It's hard to avoid politics, and in particular, Mièville's politics when it comes to Bas-lag. In Mièville's Marxist oriented doctoral thesis, [b:Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law|68502|Between Equal Rights A Marxist Theory of International Law|China Miéville|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1354903611s/68502.jpg|1963235], he argues that international law is fundamentally constituted by the violence of imperialism, which by implication, is driven to a large extent by capitalism.
It's not too hard to work out that New Crobuzon is the theoretical capitalist "bad guy" of Bas-lag with its secret police and under-handed politics, its economic avarice and totalitarian leanings. And yet, its antagonist in the plot of the novel, The Scar's floating city community of ships-made-into-a city, Armada, are thieving, murderous pirates who forcefully take their future citizens by violence, and brainwash them into submission, or else simply kill them. They're not good guys either by any measure in my book. The reason why Armada is supposedly a 'good' community, is because they set erstwhile prisoners 'free' (not really free if they're not allowed to leave, are they?) to become good non-law-abiding pirates who kill and pillage.
So once again, Mièville presents us with a complex, politically grey, ambiguous scenario.
I agree that totalitarianism (as represented by New Crobuzon) is undesirable, but I'm not so sure that imperialism always is 100% bad (The Chinese and Roman empires brought a lot of benefits to its citizens, for instance - most of the time, that is, when the rulers weren't going crazy), and I'm known to be pretty much anti-anarchist, depending on what your definitions are. (In other words, I believe in having at least some universally agreed-upon laws being in place which human societies need to follow and orient themselves by; and it is important that whatever the law is, that it not be enforced on an arbitrary basis. ) The Scar forces one to ponder on these aspects when you get acquainted with how Armada is run, and I reckon this is a good thing.
In any case, I don't see New Crobuzon as being any the more imperialist or less violent than Armada is--in fact the latter seems more so to me. At least the citizens of New Crobuzon are free to leave the place if they don't want to live there anymore...
I think my dislike for these aspects of Armada, is part of the reason (there are others such as a feeling of sloppiness in the plotting and general writing) that makes The Scar my least favorite Mièville. Perhaps a certain coarseness in how the uncouth aspects of the world was presented, also played a role.
Granted, Bellis Coldwine, the main character, seems to agree with my feelings regarding Armada; so perhaps I should actually be giving Mièville extra points for embracing ambiguity and avoiding a black-and-white scenario. After all, life is as he describes it - he makes no attempt to present any whitewashed utopias, as far as I can see.
One thing that Mièville and I probably can agree on, is that when naked greed gets to run its course unchecked, social injustices mount up. ...and this is so whether there is a communist or a capitalist regime at the helm.
Back to The Scar, I really enjoyed all the surprises and twisting towards the end, and that the actual 'solution' was a lot more political and pragmatic than one tended to believe earlier on in the novel. The twists and surprises alone pushed me to give the book an additional star.
I think that Mièville again tried to pack in too many weird creatures and small disconnected bits of world exposition, much as he did with Perdido Street Station, but it does make for a richer world than, for instance his much more tightly controlled The City & The City, which is a quite good novel by detective genre standards.
He did lose marks for the mosquito women's unnecessary bits of anatomy, which made even less sense than the cactus women's. Maybe breasts are Mièville's way to distinguish between the sexes; and yet, he seems remarkably non-sexist when it comes to most of his female characters, including Bellis Coldwine, the main character in The Scar.
Oh! There's so much going on in this novel, that I almost forgot about how Mieville plays around with quantum physics and metaphysics with his "possibility leaks". I really enjoyed that aspect.
I liked it. I thought Tanner and Bellis and Shekel and Johannes and Silas and Uther and The Lovers and Brucolac were all believably portrayed, and in spite of Bellis being portrayed as an emotionally "cold" person, one gets to see enough of why she is like this, and enough to gain empathy with her need to protect herself by endeavoring to remain as detached as possible.
In spite of the fact that the novel lags and wanders about rather aimlessly in places around the middle, as with the first book in the series, Perdido Street Station, it is worth hanging on for the roller-coaster ride towards the end, so I added a star here and subtracted a star there, and came up with three and a half stars for The Scar, a novel with distinct strengths and weaknesses.
For an extra bit of spice which might be appreciated by those who have read quite a bit of Mièville, read on. If you don't have a sense of humor, don't read on.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a first time for everything, they say, even for writing erotica into a review. Especially if it is sado-masochistic erotica. Well, see, China Mièville put me up to it while I was reading his novel The Scar.
I was reading this passage in The Scar, you see, of sado-masochistic passion between two lovers, (part of the exploration on the theme of scarring, btw) and slowly an image began to form in my mind, of me somehow managing to find myself in a room, with a naked China Mièville, who was clad only in a slave-collar, the chain of which I was holding. I had a whip in my other hand.
There was a pole in the middle of the room, and I bade China to face this pole, his back to me. “Look at the pole, China!” I said as I raised my whip.
“I want you to understand something, China!” I snapped curtly, tickling his flank with the end of the whip. And that is how I feel about the word ‘puissant’”.
I flicked my whip with puissance, and then brought it home puissantly.
*WHACK!* “OW!” China jumped a little. “Good! I see the message is getting through to you. That one was for all the puissants. And this one...” *WHACK!* is for all the puissance. "
China did not cry out this time, though he did flinch. Two pink marks striped his muscled glutes.
"You also deserve a smack for all the sloppiness, and for the flopping about between tenses. I mean, really, where were you when the grammar class did tenses? ..but as usual, you're doing your own thing again, making up the rules as you go along...
Since it should be your editor getting the whack for a lot of this, I'll just give you a little smack, with much less puissance than previously. " *Smack*
“...I’m not done yet, China, I happen to have read quite a few of your creations. Remember ‘palimpsest?’(Though admittedly your love for the word is less obvious, though obvious enough, than for 'puissance'). Well, I’m going to make a little pink palimpsest here on your beautiful behind."
I could see China’s body tighten and I imagined him inwardly steeling himself. Petty cruelty got the better of me and I smirked. “Do I sense a certain recognition, Dr Mièville?
*WHACK!* “ For PALLIIIMMMMPPPSSSESSST!” I yodelled.
“ ...and just to make the palimpsest complete, here is one for all the drooling in The Scar specifically. ( *whackety*) Now, have I left anything out?”
I tapped my high-heeled leather boot impatiently, masking my pleasure at finally getting my revenge in regard to the niggles and especially the puissance, wondering inadvertently if I myself was not perhaps drooling by this point.
China turned to face me, a ghost of a smile on his sexy lips, a twinkle in his eye. “ Wipe that smile off your gibbet!” I roared, whacking him one on the arm for good measure. "And, by the way, that last whack was because the mosquito women have breasts. Mosquitoes lay eggs--what the Jabber would mosquitoes need breasts for?"
At that, he grabbed hold of the whip and twisted it easily out of my hand. “You know what you need?” he asked, grinning openly. “A good lesson in creative writing.”
Of course, the rest of the fantasy is censored for the benefit of the large warrior woman, so we'll talk a bit more about The Scar after the cold shower break.
*Takes a cold shower*
**Disclaimer: The S&M "erotic" scene in this review bears no implication whatsoever as to the orientations or inclinations of either the author of this review or of the author of the novel under review; it is meant to be humorous, and has no bearing on reality whatsoever.