Chasing the squid

On Tuesday, 13 August 2013, I met former co-workers Ken G., Bob R., and Michele & Paul D. for dinner at City Streets in Waltham, Mass. We then went to Lizzy’s Ice Cream on Moody Street for dessert and our latest “Escapists” book club meeting.

We discussed China Mieville’s Kraken, which Bob, Michele, and I liked, but Ken and Paul didn’t. Here’s my Goodreads review of the novel:

KrakenKraken by China Miéville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed every China Miéville book I’ve read so far, and Kraken is no exception. Fans of modern urban fantasy will enjoy this look at an alternate London, where apocalyptic cults duel in the shadows and a museum curator stumbles in his flight from inhuman assassins.

Mieville’s social sarcasm, thicket of allusions, and linguistic acrobatics are all present, if somewhat toned down from his other novels. I’d compare Kraken favorably with Gaiman’s American Gods for its mythic lyricism, punctuated by banality and violence. Like any visit to the strange creatures under museum glass, it’s worth a visit, taken with a grain of salt….

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Steam squid
Steampunk squid

I’ve also recently read and enjoyed David Brin’s Existence, which incorporates his optimistic ruminations on the not-too-distant future (a nice counterpoint to the latest wave of dystopias) and serves as sort of a prequel to his excellent “Upliftseries. Like Mieville, he subverts reader expectations but still has faith in our better angels….

Escapists” book club reviews (5 members), 2012 to 2013:

  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman: 3.38 (out of 4.0)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon: 3.28
  • Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut: 2.94
  • World War Z, Max Brooks: 2.02
  • Daytripper, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon: 3.6
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein: 2.64
  • Kraken, China Mieville: ?
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Perdido Street Station review

Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon, #1)Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This steampunk novel is a must-read for fans of the mashup subgenre. I’ve enjoyed Mieville’s later The City and the City, and while his writing and ontological approach have matured, Perdido Street Station has his social consciousness, interesting characters, and mythical realism.

Mieville helps attune our senses to a city reminiscent of Dickensian London, with fantastic, horror, and steampunk elements. New Crobuzon is squalid and crowded, with bits of glitter and glory surrounded by strange ruins, nonhuman ghettos, ornate industry, and quasi-organic growths. It is dangerous, maddening, and impressive in scope and scale.

If you don’t mind gothic prose, occasional sex and gore, and truly horrific monsters, you’ll enjoy Mieville’s descriptions of peoples suffering from crime and oppression and a scientist whose discoveries threaten to unhinge reality. Mieville takes fantasy tropes — the band of adventurers, the magical aid, the obstacles to enlightenment — and he adds enough suspense and sacrifice for a rewarding page-turner.

I’d love to see the role-playing game based on this completed!
[This review is taken from my GoodReads profile.]
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