Links and Quotes: A Magnificent Blog (Quirky and Opinionated)

MAGNIFICENT OCTOPUS (INKY AND TENTACLED) (!) is a blog by Isabella Kratynski. I’d been following it for some time and then, somehow, lost touch. I rediscovered it when I joined Twitter recently and realised, again, how much I loved Isabella’s writings. I think of her as the Michael Dirda among bloggers: There isn’t yet a books she’s praised that I didn’t immediately wish to lay my hands on and read. To say she reads a lot would be an understatement. She reads literary fiction, the classics, science fiction, fantasy, noir, mysteries…she loves Dr. Who…she’s a fan of the dark romans durs of Georges Simenon…and she writes about them all. With infectious enthusiasm!

Some posts (and extracts from such posts) that I found particularly delightful:

On China Miéville (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Kraken, Embassytown etc.)

Where PSS followed the building of character, making choices, taking responsibility, becoming human, The Scar witnesses the unraveling of character.

Even the “science” at the crux of these novels is opposite.

The Scar mines “possibility.” “They set free forces that they were able to tap. Forces that allowed them to reshape things, to fail and succeed simultaneously — because they mined for possibilities. A cataclysm like that, shattering a world, the rupture left behind: it opens up a rich seam of possibilities… For every action there’s an infinity of outcomes… Tapped by possibility machines, outcomes that didn’t quite make it to actuality were boosted, and made real.”

Like being able to watch Schrodinger’s cat and choose.

As a fan, I have to say that Miéville’s constructed world is so fucking amazing, the storytelling doesn’t particularly matter. In fact, the digressions and lost trails help make that world believable. An examination of politics is vital — that’s why I read this stuff: to explore ideologies, their social consequences, their moral implications. I don’t believe Miéville has any pretense about plot.

Take a Frankenstein-type story against a backdrop combining Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and do it up Doctor Who style, but more menacing, and you’ll get something like China Miéville’s new novel, Kraken.

We meet some deliciously creepy baddies — part Dickens, part noir — along the way

I envy the person a hundred years from now who ventures to annotate this novel. Miéville’s descriptions are grounded in now, some cultural references more popular than others: Harry Potter, Star Trek, Life on Mars. One cop has Winehousey hair.

Above all, I love how Miéville uses language. He excavates old words and reinvents them as required. He verbs nouns and adjectivizes verbs. He just writes so bloody evocatively well.

(I’ve read several reviews of Embassytown that are critical of it taking so long before the story gets started. For me, these first 100+ pages of world-building are the richest, and would be worth reading even if nothing followed. But maybe you have to have sat, and appreciated, a class on the philosophy of language to totally get that.)

On George Eliot and Middlemarch

It’s vast and rich and life-affirming and complicated, a lot like real life. Jo Walton loves it, and Eliot is revered by genre aficionados everywhere for her skilled world-building. Quite apart from just being wonderful and romantic and having great insight into human nature, reading it taught me not to be afraid of big books and that I could read carefully while still having fun.

On Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and Dr. Who

(Are you paying attention, Steven Moffat? Really, Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode was almost as disappointing as Gaiman himself is overrated. But China Miéville, his monsters — big scary, political monsters — would make the Doctor run.)

On Arturo Perez-Reverte (The Flanders Panel, The Dumas Club etc.)

And this is the problem, I find, with all of Perez-Reverte’s books. Either there’s barely a mystery to begin with, in which case much fuss is made over next to nothing (The Nautical Chart), or the endings are complicated and far-fetched (both The Flanders Panel and The Club Dumas), which is unfair to the reader and, in a word, stupid.

He doesn’t know when, or how, to end things, which is a shame. He has come to be known to write “literary mysteries” or “intellectual thrillers.” Since I picked up The Flanders Panel, years ago, by accident, I’ve been following this writer. The topics and settings intrigue me: rare manuscripts, Vatican investigations, fencing. I enjoy the read, but the end always disappoints.

On Murakami

Murakami’s not exactly a prose stylist, at least not in translation, but he does have the occasional way with words (“Her smile steps offstage for a moment, then does an encore”). He’s more an idea guy. Thing is, I’m not really sure what the idea is.

Now, The Wind-up Bird Chronicles was pretty mind-blowing. Dream-like and trippy. But now that I “know” Murakami, his style of slipstream is a literary normal that I’m perfectly accustomed to. I mean, this being the fourth Murakami I’ve read, the edge is gone; it’s no longer weird.

It’s a lovely feeling, to be swept up in this surreality, the strange interconnections. I kind of wish I’d discovered Murakami decades ago — as a university student I’d have peed my pants with excitement to get my hands on his latest. But now, as much as I enjoy getting lost in Murakami’s world (and make no mistake: I will read plenty more, and I’m plenty excited about 1Q84), I feel like I’ve been tricked — it just doesn’t strike me as all that deep.

Read it!

(A suggestion: I suggest you start here and here.)

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