Friday, January 29, 2010

"The Scar", by China Miéville

I read this a while back in SF book club. One could argue that this is not actually science fiction, being more a work of fantasy. However, it does not begin with a map, and is not rubbish, so it is not really proper fantasy. The book is set in a world with steam engines and thaumaturgy (a kind of magic, but one that seems to be approached in an almost scientific manner). The story begins with some people on a boat leaving a big city to go to some colony on the other side of the world. This bit struck an immediate chord with me, reminding me of the start of Mike Dash's Batavia's Graveyard (a non-fiction work on a horrific mutiny that took place after a Dutch East India company ship was wrecked on an isolated island) – like with that book, there is a sense in The Scar that something has gone very wrong with your life if you find yourself heading off to the colonies.

The Scar is a big book, and it undergoes a number of transitions – the plot is trundling along about one thing, then it turns in a radically new direction, and then it does it again. This meant that I almost did not notice its length – it did not feel like one long, monotonous slog. It also does well what you want from SF/Fantasy – bringing you into a well-described world of strangeness. It is also has interesting and well-drawn characters, both male and female (and not all human). So yes, I recommend this highly, though I should point out that most other readers in the book club were underwhelmed by it.

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