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Literature / Kraken

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Kraken is a 2010 novel arising from the twisted brainpan of China Miéville, author of Perdido Street Station and its sequels. It tells the story of Billy Harrow, a curator for the Natural History Museum whose work touring guests around one day is rudely interrupted by the inexplicable disappearance of the museum's preserved giant squid. From there, Billy's day only gets worse as he is drawn into a shadowy London underworld of competing doomsday cults, living tattoos, socialist familiars, and Chaos Nazis.

Oh, and the squid? Turns out that half the city is thinking of using it to end the world. Too bad they can't agree on how...

Not to be confused with the 2005 novel Kraken: Atrapados en el abismo, which was released in some countries as simply Kraken.



  • All Myths Are True: Takes a slightly postmodern or popcultural approach to this idea, but it's definitely there in the work.
  • Anachronistic Clue: Billy finds a murdered man's body preserved in a huge jar in the back halls of the museum. The medical examiner knows to call in Baron's squad when the jar's sealing is dated to a century ago, yet the corpse is discovered to have a punk band's name tattooed on its arm.
  • Animated Tattoo: The Tattoo is just that—a tattoo. He's also a mob boss. He used to be a regular person, but his old rival in organized crime Grisamentum captured him and turned him into a tattoo as a Cool and Unusual Punishment, erasing all knowledge of his name for good measure. This didn't stop him.
  • Our Angels Are Different: The 'angels of memory', guardians and embodiments of museums and other places of knowledge.
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  • Apocalypse How: Every cult apparently has its own pet end-of-the-world story, from a benevolent second Great Flood to the universe as a lone leaf shed from its tree. Clued-in theological connoisseurs routinely place bets on the outcome whenever yet another alleged doomsday rolls around ... at least, until the latest one looks like it's not just another false alarm.
  • Author Appeal: Mieville is back to writing in London, and it's clear that he's loving every minute of it.
    • Also, given Mieville's political sympathies, it's unsurprising that one of his characters is the leader of a union (for familiars).
    • Furthermore, Miéville is a self-confessed "cephalopod geek", and has stated that the idea for the book grew out of his lifelong fascination with tentacled creatures.
  • Bag of Holding: A bit of knacking that lets a couple of full-grown men be smuggled in a package that could fit through a letterbox. Subversion: the box is normal-sized, the people inside are just folded up really neatly.
  • Barrier Warrior: Billy, once he realises exactly what sort of 'saint' he is.
  • Beast Man: One of Dane's Chaos Nazi captors has the knack-wrought head of an Alsatian.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Vardy is a very intelligent man who wishes he could be a religious fundamentalist, but who finds himself incapable of reconciling the problems with the faith he was brought up with with reality. He is deeply bitter about this. That bitterness, and that desire to believe, lead him to try and Ret-Gone Darwin's specimens, to unmake the current evolution-generated reality to make way for one that really was divinely created.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: None of the factions in this are exactly saintly, but the bad guys... are pretty bad.
  • Body Horror: Another Mieville specialty. The Tattoo in particular seems to inflict it on his (mostly-willing) employees as a hobby.
  • Body in a Breadbox: The human corpse found in a huge specimen jar in the museum's preservation rooms. A location which only gets weirder when it's examined more closely, and found to be an Anachronistic Clue.
  • Character Title: The title is Kraken, which appears eventually. It's also a One-Word Title.
  • Chekhov M.I.A.: Grisamentum.
    • Also Vardy
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Belief has a very significant impact on the world. The Architeuthis has power because it represents the kraken-gods. When Grisamentum is trying to use its ink to rewrite the world, Billy manages to redefine the Architeuthis as being just a specimen, devoid of any link to a higher power.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Collingswood can't open her mouth without uttering half a dozen highly creative profanities.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Billy tortured a little thimble of sentient ink which really is a part of Grisamentum by using bleach. Then Paul pissed on it.
  • Cop Show: Kath uses clips from some of these, along with videos of cop films and excepts from police novels, to conjure up some temporary ethereal constructs that think they're ghosts of dead policemen.
  • Creepy Child: Subby.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The apocalyptic, Lovecraftian cult of kraken-worshippers are actually pretty nice folks, by the standards of this book's Black-and-Grey Morality.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Paul.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: A recurrent theme. London's supernatural community runs betting pools and street parties in honour of various cults' prophesied apocalypses. The story revolves around trying to prevent one such apocalypse because it's actually going to happen.
  • Fair Cop: Officer Collingswood, the Metropolitan Police Department's resident witch.
  • Fake Defector: Dane, sort of. His defection from his church gets a bit more real when he refuses to turn the squid over for fear it will trigger the wrong apocalypse.
  • Faking the Dead: Grisamentum, sort of.
  • The Fundamentalist: Vardy used to be one. And apparently wishes he could be one again.
  • Gainax Ending: And HOW.
  • Gambit Pileup: ... Hoo boy.
  • Genius Loci: All over the place. Not only is all of London a huge superorganism, individual locations within London have their own component intelligences and personalities. Then there's also the various elemental embassies, such as the embassy of fire, the embassy of electricity, and the embassy of the Sea.
  • Green Lantern Ring: Magic-users in the setting have 'knacks', fields of expertise like teleportation, surveillance, and so on that their powers are based around. More generalised knacks give you more versatile powers... and then there's Goss, with the knack of 'being an evil bastard'. Needless to say, he puts it to very good use.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The usual human mom, nonhuman dad setup is gender inverted (as might be expected of the author) when a photo of a pyromancer, his daughter and a large bonfire is recognized as a family photo.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: Billy is a saint of museum cabinets. This turns out to be very useful indeed.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Despite being a self-admitted murderous fanatic seeking to bring about the apocalypse (well, one of them), Dane Parnell is a remarkably decent chap, and one of the heroes' staunchest allies. This should tell you everything you need to know about the story.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Goss. He can eat a fully dressed man, whole, in one bite, without distention or dislocating his jaw. Witnessess can't really describe what happens, only that the victim is just swallowed up.
    • Most of the Kraken-bit.
  • I am a Humanitarian: Whether what Goss does to people really counts as eating or not is unclear... maybe he just vanishes them. He at least pretends to like the taste.
  • Implacable Man: Goss. So long as Subby's alive, anyway.
  • Impossibly-Compact Folding: A topologist with an interest in magic can fold up all sorts of things into tiny spaces, which can be unfolded later back into their complete form. Goss demonstrates the same trick without any of the magic that goes with it, horribly mangling the folded item.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Jason Smyle has the knack to appear to anyone as a co-worker whose name and position they can't quite remember. He uses it to do this kind of infiltration.
  • Jerkass: Kath Collingswood is a rather... blunt woman, let us say.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: The book is called Kraken and centers on a preserved giant squid. One of the main characters is a squid cultist, and there's a reference to his cult having a past feud with a leviathan cult.
  • The Last Dance: The survivors of Grisamentum's raid on the Kraken church all become Kraken-bit and go on the warpath.
  • Lovecraftian Superpower: The Kraken-bit, combining Dark Is Not Evil and Heroic Sacrifice in the name of a better apocalypse.
  • Meaningful Name: Grisamentum translates roughly into "grey ink", with the same root words as 'atramentum', or black ink; he wrote his messages in grey-colored text after all.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: Goss and Subby's deaths cause every one of London's bullied and persecuted, from 1065 to 2006, to simultaneously feel an instant of joy.
  • Miraculous Malfunction: Collingswood sets up a spell to alert her if anyone enters Billy's apartment. Goss and Subby manage to get in by putting themselves in a package that gets delivered to Billy, bypassing the alarm. But Collingswood was a little sloppy in her casting, so the alarm goes off when they leave, which she hadn't intended.
  • Mouth Stitched Shut: How Paul ultimately renders the Tattoo mute, by having stitches inked in by a clued-in tattooist.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Goss has this attitude towards his employers, with a distinct preference for the wrong. This leads to his downfall by causing him to lower his guard in front of Paul, the host of his boss The Tattoo, allowing Paul to learn the location of Goss's Soul Jar.
  • New Weird: A giant-squid-worshipping doomsday cult recruits the Saint of Museum Cupboards to help them stop a sapient collection of ink and his rival a sapient tattoo from causing the wrong apocalypse.
  • Old-Fashioned Copper: Collingsworth uses videos of 1970s era British cop shows in a spell to conjure up spirits personifying this kind of policing to hunt Wati and his union.
  • One-Word Title: The title is Kraken, which is also a Character Title.
  • Psycho for Hire: Goss is practically the Anthropomorphic Personification of this trope (and is strongly implied to literally be that).
  • Reality Warper: "Knacking" is a sort of reality warping that works based on symbolism, sympathetic linkages, and belief. A phaser prop that was used on Star Trek can be knacked so that it actually fires, a key that was embedded in pavement can "unlock the street", and so forth.
  • Retcon: What the Big Bad wants to do to the theory of evolution. Happens to him (and a zombie squid) instead.
  • Ret-Gone: Katachronophlogiston, a fire that burns things so that they never existed. Vardy and the Architeuthis get consumed by it. See above.
  • Rule of Cool: In and out of universe. Readers are likely to agree with Simon that the fully-functional Magitek phaser is very cool indeed.
  • Sanity Slippage: Not that Goss had much to begin with, but he goes from somewhat odd comments ("Didn't think of that, did you, you ferocious little whatnot") through hopefully-pure metaphor ("Sparklehorse and Starpink have managed to creep out of Apple Palace past all the monkeyfish, but if we're silent as tiny goblins we can surprise them and then all frolic off together in the Meadow of Happy Kites") to gobbledygook ("Numbers rumpus schampers grampus orca Belinda.")
  • "Save the World" Climax: It starts with Billy Harrow investigating a minor mystery about a disappearing squid, and eventually escalates to doomsday cults and eldritch horrors trying to end the world.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can/And I Must Scream: What Grisamentum tried to do to an old enemy by turning him into the Tattoo. Didn't work out so well. Paul irons out the kinks, much to everyone else's relief, by having the Tattoo's mouth sewn shut.
  • Shout-Out: Kath's summoning of Perky is a comical, pint-size version of the terrifying manifestation Carnacki the Ghost-Finder confronts in "The Hog".
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Collingswood has a knack for original swearing to match her supernatural knack.
  • Soul Jar: Wati has no corporeal form of his own, and instead freely moves his being in and out of any statue, doll, or figurine within reach, provided it's three dimensional and sculpted to look like something living.
    • Subby is nothing more than a convenient carrying case for Goss's heart.
  • Supernatural Phone: The novel has 'knacked' mobile phones that can do things like communicate with Wati, a disembodied spirit, or communicate over an unlimited range. One of the Tattoo's goons uses a knack-altered woman as a phone.
  • Start X to Stop X: Ultimately the reason why the kraken is stolen, kicking off the entire book. The Londonmancers do a routine fortune-reading for a man who plans to steal the kraken, and discover that its theft will bring about the apocalypse. So to keep the kraken out of his hands, they steal it themselves... bringing about the apocalypse.
  • Talkative Loon: Goss, who is almost unintelligible most of the time. Only serves to make him creepier.
  • Tattooed Crook: A bizarre inversion. The crook is the tattoo.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: As filtered through a 40K sourcebook, ''The 120 Days of Sodom'', and a whooole lot of illegal substances. The Chaos Nazis are not nice people. They're considered the lowest of the low, and held in contempt as much as they're hated or feared.
  • Took a Level in Badass: At first a fairly clueless Non-Action Guy, Billy grows into a resourceful character by the end of the story.
    • Marge. Not that she does a whole lot, but she does it alone (without a Dane).
    • Paul, once he decided to stop being just the guy with the Tattoo.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The shabti revolution which Wati instigated in the Egyptian afterlife.
  • Twinmaker: Simon's teleportation spell really goes into the Fridge Horror of Star Trek's transporters. Suffice it to say that it's even worse in a world where ghosts exist.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Billy starts off as one. Then he levels up. Marge provides another example.
  • Unperson: As well as No Name Given: What Grisamentum did to the Tattoo erased his original name.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Collingswood. She can't commit to a particular type of knack, but she makes up for it with raw power.
  • Urban Fantasy: Set in London.
  • Visual Pun: The knuckleheads.
  • Weird Trade Union: Wati's Familiar collective, the Union of Magicked Assistants.