China Miéville’s The Scar Chapter-By-Chapter: Ch. 13, Ch. 14, Interlude

Dunkleosteus AKA Dinichthys

Dunkleosteus AKA Dinichthys


This time around we finish up Part Two (of seven), “Salt”, with some action, some plot thickening, and some revelations. We end up about a third of the way through the book by page count, and it does feel like the end of a first act of sorts. The world-building and slow drip-feeding of hints thus far has been like the first climb of a rollercoaster, and we’re at the precipice of that gigantic first drop now. The best and most thrilling parts of The Scar are still to come. Here’s the usual link to the intro and index, and of course you’d be dumb to read any more of this post if you’re new to this book, because THERE ARE SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE BOOK AHEAD.

(Image source: Dinosaurs and Dragons)

Note: no new ships to add to the list this time around.

Chapter 13

Armada is such a well-thought-out city, narratively speaking. China takes the time to explore some of the infrastructure in this chapter, mentioning the law & order systems (Garwater, unfortunately for Bellis, is one of the more brutal ridings), the asylum (in Thee-and-Thine) and even a school, called the Lyceum. I’m not really sure if this is more of a university, or if it’s actually a school for Armada’s children. I guess my earlier question about young people onboard Armada still goes unresolved.

Also, we find out that Hotchi live in burrows, and that their subterranean lifestyle is accommodated for even in Armada.

Silas provides another info-dump. This time he reveals the Sorghum‘s purpose: to drill for rockmilk, which is pretty much oil-plus-magic. The word “thaumaturgons” is mentioned; they are a kind of magical particle in the rockmilk. Sounds a bit to close to midichlorians for comfort, there. Then, Silas spins his web of lies about the Grindylow threat to New Crobuzon. For first-time readers who don’t yet know of his untrustworthiness, this adds tension to the plot; for Bellis, it gives her a purpose, finally something she can do. Poor Bellis. Silas really has her, hook, line and sinker.

Oh, so this is where the mention of “limb-farms” is. And “bile workshops”. Some seriously unsettling imagery there. Also, the Grindylow are “euryhalinic”, meaning they can tolerate both salt- and fresh-water. Just thought I’d mention it, I just like that word.

Some other quick notes: There’s a little bit of ironic foreshadowing for Iron Council when Silas quips about Tesh invading New Crobuzon. And, another month is added to our Crobuzonian calendar: Chet, which is a summer month.

Chapter 14

The paragraph here on day and night, and seasons, across the different continents of Bas-Lag, is confusing. Is the world round, or flat, or what? I think there’s further mention of the shape of Bas-Lag when Doul tells Bellis about the Ghosthead, so I’ll keep my eye out for more info. Anyway, it seems that the phenomenon opposite seasons in opposite hemispheres occurs east-west, rather than north-south as in our world. However, the sun rises at the exact same moment no matter where you are on Bas-Lag. Also, weirdly, Bered Kai Nev’s summer days are shorter than its winter days, whereas Rohagi’s days follow the same cycle of our own world’s. If I had a more orbital-physics-oriented mind I might be able to work out what’s going on here, celestially. But maybe it’s just magic. It’s like trying to puzzle out the seasons of George R.R. Martin’s world in A Song of Ice and Fire.

Tanner offers to rebuild Angevine’s engine, which is generous. The relationships between Tanner and Shekel, and Shekel and Angevine, are growing stronger. They are very heartwarming, and when contrasted with the manipulative relationship of Silas and Bellis, it makes the latter more tragic (that is, if you know what Silas is up to… otherwise it seems like she too is finding some warmth in her harsh new life).

The bonefish attack is next, and I think the book was overdue for an action scene (unless you count the mortu crutt and Doul’s fighting display from a few chapters ago as action scenes). The bonefish, I found out, is based on the prehistoric Dinichthys, now known scientifically as Dunkleosteus, and can be seen in the picture that accompanies this article. The attack is a cinematic and frightening scene, and I love it. It then segues into Tanner discovering what’s attached to the underside of Armada.

But then we jump to Shekel presenting his find to Bellis: Krüach Aum’s book, which has surfaced in time for the plot to make a leap forward. The passages she translates include some great foreshadowing of what’s to come: namely, Krüach mentioning that visitors to his island are “fearful of our hungry women”. It’s a chilling end to the chapter, and pieces are being revealed and are starting to lock into place. The Lovers were after a book. We find that book, and discover that it describes the calling of a gigantic leviathan from the depths of the sea. And what does Armada happen to have underneath it, hidden and guarded at all times? Chains. This is going to be a hell of a ride…

Interlude III

As the excellent Part Two of The Scar ends, we rejoin the Grindylow to find them doing horrible things to our old friend, the Cray translator. The poor guy. They then move on to torture or bribe information out of oil rig divers and sea creatures alike. They begin to make use of the long-range communications system the whales have throughout the Swollen Ocean, to track down Armada. They won’t get there for a while, though. Not until things have already gotten really fucked up.

Interestingly, this interlude lists the oceans and seas of Bas-Lag, which I will recount here for my own reference, and for all the Bas-Lag geeks out there:

The major oceans

  • The Rime Ocean
  • The Boxash Ocean
  • The Vassilly Ocean
  • The Tarribor Ocean
  • The Teuchor Ocean
  • The Muted Ocean
  • The Swollen Ocean

Smaller bodies of water

  • The Gentleman’s Sea
  • The Spiral Sea
  • The Clock Ocean
  • The Hidden Ocean
  • The Black Sandbar Sea (from a previous chapter, actually)
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