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On Sale: June 25, 2002
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-345-45489-8
Published by : Del Rey Ballantine Group

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A mythmaker of the highest order, China Miéville has emblazoned the fantasy novel with fresh language, startling images, and stunning originality. Set in the same sprawling world of Miéville’s Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel, Perdido Street Station, this latest epic introduces a whole new cast of intriguing characters and dazzling creations.

Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling colony of New Crobuzon. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city. Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a renowned linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage—and escape from horrific punishment. For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.

For Bellis, the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until it is safe to return home. But when the ship is besieged by pirates on the Swollen Ocean, the senior officers are summarily executed. The surviving passengers are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of pirated ships, a floating, landless mass ruled by the bizarre duality called the Lovers. On Armada, everyone is given work, and even Remades live as equals to humans, Cactae, and Cray. Yet no one may ever leave.

Lonely and embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armada’s agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected miles below the waters—terrifying entities with a singular, chilling mission. . . .

China Miéville is a writer for a new era—and The Scar is a luminous, brilliantly imagined novel that is nothing short of spectacular.


It is only ten miles beyond the city that the river loses its momentum, drooling into the brackish estuary that feeds Iron Bay.

The boats that make the eastward journey out of New Crobuzon enter a lower landscape. To the south there are huts and rotten little jetties, from where rural laborers fish to supplement monotonous diets. Their children wave at travelers, warily. Occasionally there is a knoll of rock or a small copse of darkwood trees, places that defy cultivation, but mostly the land is clear of stones.

From the decks, sailors can see over the fringe of hedgerow and trees and bramble to a tract of fields. This is the stubby end of the Grain Spiral, the long curl of farmland that feeds the city. Men and women can be seen among the crops, or plowing the black earth, or burning the stubble—depending on the season. Barges putter weirdly between fields, on canals hidden by banks of earth and vegetation. They go endlessly between the metropolis and the estates. They bring chymicals and fuel, stone and cement and luxuries to the country. They return to the city past acres of cultivation studded with hamlets, great houses, and mills, with sack upon sack of grain and meat.

The transport never stops. New Crobuzon is insatiable.

The north bank of the Gross Tar is wilder.

It is a long expanse of scrub and marsh. It stretches out for more than eighty miles, till the foothills and low mountains that creep at it from the west cover it completely. Ringed by the river, the mountains, and the sea, the rocky scrubland is an empty place. If there are inhabitants other than the birds, they stay out of sight.

Bellis Coldwine took her passage on an east-bound boat in the last quarter of the year, at a time of constant rain. The fields she saw were cold mud. The half-bare trees dripped. Their silhouettes looked wetly inked onto the clouds.

Later, when she thought back to that miserable time, Bellis was shaken by the detail of her memories. She could recall the formation of a flock of geese that passed over the boat, barking; the stench of sap and earth; the slate shade of the sky. She remembered searching the hedgerow with her eyes but seeing no one. Only threads of woodsmoke in the soaking air, and squat houses shuttered against weather.

The subdued movement of greenery in the wind.

She had stood on the deck enveloped in her shawl and watched and listened for children’s games or anglers, or for someone tending one of the battered kitchen gardens she saw. But she heard only feral birds. The only human forms she saw were scarecrows, their rudimentary features impassive.

It had not been a long journey, but the memory of it filled her like infection. She had felt tethered by time to the city behind her, so that the minutes stretched out taut as she moved away, and slowed the farther she got, dragging out her little voyage.

And then they had snapped, and she had found herself catapulted here, now, alone and away from home.

Much later, when she was miles from everything she knew, Bellis would wake, astonished that it was not the city itself, her home for more than forty years, that she dreamed of. It was that little stretch of river, that weatherbeaten corridor of country that had surrounded her for less than half a day.

In a quiet stretch of water, a few hundred feet from the rocky shore of Iron Bay, three decrepit ships were moored. Their anchors were rooted deep in silt. The chains that attached them were scabbed with years of barnacles.

They were unseaworthy, smeared bitumen-black, with big wooden structures built precariously at the stern and bow. Their masts were stumps. Their chimneys were cold and crusted with old guano.

The ships were close together. They were ringed with buoys strung together with barbed chain, above and below the water. The three old vessels were enclosed in their own patch of sea, unmoved by any currents.

They drew the eye. They were watched.

In another ship some distance away, Bellis raised herself to her porthole and looked out at them, as she had done several times over the previous hours. She folded her arms tight below her breasts and bent forward toward the glass.

Her berth seemed quite still. The movement of the sea beneath her was slow and slight enough to be imperceptible.

The sky was flint-grey and sodden. The shoreline and the rock hills that ringed Iron Bay looked worn and very cold, patched with crabgrass and pale saline ferns.

Those wooden hulks on the water were the darkest things visible.

Bellis sat slowly back on her bunk and picked up her letter. It was written like a diary; lines or paragraphs separated by dates. As she read over what she had last written she opened a tin box of prerolled cigarillos and matches. She lit up and inhaled deeply, pulling a fountain pen from her pocket and adding several words in a terse hand before she breathed the smoke away.

Skullday 26th Rinden 1779. Aboard the Terpsichoria It is nearly a week since we left the mooring in Tarmuth, and I am glad to have gone. It is an ugly, violent town.

I spent my nights in my lodgings, as advised, but my days were my own. I saw what there was to the place. It is ribbon-thin, a strip of industry that juts a mile or so north and south of the estuary, split by the water. Every day, the few thousand residents are joined by huge numbers who come from the city at dawn, making their way from New Crobuzon in boat- and cartloads to work. Every night the bars and bordellos are full of foreign sailors on brief shore leave.

Most reputable ships, I am told, travel the extra miles to New Crobuzon itself, to unload in the Kelltree docks. Tarmuth docks have not worked at more than half-capacity for two hundred years. It is only tramp steamers and freebooters that unload there—their cargoes will end up in the city just the same, but they have neither the time nor the money for the extra miles and the higher duty imposed by official channels.

There are always ships. Iron Bay is full of ships—breaking off from long journeys, sheltering from the sea. Merchant boats from Gnurr Kett and Khadoh and Shankell, on their way to or from New Crobuzon, moored near enough Tarmuth for their crews to relax. Sometimes, far out in the middle of the bay, I saw seawyrms released from the bridles of chariot-ships, playing and hunting.

The economy of Tarmuth is more than prostitution and piracy. The town is full of industrial yards and sidings. It lives as it has for centuries, on the building of ships. The shoreline is punctuated with scores of shipyards, building slipways like weird forests of vertical girders. In some loom ghostly half-completed vessels. The work is ceaseless, loud, and filthy.

The streets are crisscrossed with little private railways that take timber or fuel or whatever from one side of Tarmuth to the other. Each different company has built its own line to link its various concerns, and each is jealously guarded. The town is an idiotic tangle of railways, all replicating each other’s journeys.

I don’t know if you know this. I don’t know if you have visited this town.

The people here have an ambivalent relationship with New Crobuzon. Tarmuth could not exist a solitary day without the patronage of the capital. They know it and resent it. Their surly independence is an affectation.

I had to stay there almost three weeks. The captain of the Terpsichoria was shocked when I told him I would join him in Tarmuth itself, rather than sailing with him from New Crobuzon, but I insisted, as I had to. My position on this ship was conditional on a knowledge of Salkrikaltor Cray, which I falsely claimed. I had less than a month until we sailed, to make my lie a truth.

I made arrangements. I spent my days in Tarmuth in the company of one Marikkatch, an elderly he-cray who had agreed to act as my tutor. Every day I would walk to the salt canals of the cray quarter. I would sit on the low balcony that circled his room, and he would settle his armored underbody on some submerged furnishing and scratch and twitch his scrawny human chest, haranguing me from the water.

It was hard. He does not read. He is not a trained teacher. He stays in the town only because some accident or predator has maimed him, tearing off all but one leg from his left side, so that he can no longer hunt even the sluggish fish of Iron Bay. It might make a better story to claim that I had affection for him, that he is a lovable, cantankerous old gentleman, but he is a shit and a bore. I could make no complaints, however. I had no choice but to concentrate, to effect a few focus hexes, will myself into the language trance (and oh! how hard that was! I have left it so long my mind has grown fat and disgusting!) and drink in every word he gave me.

It was hurried and unsystematic—it was a mess, a bloody mess—but by the time the Terpsichoria tied up in the harbor I had a working understanding of his clicking tongue.

I left the embittered old bastard to his stagnant water, quit my lodgings there, and came to my cabin—this cabin from where I write.

We sailed away from Tarmuth port on the morning of Dustday, heading slowly toward the deserted southern shores of Iron Bay, twenty miles from town. In careful formation at strategic points around the edge of the bay, in quiet spots by rugged land and pine forests, I spotted ships. No one will speak of them. I know they are the ships of the New Crobuzon government. Privateers and others.

It is now Skullday.

On Chainday I was able to persuade the captain to let me disembark, and I spent the morning on the shore. Iron Bay is drab, but anything is better than the damned ship. I am beginning to doubt that it is an improvement on Tarmuth. I am driven to bedlam by the incessant, moronic slap of waves.

Two taciturn crewmen rowed me ashore, watching without pity as I stepped over the edge of the little boat and walked the last few feet through freezing surf. My boots are still stiff and salt-stained.

I sat on the pebbles and threw stones into the water. I read some of the long, bad novel I found on board. I watched the ship. It is moored close to the prisons, so that our captain can easily entertain and converse with the lieutenant-gaolers. I watched the prison-ships themselves. There was no movement from their decks, from behind their portholes. There is never any movement.

I swear, I do not know if I can do this. I miss you, and New Crobuzon.

I remember my journey.

It is hard to believe that it is only ten miles from the city to the godsforsaken sea.

There was a knocking at the door of the tiny cabin. Bellis’ lips pursed, and she waved her sheaf of paper to dry it. Unhurriedly she folded it and replaced it in the chest containing her belongings. She drew her knees up a little higher and played with her pen, watching as the door opened.

A nun stood in the threshold, her arms braced at either side of the doorway.

“Miss Coldwine,” she said uncertainly. “May I come in?”

“It’s your cabin too, Sister,” said Bellis quietly. Her pen spun over and around her thumb. It was a neurotic little trick she had perfected at university.

Sister Meriope shuffled forward a little and sat on the solitary chair. She smoothed her dark russet habit around her, fiddled with her wimple.

“It has been some days now since we became cabin-mates, Miss Coldwine,” Sister Meriope began, “and I do not feel . . . as if I yet know you at all. And this is not a situation I would wish to continue. As we are to be traveling and living together for many weeks . . . some companionship, some closeness, could only make those days easier . . .” Her voice failed, and she knotted her hands.
China Mieville|Author Q&A

About China Mieville

China Mieville - The Scar

Photo © Kate Eshelby

China Miéville is the author of several books, including The City & The City, Embassytown, Railsea, and Perdido Street Station. His works have won the World Fantasy Award, the Hugo Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times), and the World Fantasy Award. He lives and works in London.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with China Miéville

Award-winning author China Miéville’s third novel, THE SCAR, is a dark, rich tapestry of adventure and politics set on an incredible floating pirate city. In a recent interview, Miéville spoke with us about his inspirations and ideas for THE SCAR.

Q: THE SCAR and your last novel, PERDIDO STREET STATION, are set in the same world, but this time you take us much farther a field in the world of Bas Lag. How do you see the two stories as similar, and how different?

A: Most obviously, the stories are similar in that they are both very much urban, though the cities — Armada and New Crobuzon — are different in important ways. I’ve also carried on doing stuff I love, like inventing monsters, of which there are loads in THE SCAR. Setting the books in the same world gave me the chance to expand the world I’ve been creating. But there are some very important differences. The aesthetic, and the feeling of the two books are very different. Perdido Street Station was a book with a bleak story but a fairly traditional narrative structure. THE SCAR is a book that has a much more experimental — and bleaker — narrative structure. It’s also a book that’s structured more around the internal, emotional life of its characters. It’s more melancholic.

Q: THE SCAR further illuminates the political complexities of the world you’ve created. Did you set out to write an overtly political novel, or did your own real life experience with governments seep in?

A: It’s difficult to make that distinction. I don’t really set out to write political fiction as an end in itself — if I want to make political points, I write political articles — but to write fiction that would keep me interested. But the thing is that what keeps me interested, among other things, is politics, so I tend to put a lot of that stuff in the books. Also because it gives the world an awful lot more texture, and more realism, to make the political stuff in it as systematic and coherent as possible. My “real life experience” as a candidate for Parliament wasn’t so much an inspiration as my day-to-day experience as a political activist.

All fiction is political in some sense or other — but I’m interested in critical fiction (which doesn’t necessarily mean left-wing, of course) which is conscious of its own political engagement with the real world.

Q: Much of THE SCAR’s action takes place in Armada, a floating pirate city. Where did the idea for this story come from?

Most fundamentally, I’ve always loved underwater things – deepsea fish, diving, etc – and I had always wanted to write something that was set on, in and under the sea.

THE SCAR was conceived as a kind of response to the first book — Perdido Street Station — which was set in the same world. It isn’t really a sequel. Each book is a standalone, and it’s very important to me that they can be read in any order, or individually. But it is a response insofar as the tone and atmosphere are deliberately very different than that of Perdido Street Station. The response to that first book was so wonderful, that I was concerned that any follow-up would be a disappointment. So in a spirit of not-quite-contrariness but rather risk, I formulated THE SCAR to be the antithesis of the earlier book, yet still have an integrity and a sense of its own completeness. I was interested in taking those elements of the first book that had garnered the greatest response — the city, the sense of oppressive pell-mell rushing — and deliberately withhold them, or view them as if through gauze.

I am very much in love with the world I created in the first book, and I wanted to take the opportunity to visit some other parts of that world. So I focused on a maritime novel as the perfect opportunity to roam around the world, and to see fleeting glimpses of various other places, as well as to have a very different sense of scale than Perdido Street Station.

Q: Would you live in Armada if you could?

A: Yeah! Not because it would be nice — I think it would be a fairly awful place to live, much of the time — but because who could possibly turn down the opportunity to live in their own invented world? I’d go live in New Crobuzon too. I’d be shit-scared, though.

Q: Tell us a bit about the reading, research, or thinking you did to come up with Armada and its unique neighborhoods.

A: Most of the research I did was on the stuff about ship design. I spent loads of time looking up schematics of ships from all over the time and place. I read lots of children’s reference books when I’m researching — they tend to have enough detail to make things convincing, but not more than I need. And they have good pictures. I found loads of cool stuff online — downloaded a bunch of blueprints for oil rigs. Found loads of old names for different types of vessels. I read a lot of maritime fiction, of which an awful lot is riffed on in the book. You can find 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Boats of the Glen Carrig, Rites of Passage, “The Hunting of the Snark,” and lots else. The thing is that there is so much fiction set at sea and on ships that there are hugely strong clichés, so I needed to get to grips with all that stuff so that I didn’t unwittingly repeat them. To that extent I wanted to write an “anti-maritime” book.

I even forced myself to watch Waterworld for research purposes, so no one can say I haven’t suffered for my art.

Q: Do you think of either of the book’s two troubled protagonists — the linguist, Bellis Coldwine, and the freed prisoner, Tanner Sack — as heroic or as villainous?

A: Certainly not villainous at all. Heroic? Well, yes, but not in the traditional sense. They’re both very, very flawed, and more to the point, they’re both — particularly Bellis — very damaged. I know that being damaged doesn’t preclude being heroic. Tanner especially really wants good things for people. Bellis is more just trying to survive. In the genre/epic fantasy tradition, heroism seems defined by characters’ abilities to stamp their wills on history. None of my characters can do that. What they can do is change themselves and their surroundings, though history always constrains them. They both try to do the right thing, particularly Tanner, and they’re both different people at the end of the book. Heroic? I’m not sure.

Q: Uther Doul, Armada’s formidable defender, carries a very special blade which slices through possibility itself to brutal effect. The city of Armada goes on a treacherous voyage in search of the power to manipulate reality. Have you been reading up on quantum theory?

A: Only in the most crass and makeshift sense. I’d be deeply embarrassed to talk to a proper scientist as if I knew jack shit about quantum stuff. What’s important to me isn’t necessarily to be scientifically rigorous, but to be plausible. I pilfered just enough quantum stuff to make sense within the constraints of the world I created. More expertise than that I couldn’t possibly claim.

Q: So if THE SCAR were made into a big-screen Hollywood feature, what would be your ideal cast?

I love questions like this! Okay, Bellis Coldwine would be Carrie-Anne Moss. She’s a bit young, but with make-up…? Tanner Sack would be Sean Bean. For Uther Doul, I’d have Russell Crowe bulk up a bit. Sleazy Silas Fennec? Ralph Fiennes would be perfect. The Lovers? Anjelica Huston and Timothy Dalton

Q: Ah, Timothy Dalton?

A. It’s my movie – hush up! Brucolac would be Laurence Fishburne (whose wardrobe I would love to raid, by the way). Johannes Tearfly would be Malcolm McDowell because he excels at playing that type of pseudo-sympathetic megalomaniac. I’d also want it to feature Fairuza Balk, Don Cheadle and Demitri Goritsas.

Q: Okay, back to the real world now…Admirers of your books sometimes call them “steampunk,” finding both “science fiction” and “fantasy” inadequate, given popular conceptions of those genres. Does that label suit you? What do you call your work?

A: Sure. I’ll take whatever labels people want to hand out. To be honest, I find the whole debate about “is it science fiction, is it fantasy (or is it even horror?)” kind of academic. I’ve had “steampunk,” I've had “grunge fantasy” — none of them bother me. I have always been openly critical of the post-Tolkien genre of epic or quest fantasy. People associate fantasy with elves, dwarfs and wizards. My books have none of that – THE SCAR is full of ironclad battleships, dirigibles, swearing, sex and violence.

I think it is worth pointing out that this book and my last book blur the boundaries between SF and fantasy. Perdido Street Station won both a fantasy prize and a science fiction prize. I consider myself to be writing in an older tradition than Tolkien’s notion of fantasy. If I’m talking to somebody who knows a little bit about the field of SF, etc., then I describe what I write as Weird Fiction — because the writers in the Weird Tales tradition did a very good job of blurring the boundaries between the various realms of the fantastic.

To the mainstream, it could be pointed out that I am unapologetic about genre, but try to write with a more ‘literary’ sensibility. It’s been said several times that this is the kind of fantasy that people who don’t think they like fantastic literature might enjoy. I am quite argumentative in my attacks on mainstream critics for being short-sighted about genre, and enjoy pointing out to them that plenty of ‘their’ classics are in fact ‘ours’ (The Master and Margerita, Metamorphosis, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, any Isabel Allende novel). I would love to get the chance to get into mainstream books publications and make the case for fantastic literature.

Q: In the past, you’ve cited Mervyn Peake and M. John Harrison, among others, as special influences, but your style is evolving with each novel. Was there anything — music, images, books — that was especially inspiring while you worked on THE SCAR?

A: The single strongest influence on me for this book were the writings of the Zimbabwean author Dambudzo Marechera. He is an astounding figure, a self-taught writer who wrestles with the English language, reinvigorating it. He’s a modernist, unlike so many African writers who are part of a social realist or a folklorist tradition. The epigram from his book Black Sunlight informs the whole book — he has a wonderfully empathetic and moving sense of humans as the sum of all their damage, but no less important for that.

Other stuff: music — particularly Benjamin Britten’s chamber music and solo cello suites. Images: stuff from Moby Dick, and basically every single underwater monster from films, comics, and all the other cultural bumph I could sift through. It’s not really inspiration, but there is a massive riff on ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ in there. As well as one of the Narnia books — which I dislike a lot and have wreaked revenge on.

Q: Will we see more novels set in the world of Bas Lag?

A: The next book, the one I’m writing now, is set in the same world. After that, I’m not committed, and I might change settings for a while. I would be extremely surprised, though, if I never go back there. There are too many other places to go in this world. I’m enjoying it too much not to go back.

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