A book by China Mieville

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One apocalypse is never enough ... an inventive and exhilarating fantasy epic at the ends of the world in underground London

  • Jun 24, 2010
When a gigantic preserved squid goes missing from London's natural history museum, it's obvious this is no ordinary heist. Billy Harrow, the curator who arrived on the scene of the crime and had also been the one to preserve this particular specimen, is questioned by a special police squad, which suspects that the culprit may have been a local underground cult devoted to kraken worship. It turns out they aren't the only ones with the motive and means to perpetrate such an impossible crime, and the cult and occult police squad aren't the only ones who'd like to know what Billy may or may not know about what went down. This oddball heist may just turn out to be the beginning of the end, or of the many competing ends envisioned by the various bizarre religions that populate the London deep-underground.

Mieville is a fascinating and inventive writer, whose stories are intricate and convoluted puzzles that always manage to come together in a satisfying way, even if it feels like it takes time for the outlines to become clear and in the end there may be a couple pieces missing, whose contours you must supply with imagination. He does like to keep his readers guessing, and sometimes throws you in headfirst into a situation, where you have to take your bearings in bewilderment in much the same way as the hapless characters whose misadventures you follow into mystery upon mystification. He's not one to lay it all out at once, and next to never lets his characters explain to each other what's what as if they didn't already know. Happily, he does let us sit in on the lives of a couple of characters who need to figure things out, and do, gradually, along with us, even as we share their frustration as the folks they're with tend not to lay it all out neatly but only piecemeal. This approach may trouble some readers. It drew me in, engaged me, and kept me hooked.

What also kept me on were the fascinating and unpredictable twists, whose sense became clear only in their aftermath, and the clever and often quite amusing subplots, such as that of a statue named Wati, who'd freed himself from bondage to some dead Egyptian nobleman, and wound up, eventually, in London where he was forming a union of enslaved magical artifacts and animals, insisting they demand better pay for their services. These weren't just digressions. Even the oddest detour almost always turned out to be relevant to understanding the endgame.

The prose, throughout, is playful and inventive. Mieville finds new ways to say old things and precise ways to express the unheard of and unusual. He draws effortlessly upon a wide range of sources, from pop culture to philosophy, science and history, handles and exploits technical terms (like "autopoiesis") with a playful ease, and creates rich allusions and inventive puns (e.g. "squid pro quo") that had me laughing out loud or grinning nearly every other page. It's a fun and funny book, that nevertheless demands attention because he's not going to fill you in on what's just happened every few pages and sometimes you have to infer. It's also, underneath, a big ideas book, about the magic of belief and the power of truth, about religion and science, about accident and fate. It works in the same vein as Gaiman's Neverwhere and American Gods, with its approach to a magical underground London and to the vitality of myth, but creates its own world and in a style and approach that is unique and feels fresh. I couldn't put it down and loved it every minute. This is fantasy fiction at its finest. Highly recommended.

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August 20, 2010
Nice review again, Nate! I really enjoy reading your thoughts on books.
August 21, 2010
Been meaning to begin a discussion about "what is science fiction?" I see Star Wars, Resident Evil and Inception NOT science fiction. I think the term science fiction needs to be defined, having some touches of 'fiction and science' does not make a sci-fi book or film. I'll start the discussion as soon as you and Aerin come back. (you can begin it also once you feel able)
August 21, 2010
I agree with you, especially on the examples you pointed out. Out of the three, one could maybe make the best argument about "Inception." I would love to discuss these points with you and others! Just post the thread whenever you have time, and shoot Aerin & I a comment, so we know when to check it out. I'll let you take the lead on it since it was your idea. :D
August 20, 2010
Nice review. I see you really have a diverse profile of reviews!
August 20, 2010
Good review. Would you class this as science fiction? Thanks!
August 20, 2010
You do know the definition of science fiction right? Just because there's a giant squid (this is actually not fiction, but has been confirmed as fact these days) doesn't mean it is sci-fi. Sci-fi should be one that draws out the story through the expression of a science, the study of, or something that presents the misuse of man or man's benefit from it. This sounds more like a drama-thriller with ties to science AND even religious beliefs, but not fiction, IMHO from what can be gathered in this informative review.
August 20, 2010
There was another reviewer who called this sci fi and I disagreed. I just wanted another opinion from another reader. Yes, this is a great review.
August 20, 2010
I may begin a discussion about this, I'll send you an invite when I do.
August 20, 2010
Yeah, I have to agree with William, here, Scotman. This is not a sci-fi book. So, whoever cataloged it as sci-fi and wrote a review for your community should probably move it as it doesn't belong there. If you did want to lump it into some odd genre like that, I would suggest fantasy, but based on the description, I would say this is more of a drama-thriller tale.

If it was sci-fi, though, it could have just as happy a home here in Cafe Libri as in your community, lol. Sometimes I think you forget that we accept ALL genre and styles of reading materials here cause you're always recruiting for your community. :P
August 20, 2010
William, you should start a discussion here! Did you want me to post something or did you want to? Let me know when it's up. I'll participate in it!
August 20, 2010
Actually this book was not in any community from SnowLeopard. She had it in a duplicate topic. I changed the tag to Fantasy as it was not sci fi as far as I could see from the reviews and descriptions. I refer to Cafe Libri all the time, by the way. After all I am a member! LOL!
August 20, 2010
Seems I was clearly misunderstood here. I simply asked if this book would be considered science fiction, since I have not read it. The answer would be no it seems. I never ever claimed it was. This book was never at The Forbidden Planet.  It was always and still is in Cafe Libri.   I hope that clarifies things. Thanks.
August 20, 2010
Sorry for not responding. I've been off for a few days - and don't have comments set to trigger an email. But they're right, this is not sci-fi, it's dystopian fantasy. This is Neil Gaiman territory, a territory where competing gods and strange magic permeate the underworld of London. Mieville's previous book "The City and the City" might count as sci-fi, though. It reads like a crime thriller set in a strange city, but it's got nothing in there that is strictly impossible (though there is a suggestion of alternative technologies), and the science it could be said to explore is more psychology than physics or technology.
August 21, 2010
Great, thanks for that. I may pick this up!
August 21, 2010
I think you should remove the topic from your sci-fi community, Scotman. It is definitely not sci-fi..
August 21, 2010
OK, I stand corrected. I had no idea the topic was there. I deleted it. However, I never put it there in the first place. Thanks.
August 21, 2010
Yeah, I think it was one of Doug's reviews that put it in the Forbidden Planet community.
August 21, 2010
Thanks for clarifying. It's all Libri's now, LOL.
August 21, 2010
coolness. all is right in the world. :)
More Kraken reviews
review by . May 30, 2010
China Mieville writes like nobody else. Exceedingly erudite (he has a PhD) he throws many words you've never heard of into this fantastic brew taking place in his London- and London to him is a huge living thing, a great breathing, crouching beast. Windows rattle and bricks speak and of course there's plenty of swirling fog to top everything off. His writing is quirky, he uses highly inventive similes such as "Bits of rubbish shifted in gusts, crawled on the pavement like bottom feeders." London …
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (, and am co-director of … more
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British fantasist MieÌüville mashes up cop drama, cults, popular culture, magic, and gods in a Lovecraftian New Weird caper sure to delight fans of Perdido Street Station and The City & the City. When a nine-meter-long dead squid is stolen, tank and all, from a London museum, curator Billy Harrow finds himself swept up in a world he didn't know existed: one of worshippers of the giant squid, animated golems, talking tattoos, and animal familiars on strike. Forced on the lam with a renegade kraken cultist and stalked by cops and crazies, Billy finds his quest to recover the squid sidelined by questions as to what force may now be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Even MieÌüville's eloquent prose can't conceal the meandering, bewildering plot, but his fans will happily swap linearity for this dizzying whirl of outrageous details and fantastic characters.
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ISBN-10: 034549749X
ISBN-13: 978-0345497499
Author: China Mieville
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Del Rey
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