I’ve just finished China Mieville’s The Scar, and my brain is still reeling. Mieville’s worldbuilding is as comprehensive and imaginative as Herbert in Dune, with a fine Lovecraftian/Karl Edward Wagner-ish touch of horror to go with it!
One of the things that stuck most in my head was the race of the grindylow, sorcerous aquatic beings of great mystery and apparently great power living in The Gengris. Described as ‘gray-green in color, with big dark eyes, foot-long teeth, and humanoid torsos mated to eel-like tails,’ the grindylow seem to exist in multiple dimensions at once, or don’t exist fully in Bas-Lag’s dimension. They float in air, they’re never seen too clearly, they appear and disappear at will. Just from the description alone, I’m really digging this creature; I like it when critters are based on deep-sea life, which I’ve always found really creepy. But there’s more.
[Spoilers follow below]
The creepiest thing about the grindylow in the book is their sheer eldritch power. They track a human spy all the way from The Gengris to Armada, to the very lip of the dimensional rift called The Scar. They mortally wound the colossal creature drawing the floating city of Armada, the avanc, to get the city to stop. Worst of all, they consider a chillingly powerful artifact stolen and used by the human spy, Silas Fennec, a mere toy.
That’s artist Jason Chalker’s rendition of the artifact above, closely following its description in the book. An obscene, horrifying statue of some deep sea god of evil, which Fennec kisses on the mouth every time he wants to use its magic. And it kisses back, too. Ick. With it Fennec is able to go invisible, walk through walls, breathe water, fly, and hawk lethal acidic spit. It seems there’s no limit to what the artifact can do beyond Fennec’s imagination and will. In the best Lovecraftian tradition, the power’s not without price – there are clues Fennec’s being changed by it into some slimy marine creature.
In the final confrontation with the grindylow, the book’s main protagonist Bellis Coldwine tries to return the artifact to them, but they contemptuously destroy it as a trifle not even worth their time. It’s something else they were after the whole time – and I really have to hand it to Mieville, that surprise was very well-played. To build up the power of this item so horrifically in the reader’s mind, then suddenly dismiss it as a toy, is an incredibly chilling way of showing rather than telling us just what the scale of the grindylows’ power is.