There is a lot of gruesomeness in the next two chapters of The Scar, although the book will get way grosser than this before the end. These chapters feature a large amount of blood and gore, but the context isn’t what you’d think. Rather, it’s found in a ceremonial and artistic context, in the case of the Scabmettlers’ mortu crutt, or a medical context, in the case of Tanner’s transformation. Read on for my thoughts of chapter 11 and 12, or find the intro and index at this link; and beware of WHOLE-BOOK SPOILERS ahead!
(Art on the left by Andrew Trabbold)
The narrative visits Thee-and-Thine riding for the first time along with Bellis, as she goes with Silas to see the Scabmettler’s ceremonial fighting. Thee-and-Thine is apparently “unpretentious and profane”, and with that, we can immediately imagine this part of Armada. Mortu crutt is disgusting and fascinating. It’s one of my favourite pieces of culture that we see in Bas-Lag of Miéville’s whole trilogy.
Soon after, Uther Doul demonstrates his super-human abilities, and it’s just awesome. I’ll note here that Garwater’s sigil is described as a steamer against a red moon. I wonder if all the other ridings have their own sigils. I’ll have to look out for those too.
That night, we finally get the full story of why Bellis fled New Crobuzon. It turns out she has a direct connection to Isaac Dan de Grimnebulin, the protagonist of Perdido Street Station. This is one of the numerous little interconnections between the books of the Bas-Lag trilogy. I’ll be sure to point out the others when they pop up, later on. The Scar was the first Miéville book I ever read, and I only vaguely knew about Perdido Street Station‘s plot from the blurb on that book, and hearing about the plague of nightmares here left me dying to read that book. When I finished The Scar, I went and did, and it was amazing. However, The Scar will always be my favourite.
Bellis mentions a few more months of the New Crobuzon calendar: Tathis and Sinn, both summer months, and Octuary. I’m slowly building the calendar up. Although I’m not exactly sure how many months there are in total.
And in this chapter, we find out that Armada has a 9-day week. Two of those days are mentioned now, Horndi and Bookdi (which was actually mentioned last chapter).
Croom Park is a great invention: they are the botanical gardens of Armada. I’d love to explore it. I especially like the themed cabins, and the hills covering the previous topology of the ships’ main decks. As Bellis and Silas have their picnic, Silas’s notebook appears, such a vital item to the entire book’s plot, just brought out in front of the reader’s nose nonchalantly. I was waiting again to hear about the limb farms of the Gengris, but that wasn’t this chapter either. But we did hear a mention of the towers there which house a “skin-library”, which is such a freaky concept that, of course, goes completely unexplained.
Then, Bellis and Silas have sex. The scene is well-written and fraught with unfulfilled emotions for Bellis. But at least she smiles, and feels better when they’re done. She is slowly warming up to her new life. (It’s a pity Silas will so painfully betray her later on.)
We cut abruptly to Tanner’s surgery. It’s a weird scene, so gruesome and vivid. Finally we get a first-hand description of Remaking. It’s a strange mixture of surgery, computing and magic. It’s bizarre to read, hard to fully comprehend. But it also, narratively, makes you believe that Tanner is becoming amphibian. The microscopic organisms that change his body’s secretions are cool, while the fingers in place of toes are just unsettling and creepy.
I’m wondering, would the pathways of his circulatory system have to be altered so that oxygenated blood still reached all over his body from his new gills? I’m trying to think back to amphibian and fish biology. I know that their hearts are differently chambered (3 and 2 chambers, respectively), and maybe the blood pathways are different too. But I need to brush up on my knowledge of human and animal circulatory systems. For now let’s suffice to say that it’s all magic anyway.
I have to wonder if China hates dolphins, what with the portrayal of Bastard John as, well, a total bastard.
I’ll end this post by applauding Miéville’s use of the scar metaphor again. Like I said, it’s applied to each of the protagonists in this book, and this time it’s Tanner’s turn. His scars represent his having healed, not just from his surgery, but from his previous life. He’s both literally and figuratively a new man now. His transformation, more than his arrival at Armada, becomes his total, freeing redemption. Here’s the exact quote, spoken by Tanner’s chirurgeon:
“Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After injury, a scar is what makes you whole.”
Croom Park (Garwater & Curhouse ridings) – Gardens that spread across four ships and into two ridings. Made of hulls filled with plundered soil. Named after Croom, a pirate hero from history.