Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spiritual power stations - China Mieville

Each city has buildings that radiate power, a special aura. Take away the building and something dies, some lifeform disappears forever. Some of the building are inconspicuous, hidden in sidestreets behind curtains of trees. But others are beacons of energy. If they fail the city fails.

China Mieville has made this tangible, in his book Looking for Jake, in the opening story with the same title:
I saw a guard, as alone as all the others. What's happened? I asked him. He was confused, shaking his head. He would not look at me. Something's happened, he said. Something there was a collapse ... nothing works properly ... there's been a a breakdown ... He was being very inexact. That wasn't his fault. It was a very inexact apocalypse.
Between the time I had dosed my eyes on the train and the time I had opened them again, some organising principle had failed. 
I've always imagined the occurrence in very literal terms. I have always envisaged a vast impossible building, a spiritual power station with an unstable core shitting out the world's energy and connectivity. I've always envisaged the cogs and wheels of that unthinkable machinery overheating, some critical mass being reached ... the mechanisms faltering and seizing up as the core explodes soundlessly and spews its poisonous fuel across the city and beyond. ...
Since I read this story I've become sensitized to these buildings and I see them regularly. Some were built in the 1920's as constructivist art-deco. Others are modern. It's good we're building such spiritual power-stations again ... but is it really good? Is the energy really positive?

The Gaumont State is a beacon, a lighthouse, a warning we missed. It jags impassive into the clouds as the city founders on rocks. ... The Gaumont State exerts its own gravity over the changed city. I suspect all compasses point to it now. I suspect that in the magnificent entrance, framed by those wide stairs, something is waiting. The Gaumont State is the generator of the dirty entropy that has taken London. I suspect there are many fascinating things inside. I'm going to let it reel me in.

Looking for Jake and other stories, China Miéville, 2005 - wikipedia article - I have bought the book and I can recommend it. Other books by China Mieville are relevant too, especially Kraken and The City & the City. They change the way you see the city.


  1. Yes I have a bit of bookshelf dedicated to Miéville though I probably have a different perception of his stories. It's hard to describe what I like about his (or any) books, I guess it has to do with the dark atmosphere and the never truly explained mysteries that often form the background to the stories.

  2. Hey Diggelfjoer! Nice to meet again! How is live? Care to meet in real lief sometimes?