by China Mieville
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The giant squid/sea monster is such a science-fiction and mythological cliché that the very title of British novelist China Miéville's eighth novel, Kraken, embraces the genre as pulpy entertainment. Running a brisk five hundred pages, Kraken follows a frenetic stretch in the life of Billy Harrow, a curator at London's Darwin Centre of the National History Museum. One day, Billy escorts a tour group to the main attraction—a preserved Architeuthis dux—only to discover that the giant squid is missing.
Thus begins a descent into a netherworld of quasi-religious cults, part-human creatures, spirits, and "knackers"—people gifted with supernatural powers—lurking beneath the London Billy knows. The search pulls him into the orbits of the Fundamentalist and Sect-Related Crime Unit (an unconventional police bureau) and of a group of kraken worshippers who want to protect Billy from the Tattoo, an underworld crime boss embedded in the ink on a man's back. Like the Fundamentalists, the Tattoo believes Billy knows where to find the squid.
This is Miéville's genre slipstream—H. P. Lovecraft weirdness, J. G. Ballard anomie, horror, fantasy, apocalyptic reverie, and a leftism indebted to the British sci-fi New Wave of the 1960s. Goss and Subby, the assassins hired by the Tattoo to track down Billy, don't look like much, but they quickly appall everyone they meet. Suit-clad, the young Subby stares silently as his wiry old partner lets loose with mellifluous conversation: "'Attention one and all,' said Goss. 'I love it when you're very very quiet. Beyond this door,' Goss said, 'just