angels of memory, the embassy of the sea, and Wati the union-organizing shabti. I'm eager to read another Miéville--maybe Embassytown.

**For example, p. 128: Dane, the kraken worshipper, to Billy, the protagonist: "There's a god to save," and again, on p. 133: "We've got a god to find." And on page 146, "Because we have a god to find." For the paranormal police, the big questions of the book can be put in these terms: "Whatever it is has to do with the fucking squid ... If we knew who'd taken the bugger..."--questions they're still asking themselves in much the same language on page 294: "Why the bollock can't we find the squid boss? Who's got it?" Billy, meanwhile, frames questions for Dane like this: "You know what we're going to find out, though, right?" (245) or "You know what it's going to say" (250). And so on. ( )
  FrancescaForrest | May 12, 2014 |
Oh, what to say about this book? Where even to begin? Some people will be familiar with Miéville, and to those people I can say that you may read the plot summary of this book and question of it's going to be Miéville-y enough. (I did.) Because, sure, it involves a Kraken, but the summary kind of makes it sound like the story takes place in everyday London. That there's a hint of strange, but its driving force is a crime. Well. Fear not. You will get everything you expect from Miéville. Promise.

To those of you who have maybe not read him but are curious, or those who don't know him at all, it's a bit more difficult to describe or recommend this book. China Miéville is one of the big writers in the genre called "New Weird." This is a hard thing to pin down, although I'm sure Wikipedia can give you a rundown, but suffice it to say that it is what it sounds like. Very weird. It's also not for the dabbler. If you're just looking for weird for the sake of weird, try Bizarro lit. New Weird has a density of language and storytelling that really calls for commitment from its readers. I don't mean that to sound snooty, and I think it's relatively accessible as a genre, but it's no beach read. Books like this owe something to H.P. Lovecraft, and you can feel that debt in the complexity of the story. You have to want it.

If that sounds like your thing, there's just one more element you should be aware of. The weird? It's really, truly weird and not for faint hearts or weak stomachs. If you're on the fence, keep reading.

If you decide to read Kraken, make sure you're up to descriptions of people being folded like origami, or tinkered with in a workshop until they're half radio, half human. And not in a mystical or curious way. Things get gruesome. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Anyway. It took me about a month, which is a long time for me, but I'm pretty satisfied with the reading experience. Not sure I'll ever look at London, or squids, quite the same way again. Which is a sign of a successful story, wouldn't you say? ( )
  librarymeg | Apr 21, 2014 |
Medium-grade fantasy fiction on the scorecard, set in an underworld London of assorted strange beliefs and characters with unusual abilities. Despite some unexpected twists, passages that have you tense with anticipation, and a handful of brilliant paragraphs, it’s finally just a little too goofy.

Any moment called now is always full of possibilities. At times of excess might-bes, London sensitives occasionally had to lie down in the dark. Some were prone to nausea brought on by a surfeit of apocalypse. Endsick, they called it, and at moments of planetary conjuncture, calendrical bad luck or mooncalf births, its sufferers would moan and puke, struck down by the side effects of revelations in which they had no faith.

Breckenridge Oatmeal Stout
Harpoon IPA
  MusicalGlass | Mar 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 101 (next | show all)
Kraken utilises Miéville’s common setting of London, albeit a strange London. This otherness beside the familiar is a strand in his work evident from King Rat and Un Lun Dun through to THE CITY AND YTIC EHT.

This one started out as if it may have been written with a film or TV adaptation in mind - one with a potentially light-hearted take - but soon veers off down strange Miévillean byways which may be unfilmable. For these are the end times and cultists worshipping all manner of weird gods abound.

It begins with a kind of locked room mystery as a giant squid, Architeuthis, has been stolen - formalin, tank and all - from its stance in the Darwin Centre, a natural history museum where Billy Harrow is a curator. He helped to prepare the squid for show and is thought to hold the knowledge that might allow all those interested in its recovery to find it. The police fundamentalist and cult squad, the FSRC, is called in to help investigate the disappearance which becomes more involved when Billy discovers a body pickled (in too small a jar) in the museum’s basement. And these are merely the first strangenesses to be encountered in this book. We also have the consciousness of a man embedded within a tattoo, a tattoo which moves and speaks. Then there is the double act of Goss and Subby - two shapeshifting baddies from out of time (they shift other people’s shapes) - and weird sects, cults and mancers of all sorts.

Never short of incident and brimming with plot the novel is probably a bit too convoluted, with too many characters for its own good, and its one-damn-strange-thing-after-another-ness can verge on overkill. But this is an unashamed fantasy, a form to which I am antipathetic when it is taken to extremes; and Miéville is not one for restraint.

While Kraken sometimes skirts along the edge of comedy it never fully embraces it. There are too many killings and acts of violence for comedy to sit comfortably. I might have liked the novel better if it had. Its main fault is that it never manages to settle on which sort of book it is meant to be, straddling various narrative stools such as police procedural, one man against the odds, woman in search of the truth about her vanished lover, etc.
added by jackdeighton | editA Son Of The Rock, Jack Deighton (Jan 29, 2011)
 
Miéville has done what all great science-fiction has done—and great so-called literary fiction, when it gets around to it—provide a nuanced, highly imagined critique of the zeitgeist, dressed up in a crackerjack story.
 
""... "Kraken" is, no mistake, a literary work. The hint is in the subtitle, "An Anatomy," because Miéville is exploring the gap between the prosaic squid and the mythic Kraken, between the mundane ground of everyday life and the sacred. What precisely turns a fish into a god? What is the anatomy of a legend? And how do gods manifest themselves in our world?
...Miéville's best work since "Perdido Street Station."
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miéville, Chinaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Higurashi, MasamichiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valdez, Elisa LazoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
“The green waves break from my sides
As I roll up, forced by my season”

    —Hugh Cook, “The Kraken Wakes”
Dedication
To Mark Bould
Comrade-in-tentacles
First words
An everyday doomsayer in sandwich-board abruptly walked away from what over the last several days had been his pitch, by the gates of a museum.
Quotations
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Haiku summary
Welcome to London
and an underground of cults,
cops, baddies and ... squid.
(ed.pendragon)

No descriptions found.

Being chased by cults, a maniac, and the sorcerers of the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit, cephalopod specialist Billy Harrow inadvertently learns that he holds the key to finding a missing squid--a squid that just happens to be an embryonic god whose powers, properly harnessed, can destroy all that is, was, and ever shall be.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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