Kraken, China Miéville

Kraken has the singular distinction of being my first eBook. It's also my first China Miéville read which I picked based on an article written for what used to be h+ magazine and is now a transhumanist blog. China Miéville was a name I have been vaguely familiar with for some time, but until recently the amount of reading I was doing had dwindled significantly and so I'd never really paid a great deal of attention. He's pretty well known in certain geek subcultures and fantasy genres such as steampunk and the new weird.

What really attracted me to the book was the subject matter. The Kraken. This alien creature of the abyss represents a slowly dwindling area of scientific discovery: those parts of our own world of which we know very little or nothing, where spectacular new feats of exploration and surprising serendipity still astound us with revelations on the secrets our own planet still holds. Furthermore, thanks to H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, the tentacle-adorned, deep-sea denizens have become something of a geek mascot in recent years.

So... the book. I'm going to do the negative bit first because it needs to be said but I don't feel it really detracts from the value of the novel. The world of Kraken feels distinctly and unavoidably similar to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere setting. It's something that, if you're familiar with it, strikes you very early on and constantly reminds you that it's there. It is however a particularly suitable narrative construct that plays so smoothly into some of the books ideas that the parallel is seemingly unavoidable.

Beyond this the story has some wonderful science fiction and fantasy references. A favourite character of mine addressing one of Star Trek's longest standing philosophical questions. There are a lot of subtle and unsubtle nods to popular geek fiction that kept me smiling.

The story hinges around symbolism and constantly suggests that the world we live in is shaped by our own understanding of it, and that symbolism and memetics are the powers that define reality itself. People with the right understanding of this truth, coloured by their own perceptions and cultural viewpoints live in a world that is very slightly offset from our own, where existence is not quite as rigid as the reader's empirical experience of reality would suggest. It's an old concept but it is still a wonderful narrative device and something we have all daydreamed about; what if imagination and belief could tangibly alter our experience of reality and the nature of the world around us.

It's a well written story and has an excellent pace and some characters that are oddly more curious and deep for their cliche natures. Their predictability, and more importantly those moments where they eschew their stereotypes add a depth that can be missing from a lot of fantasy novels.

All in all, I highly recommend reading this one. It was a great casual read and very light without sacrificing depth.