had not been a long journey, but the memory of it filled her like infection.
She had felt tethered by time to the city behind her, so that the minutes
stretched out taut as she moved away, and slowed the farther she got,
dragging out her little voyage.
And then they had snapped, and she had found herself catapulted here,
now, alone and away from home.
Much later, when she was miles from everything she knew, Bellis would
wake, astonished that it was not the city itself, her home for more than
forty years, that she dreamed of. It was that little stretch of river,
that weatherbeaten corridor of country that had surrounded her for less
than half a day.
In a quiet stretch of water, a few hundred feet from the rocky shore of
Iron Bay, three decrepit ships were moored. Their anchors were rooted
deep in silt. The chains that attached them were scabbed with years of
They were unseaworthy, smeared bitumen-black, with big wooden structures
built precariously at the stern and bow. Their masts were stumps. Their
chimneys were cold and crusted with old guano.
The ships were close together. They were ringed with buoys strung together
with barbed chain, above and below the water. The three old vessels were
enclosed in their own patch of sea, unmoved by any currents.
They drew the eye. They were watched.
In another ship some distance away, Bellis raised herself to her porthole
and looked out at them, as she had done several times over the previous
hours. She folded her arms tight below her breasts and bent forward toward
Her berth seemed quite still. The movement of the sea beneath her was
slow and slight enough to be imperceptible.
The sky was flint-grey and sodden. The shoreline and the rock hills that
ringed Iron Bay looked worn and very cold, patched with crabgrass and
pale saline ferns.
Those wooden hulks on the water were the darkest things visible.
Bellis sat slowly back on her bunk and picked up her letter. It was written
like a diary; lines or paragraphs separated by dates. As she read over
what she had last written she opened a tin box of prerolled cigarillos
and matches. She lit up and inhaled deeply, pulling a fountain pen from
her pocket and adding several words in a terse hand before she breathed
the smoke away.
Skullday 26th Rinden 1779. Aboard the Terpsichoria It is nearly a week
since we left the mooring in Tarmuth, and I am glad to have gone. It is
an ugly, violent town.
I spent my nights in my lodgings, as advised, but my days were my own.
I saw what there was to the place. It is ribbon-thin, a strip of industry
that juts a mile or so north and south of the estuary, split by the water.
Every day, the few thousand residents are joined by huge numbers who come
from the city at dawn, making their way from New Crobuzon in boat- and
cartloads to work. Every night the bars and bordellos are full of foreign
sailors on brief shore leave.
Most reputable ships, I am told, travel the extra miles to New Crobuzon
itself, to unload in the Kelltree docks. Tarmuth docks have not worked
at more than half-capacity for two hundred years. It is only tramp steamers
and freebooters that unload there-their cargoes will end up in the city
just the same, but they have neither the time nor the money for the extra
miles and the higher duty imposed by official channels.
There are always ships. Iron Bay is full of ships-breaking off from long
journeys, sheltering from the sea. Merchant boats from Gnurr Kett and
Khadoh and Shankell, on their way to or from New Crobuzon, moored near
enough Tarmuth for their crews to relax. Sometimes, far out in the middle
of the bay, I saw seawyrms released from the bridles of chariot-ships,
playing and hunting.
The economy of Tarmuth is more than prostitution and piracy. The town
is full of industrial yards and sidings. It lives as it has for centuries,
on the building of ships. The shoreline is punctuated with scores of shipyards,
building slipways like weird forests of vertical girders. In some loom
ghostly half-completed vessels. The work is ceaseless, loud, and filthy.
The streets are crisscrossed with little private railways that take timber
or fuel or whatever from one side of Tarmuth to the other. Each different
company has built its own line to link its various concerns, and each
is jealously guarded. The town is an idiotic tangle of railways, all replicating
each other's journeys.
I don't know if you know this. I don't know if you have visited this town.
The people here have an ambivalent relationship with New Crobuzon. Tarmuth
could not exist a solitary day without the patronage of the capital. They
know it and resent it. Their surly independence is an affectation.
I had to stay there almost three weeks. The captain of the Terpsichoria
was shocked when I told him I would join him in Tarmuth itself, rather
than sailing with him from New Crobuzon, but I insisted, as I had to.
My position on this ship was conditional on a knowledge of Salkrikaltor
Cray, which I falsely claimed. I had less than a month until we sailed,
to make my lie a truth.
I made arrangements. I spent my days in Tarmuth in the company of one
Marikkatch, an elderly he-cray who had agreed to act as my tutor. Every
day I would walk to the salt canals of the cray quarter. I would sit on
the low balcony that circled his room, and he would settle his armored
underbody on some submerged furnishing and scratch and twitch his scrawny
human chest, haranguing me from the water.
It was hard. He does not read. He is not a trained teacher. He stays in
the town only because some accident or predator has maimed him, tearing
off all but one leg from his left side, so that he can no longer hunt
even the sluggish fish of Iron Bay. It might make a better story to claim
that I had affection for him, that he is a lovable, cantankerous old gentleman,
but he is a shit and a bore. I could make no complaints, however. I had
no choice but to concentrate, to effect a few focus hexes, will myself
into the language trance (and oh! how hard that was! I have left it so
long my mind has grown fat and disgusting!) and drink in every word he
It was hurried and unsystematic-it was a mess, a bloody mess-but by the
time the Terpsichoria tied up in the harbor I had a working understanding
of his clicking tongue.
I left the embittered old bastard to his stagnant water, quit my lodgings
there, and came to my cabin-this cabin from where I write.
We sailed away from Tarmuth port on the morning of Dustday, heading slowly
toward the deserted southern shores of Iron Bay, twenty miles from town.
In careful formation at strategic points around the edge of the bay, in
quiet spots by rugged land and pine forests, I spotted ships. No one will
speak of them. I know they are the ships of the New Crobuzon government.
Privateers and others.
It is now Skullday.
On Chainday I was able to persuade the captain to let me disembark, and
I spent the morning on the shore. Iron Bay is drab, but anything is better
than the damned ship. I am beginning to doubt that it is an improvement
on Tarmuth. I am driven to bedlam by the incessant, moronic slap of waves.
Two taciturn crewmen rowed me ashore, watching without pity as I stepped
over the edge of the little boat and walked the last few feet through
freezing surf. My boots are still stiff and salt-stained.
I sat on the pebbles and threw stones into the water. I read some of the
long, bad novel I found on board. I watched the ship. It is moored close
to the prisons, so that our captain can easily entertain and converse
with the lieutenant-gaolers. I watched the prison-ships themselves. There
was no movement from their decks, from behind their portholes. There is
never any movement.
I swear, I do not know if I can do this. I miss you, and New Crobuzon.
I remember my journey.
It is hard to believe that it is only ten miles from the city to the godsforsaken
There was a knocking at the door of the tiny cabin. Bellis' lips pursed,
and she waved her sheaf of paper to dry it. Unhurriedly she folded it
and replaced it in the chest containing her belongings. She drew her knees
up a little higher and played with her pen, watching as the door opened.
A nun stood in the threshold, her arms braced at either side of the doorway.
"Miss Coldwine," she said uncertainly. "May I come in?"
"It's your cabin too, Sister," said Bellis quietly. Her pen spun over
and around her thumb. It was a neurotic little trick she had perfected
Sister Meriope shuffled forward a little and sat on the solitary chair.
She smoothed her dark russet habit around her, fiddled with her wimple.
"It has been some days now since we became cabin-mates, Miss Coldwine,"
Sister Meriope began, "and I do not feel . . . as if I yet know you at
all. And this is not a situation I would wish to continue. As we are to
be traveling and living together for many weeks . . . some companionship,
some closeness, could only make those days easier . . ." Her voice failed,
and she knotted her hands.
Excerpted from The Scar by China Mieville
Copyright 2002 by China Mieville. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey,
a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from
of the highest order, China Miéville has emblazoned the fantasy
novel with fresh language, startling images, and stunning originality.
Set in the same sprawling world of Miévilles Arthur C. Clarke
Award-winning novel, Perdido Street Station, this latest epic introduces
a whole new cast of intriguing characters and dazzling creations.
vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade
into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling
colony of New Crobuzon. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are
joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city.
Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a renowned linguist whose services as an
interpreter grant her passageand escape from horrific punishment.
For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade
scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.
the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until
it is safe to return home. But when the ship is besieged by pirates on
the Swollen Ocean, the senior officers are summarily executed. The surviving
passengers are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of
pirated ships, a floating, landless mass ruled by the bizarre duality
called the Lovers. On Armada, everyone is given work, and even Remades
live as equals to humans, Cactae, and Cray. Yet no one may ever leave.
embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death
sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armadas
agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected
miles below the watersterrifying entities with a singular, chilling
mission. . . .
is a writer for a new eraand The Scar is a luminous, brilliantly
imagined novel that is nothing short of spectacular.
collection of reviews for The
was born in London in 1972. When he was eighteen, he lived and taught
English in Egypt, where he developed an interest in Arab culture and Middle
Eastern politics. Miéville has a B.A. in social anthropology from
Cambridge and a masters with distinction from the London School
of Economics. His first novel, King Rat, was nominated for both an International
Horror Guild Award and the Bram Stoker Prize. Perdido Street Station won
the Arthur C. Clarke Award and was nominated for a British Science Fiction
Association Award. He lives in England.