Kraken is the first China Mieville book I’ve read aside from his celebrated Bas-Lag books: Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council. And while no one would ever doubt the fecundity of his imagination, his plotting has always left a bit to be desired. My overwhelming impression after finishing Perdido Street Station, in fact, was that I would kill to be able to play a Bas-Lag MMO (well, that, and a desire to find out where Mieville buys his drugs). But of course, there’s over a decade between PSS and Kraken, and Mieville has clearly sharpened his toolset as a writer. The imagination is still in full force, of course: one can imagine him entertaining his mates down at the pub with some of the crazier shit he came up with (Chaos Nazis! Egyptian slave gods! Sentient ink!), but for all the weirdness (about which a bit more later), the story hangs together without too many moments that make you want to close the book and spend some time reading something a bit more straightforward, like the ad copy on the back of a box of cereal.
I won’t give much of a plot synopsis here, as the capsule on the back of the book or on the Amazon page does enough to whet one’s appetite without giving away too much of the meal. More often than not, Kraken reads like the unholy, many-tentacled spawn of Thomas Pynchon and Grant Morrison, and your enjoyment of the book will depend greatly on your reaction to that description. Certainly you’ll see echoes of The Crying of Lot 49 and The Invisibles, not to mention Ballard short stories and American Gods and a bit of Lovecraft and enough pop culture seasoning to satisfy the most deranged Internetizen. There are echoes too of the Bas-Lag books, which makes sense since New Crobuzon is basically Bizarro London. Speaking of which, while it may help to be a resident of London (or at least England) to get some of the in-jokes, it’s certainly no requirement, as I’m a native of least-London city on Earth (Los Angeles) and enjoyed the book just fine.
I’ve never been much for the rampant categorization of sci-fi subgenres, speaking as someone who grew up in the midst of Peak Cyberpunk. Oh, I get it, there’s a substantial difference between Space Opera and Technothriller and Urban Fantasy. But Mieville often seems to defy categorization, despite the eagerness of genre theorists to slap the term New Weird on him and some of his contemporaries. Sci-fi and fantasy have been borrowing from literary fiction since time immemorial, and trying to draw a line from Burroughs to Sterling to Mieville seems, well, kind of counterproductive. Better still to settle in with a cup of coffee and just enjoy Kraken for what it is, a profoundly strange, intermittently hilarious, feverishly imagined thriller that may have you entertaining your friends with whatever batshit crazy thing happened over the last few pages.