the Little Red Reviewer

A Little Further into Bas-Lag

Posted on: July 14, 2018

I recently reread China Mieville’s Iron Council, which came out in 2004 and was the third of his loosely related Bas-Lag books.  If you’re not familiar with this new-weird sci-fantasy series, you can read the three books – Perdido Street Station (2000),  The Scar (2002), and Iron Council (2004), in any order. These books take place in the same world, but follow different characters often in different parts of the world. Embassytown (2011) is most certainly not a Bas-Lag book, but in my mind it has the same feel.


Anyway, after finished Iron Council, of course I had to reread The Scar!  Mieville’s The Scar has long been one of my all time favorite science fiction (fantasy? other? i have no idea what this book is, except that I love it!) books, so it has been a joy to be reading this book over the last week or so.


With Iron Council so fresh in my mind, I can’t help but compare the two.  I’m also coming to these books with far more life experience and understanding of the  short term and long term consequences of governmental and societal decisions.  Upon reread they have completely different books. Better books with far more layers than I expected.    It’s been fun thinking about what Iron Council and The Scar have in common, but worrisome at the same time.  If they have this much in common, does that mean Mieville was telling the same story twice?


If you’ve not read much Mieville or any Bas-Lag books, this blog post will made no sense to you. #SorryNotSorry.


here’s what I mean:

Both books deal with the hubris of bending nature to our will in the name of progress – Iron Council had an unspoken thing about how easy it is to destroy nature and the homes of the people who already live there, all in the name of building a railroad. Even when the railroad is independent, there are descriptions of how the ground must be torn up and scarred for them to pass over it.  In The Scar, no spoilers, but the rulers of Armada have the hubris to assume all and any sea creatures can be exploited.

Both books deal with colonialism and how the privileged class is shocked (shocked I say!) when their slaves decide they don’t want to be indentured “servants” any longer, and are more than capable of taking care of themselves, thank you very much.   It is what Judah learns from the Stiltspear  (their village was destroyed so the railroad could pass through) that allows him to do everything he does, and no one but him seems to understand the depths of what is now owed to that dying culture.  I’m a third of the way through The Scar, and Bellis is still an uppity bitch with no concept of why so many people love living on Armada.  The existence of Armada, a near socialist utopia, has allowed tens of thousands of reMade and others to avoid forced indentured servitude in the colonies, both Armada and the Iron Council function as socialist utopias (communist utopias?). I don’t remember if Bellis grows past her snobbiness by the end of the book, I guess I’ll find out.   Both Bellis and Judah are colonizers, whether they see themselves as that or not.


The Scar will was written first, but it reads as a smoother, more complicated version of Iron Council. Was Mieville trying to tell a similar story, but simplified so as to be more accessible to more readers? Is RailSea a simplified version of Iron Council?  I want to read RailSea in the near future too.  Mieville sure has a thing for railroads and the ocean! Ah ha! They are both ways to travel somewhere to assert your will. If you’re gonna colonize somewhere, you gotta get there first, right?  I did laugh out loud at the throwaway line in The Scar where someone says New Crobuzon would have no idea how to handle it if Tesh invaded.


Bellis and Cutter are nothing but tools, literally.  As characters, they exist to be in the right place, with the right skills, at the right time for the story to happen.  Judah knows Cutter is a tool, and takes full advantage of him.  Bellis knows The Lovers are using her as a tool,  maybe one of these days she’ll realize everyone else except Tanner Sack is using her too.


A multitude of two syllable names with double consonants in the middle!  Tanner. Bellis. Cutter. Fennec. the god Jabber.   Makes me wonder if a name constructed in this manner is a symbol of something, or that character’s place in the plot?  Really puts me in a mind of Embassytown.  There is a throwaway line in Iron Council about something weird that happens being “ambassadormagick”.



Stay tuned for more overly specific thoughts on The Scar!

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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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