Chapter 2 continues to highlight the strengths of Miéville’s writing, which is – his vocabulary, his evocative descriptive phrases, his sympathy. It’s is, overall, an excellent second chapter.
This time we are firmly within the perspective of Lin, the khepri. This is important, because it allows the opportunity to explain properly what the khepri are. The women, we learn, are strongly sentient, artistic, and engaged members of the city of New Crobuzon. There is xenophobia, and they are somewhat ghetto-ised, but they are a thriving part of the city. The males, though, are not. Lin despises them, and it’s clear that they are second-class citizens when compared with the females. In this, the khepri become interesting – they aren’t just humans with bug heads.
Lin travels to the primary khepri area of the city. There are sculptures that the women create (she finds them artistically tired compared with her own creations), and there are males. The female, if we remember, is human from the neck down (though red like a cooked lobster) and a scarab beetle from the neck up. The males seem to be just scarabs. They skitter about on the ground and Lin does not care, and is even pleased, when her cab rolls over one and squishes it to death. Males do not think, exist purely to mate and eat, and are not capable of creating or appreciating the art of the female khepri. They are wholly different, and it is understandable why Lin might wish to look to another species for a romantic liaison. Put simply, romance between male and female khepri is impossible, and if her body from the neck down is capable of erotic expression, then sexual satisfaction doesn’t exist between the genders, either.
While Lin visits the khepri quarter we are afforded an example of how she sees the world. Literally how she sees it. .Miéville spends some time trying to articulate the way a khepri female sees the world, and as can be expected it is the segmented, many eyed (many viewed?) world of bug vision. For lack of a better term. This is interesting, and Miéville really stretches his vocabulary to explain it to us. But it doesn’t go anywhere. We read it here on page 20, we learn that Isaac was interested in this method of viewing the world and studied it, and then to my memory it’s never really brought up again. Lin is, disappointingly, more often human than she is khepri. If she really does view the world through a thousand segmented parts, how come the narrative still focuses on the kinds of methods of seeing a normal human would employ? Wouldn’t the focus be different? The nuance? But it isn’t.
Lin purchases some material with which she can create her art, and the chapter ends. There’s not much to it. But it is a good chapter because it helps explain who Lin is, and what she is. Miéville can’t quite pull it off, but we don’t know that yet. This chapter is very strong in the way with which it promises to explore the concept of what it means to be a khepri in a human world. He drops this pretty quickly, but it’s enticing when it arrives.
The other primary character in this chapter is the city. Again, there are nice descriptions which help evoke a strong impression of what kind of city it is. I have excerpted an example:
Her rooms were nine floors up. She descended the tower; past the unsafe eighth floor; the seventh with its birdlime carpet and soft jackdaw susurrus; the old lady who never emerged on the sixth; and on down past petty thieves and steel workers and errand-girls and knife-grinders.
Knife-grinders! A building where there are knife-grinders (ie multiple), thieves, and steelworkers and an ‘unsafe’ eighth floor is a city oozing mystery. Later:
Lin turned the corner onto the cobbled road around Sobek Croix. Cabs waited all along the iron fence. A massive variety. Two-wheelers, four-wheelers, pulled by horses, by sneering pterabirds, by steam-wheezing constructs on caterpillar treads … here and there by Remade, miserable men and women both cabdriver and cab.
This paragraph tells us a lot about the city. One – it is economically interesting because there are lots of cabs, and a variety of them. Two – there are horses and ‘pterabirds’, but also technology-powered cabs and something mysterious – what is a Remade? We find out, but learning that a Remade can be ‘miserable’ and ‘both cabdriver and cab’ suggests and unpleasant merging of technology and … magic? Or just even worse technology? There’s a lot here, and it’s just cabs.
Please take a look at my Let’s Reads page for other chapters from this book, and works.as they are added.