This is a book that can seriously only be written by a white man. The detached romanticism of awful people is totally this white guy thing that runs rampant all over literature. Especially in the realm of speculative fiction. This entire review centers around one paragraph of China Mieville’s Kraken. It’s about nazis. It’s specifically about new worse nazis than the real nazis who have more fervor, more hatred, and more zeal than the 1940s nazis. Only these guys are weird. Because everything in every China Mieville book is weird.
Here’s the thing. Why do we need this? Why does this sort of thing continue to show up? This need to make your nebulous group of ne’er do wells so bad by comparing them favorably to other real world bad groups is just stupid, and really works for people who haven’t been or never will be effected by those groups’ past or present. Nazis are bad. People who subscribe to nazi ideals are still around. They suck. I don’t like them. I’ve run into them. They’re not pleasant. Being black, they weren’t terribly fond of my breathing the same air as them.
The thing that gets me is the lavish detail used. Mieville’s new nazis admired the originals but felt like they weren’t good enough. Auschwitz wasn’t effective enough. Their scope and the horrors they were inflicting weren’t grand enough. Didn’t create enough chaos.
What’s most infuriating about what happens in this book is that the “chaos nazis” are completely unimportant. It just read like China was really excited to write a passage about how the nazis could have been worse. So he created some people for whom he could spout his ideas through. They’re minor minor characters. They’re in for a little more than one scene and aren’t really heard from again. I don’t get it.
I guess when you’re white and writing for a white audience this sort of thing is cool. I think he was sitting around with his editor like “hey, aren’t nazis fun? i’d love ot write nazis. I’m gonna write nazis and people are going to eat it up. They’ll think to themselves ‘hey, this China guy. He really is smart and found a way to bring some new creepiness into the nazi idea’.”
Or, we’ll read it and roll our eyes. We don’t need nazis to be weirder and scarier than they already are. Concentration camps were pretty bad and I don’t actually need to waste a single second thinking about how they could have possibly been worse, thank you.
I long for a world where white people stop trying to come up with better nazis and better klansmen. The ones we have are pretty solid enough, thanks. You’re not saying anything. You’re not being profound or even clever in any way. You’re just trying to traffic in some sort of weird exploitation game.
The other thing that’s always annoying is throw away lines to try and fill the world with “diversity” while the whole of the story is anything but. You’re not quirky for mentioning a character that isn’t a character at all might possibly be gay while keeping every other major and minor character strictly heterosexual. Throwing up that one asian girl in a scene doesn’t make your book less of a white people party time. Cause she’s in one scene, and the white people are in every scene and are the actual characters.
Outside of all that stuff though, Kraken is kind of fun? It’s traditional weird fiction. I’m not a huge fan of it, I feel like the entire genre is trying a little bit too hard. The story of a missing squid and a bunch of London colts has predictably funny moments and the book does an excellent job of not taking itself too seriously. It’s never depressing, which is a quality I admire more and more in books these days as the unyielding tide of dark gritty fiction washes over the landscape. I think part of the goal early on is to disorient you along with the main character, but it didn’t really hold with me. I could be reading that part wrong though. The most hateable thing about the plot is the ever stupid “there’s a world right under your nose that all these entities cover up with all these weird bad guys and boogey men and secret cults with magic powers that no one has ever heard of!” Get out of here. Second to that is the main character being a special chosen one brought into that world, even though thos one in particular doesn’t think or know he’s special but everyone else thinks or knows he’s special so then he magically becomes special. It’s dumb.