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“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

Nataliya's quotes

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

'The Tain' by China Mieville

The Tain - China Miéville
Humanity has won a war that we don't even remember anymore. And now it's payback time. Because, unlike us, the conquered did not forget.
As a famous quote goes, "When you look long into an abyss a mirror, the abyss mirror also looks into you."

What if the image you see, glancing at yourself in the mirror, was not merely a reflection, but one of the sentient once-powerful beings now, after a long-lost war, trapped on the other side, in another world, and forced to painfully assume your shape and participate in your mundane tasks every time you are near a reflective surface? Imagine the pain and the horror of this. Imagine the horror when the reflective surfaces in the world seemed to multiply from occasional rippling ponds to entire buildings covered with mirrors.


"Do you see? Can you understand why we fought?

Every house became Versailles. Every house a hall of mirrors."

So while the conquerors preened and slept and ate and had sex in front of the mirrors, the conquered remembered and sharpened their hatred, all the way from their prison in the tain, a layer in the back of the mirror allowing it to reflect. And they finally fought back, and they were exquisitely brutal and merciless in doing so. "Mirrors became gates, and something came through."
"For six thousand years, and for ever, you have held us down. Each of us alive and watching, and waiting, and waiting, undying all that time. You didn't know but not knowing is no excuse."
China Miéville treats the reader to the image of London - deserted, abandoned, a ghost of its former self, almost a distorted mirror image of what it used to be. And it's swarming with the creatures that we once thought were nothing more than the reflections of our own vanity. The idea was borrowed from Borges, but the finishing touches are unmistakably Miéville - with the imagery of flying disembodied hands, or eyeballs, or other carelessly reflected and forgotten fleeting mirror images that are this new world's fauna. And how about humans? Well, they are not faring so well.
"The soldiers made themselves live in a future where they had won. They experienced each second as a memory, pre-emptively. The rat-people, in contrast, the Londoners become vermin, lived only in a present which terrified them."
We see the story from the point of view of both opposing sides. We get the third-person narration following Sholl, a human survivor who has a mission to carry out. Sholl, who for some reason appears to be safe from the invaders - for the reasons never explicitly explained but sufficiently hinted at. The writing in his sections is quite toned-down as far as Miéville, he of the flourishing vocabulary, goes - and it works beautifully. The language is full of tension and suspense, and builds the growing feeling of unease and physically palpable fear quite masterfully.
"Sholl did not know where in history you lived, he and the few others like him. He felt uncoupled from time.
We also get the first-person point of view of one of the 'imagos' - those coming from the other side of the mirror, in the narration so strikingly beautiful and poignant, and in its tone almost reminiscent of Yagharek's bits in Perdido Street Station, or so it seemed to me. And through his narration Miéville succeeds in making the reader feel the plight and the horror of the formerly conquered side, and at the same time have the nagging feeling about the easiness with which we can exploit others, even if we do it unknowingly. And even more - does such unwitting exploitation warrant such hatred? Given that the exploiters are completely unaware of what is happening? Whose feelings matter here? Or does it matter?

The writing is beautiful, the plot is creative, the descriptions are trademark Miéville-imaginative. The extra points go the ending -the unexpected ending which was, after all, inevitable, the almost-revelation that I quietly suspected (and still do, without a clear confirmation), the unresolved and yet strangely resolved conflict... On that thought, this novella is another example of what Miéville does so well (and explicitly addresses in The Scar - my favorite of his works) - the power of potential. With which the ending of this one is full. 

Love it. 4.5 stars which I'm actually rounding up to five. Love it!
"What would you have me do?"


For those who, like me, looked for this on Amazon and did a double-take seeing the 'new weird' price:

Apparently, buying this novella with 3 other stories results in you paying 1/100th of the price (http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listin...)

I've snatched up the $1.99 option, but quite a few remain for under $5. 

Shameless affordable Miéville-advertising is over. Review to come once this eagerly-awaited book finds its way to its new home - mine!