|A window burst
open high above the market.
Windows everywhere opened above markets. A city of markets, a city
New Crobuzon again. Unceasing, unstintingly itself. Warm that spring,
gamy: the rivers were stinking. Noisy. Uninterrupted New Crobuzon.
What circled around and over the city's upreached fingers? Birdlife,
aerial vermin, wyrmen (laughing, monkey-footed things), and airships
of cool colours, and smoke and clouds. The natural inclines of
the land were all forgotten by New Crobuzon, which rose or fell
according to quite other whims: it was mazed in three dimensions.
Tons of brick and wood, concrete, marble and iron, earth, water,
straw and daub, made roofs and walls.
In the days the sun burned away the colours of those walls, burned
the raggedy ends of posters that covered them like feathers, making
them all slowly a tea-yellow. Oddments of ink told of old entertainments,
while concrete desiccated. There was the famous stencil-painting
of the Iron Councillor, repeated in incompetent series by some
dissident graffitist. There were skyrails, strung between jags
of architecture like the broken-off pillars of some godly vault.
The wires sliced air and made sound, so wind played New. Crobuzon
as an instrument.
Night brought new light, elyctro-barometric tubes of glowing gas,
glass in convolutes, made to spell out names and words or sketch
pictures in outline. A decade gone they had not existed or had
been very long forgotten: now the streets after dark were all dappled
by their distinct and vivid glare, washing out the gas lamps.
There was such noise. It came without remorse. There were always
people everywhere. New Crobuzon.
"...and then the other op-er-at-or told the formal in-stee-gay-tor
that his suit could not be heard the very thought was
On stage chanteuse Adeleine Gladner, under her singing name Adely
Gladly (pronounced to rhyme, Aderly Gladerly), yelled and crooned
through her number "Formal Instigation" to applause and
catcalls drunken but loud and totally heartfelt. She minced, kicking
under her skirts (her costume a long-dated exaggeration of a street-walker's
flounces, so she looked more coy than libertine). She shook her
lace trimmings at the punters and smiled, scooping up the flowers
they threw without breaking her song.
Her celebrated voice was everything it was held to be, raucous
and very beautiful. The audience were hers completely. Ori Ciuraz,
at the rear of the hall, was sardonic but by no means immune. He
did not know the others at his table well, only to tip his glass
to. They watched Adely while he watched them.
Fallybeggar's Hall was huge, clogged with, smoke and drug smells.
In the boxes and raised circle were the big men and their hangers-on,
and sometimes the big women too. Francine 2 the khepri queenpin
came here.Ori could not see well over the fringe of plaster drakows
and obscene spirits, but he knew that the figure he saw moving
in that box was a player in the militia, and that that one was
one of the Fishbone Brothers, and that in that one was a captain
Up close to the orchestra by the stage it was a cramped clot of
men and women, polyglot and many-raced, gazing at Adely's ankles.
Ori tracked tribal boundaries.
A slick of vagabonds, petty thieves and their bosses, discharged
foreign soldiers, discharged jailbirds, dissolute rich and tinkers,
beggars, pimps and their charges, chancers, knife-grinders, poets
and police agents. Humans, here and there cactus-heads poking over
the crowd (allowed in only if their thorns were plucked), the scarab-heads
of khepri. Cigarillos hung from mouths, and people banged their
glasses or cutlery in time while waiters went between them on the
sawdusted floor. At the room's edges small groups coagulated, and
one like Ori -- well-used to Fallybeggar's -- could see where they
overlapped and where they separated, and make out their composition.
There must be militia in the hall, but none wore uniforms. At the
back the tall and muscled man, Derisov, was an agent, -- everyone
knew it but did not know how high or how connected he was, so would
not risk killing him. Near him a group of artists, debating their
schools and movements with sectarian passion.
Closer to Ori and watching him, a table of well-turned-out young
men, New Quillers, dry-spitting ostentatiously when any xenian
came too close. They would hate Ori more than khepri or cactus,
as he was race-renegade; and emboldened suddenly by the environs,
by cosmopolitan and raucous Fallybeggar's, Ori raised his head
to meet their gazes and put his arm around the old she-vodyanoi
beside him. She turned in surprise but, seeing the Quillers, gave
a grunt of approval and leaned into Ori, making exaggerated eyes
at him and them in turn.
"Good lad," she said, but with his heart fast Ori would only
stare at the four men who watched him. One spoke angrily to his
companions but was hushed, and the one who quieted him raised his
eyebrows to Ori and tapped his watch and mouthed later.
Ori was not afraid. His own tribe were near. He almost nodded at
the Quiller in sarky challenge, but such complicity revolted him
and he turned away. He could see his friends and comrades at their
arguments, disagreeing more fiercely than the painters, but they
would come together to fight with him if needed. And there were
several of them. The Quillers could not face the insurrectionists.
The crowd were raving for Adely by now, singing along with her
show-opener and making delighted pitter-patter motions with their
fingers as she concluded–"once again, in the raaaaain"–and
then becoming delirious with applause. The Quillers, artists, and
all the other grouplets joined in with no restraint.
"Oh now thank you all, oh you're my darlings, oh you are," she
said into the cheers and, professional as she was, they could hear
her. She said: "I came out here to say good evening and ask
you all to show a bit of willing to them who's come up here tonight,
give , em a good welcome, let' em know you love' em. It's their
first time, some of' em, and we all know what the first time's
like, don't we? Bit of a disappointment, ain't it, girls?" They
broke up with laughter at that, and in anticipation because it
was so obvious a lead-in to her song ''Are You Done?" And
yes, there was the familiar comedy hoboy quacking like a duck,
the opening bars, and Adely drew in a big breath, paused, then
shouted "Later!" and ran offstage, to light-hearted boos
and shouts of tease!
The first act came into the lights. A singing family, two children
done up as dolls and their mother playing a pianospiel. Most of
the audience ignored them.
Cow, thought Ori. She came on, Adely, and seemed so generous ushering
in the beginners. But the crowd were there for her, so her little
surprise opener could only weigh heavy on those who had to follow.
She'd made them disappointments, no matter how good they were.
Hard enough to come before a big name without sabotage like that,
however sweetly done. Everyone would be limping through their acts,
the audience eager to get back to Adely.
The harmony threesome gave way to a dancer. He was aging but agile,
and Ori out of politeness paid attention, but he was one of only
a few. Then a singing comedian, a poor hack who would have been
jeered with or without Ade1y's intervention.
All the entertainers were pure, unRemade human stock. It concerned
Ori-he did not know if it was coincidence that with these Quillers
looking on there were no xenian performers. Was the New Quill Party
pulling strings at Fallybeggar's? The suspicion was hateful.
At last the useless comedian was done. It was time for the final
warm-up. THE FLEXIBLE PUPPET THEATRE, it said on the handbills.
PERFORMING THE SAD AND INSTRUCTIONAL TALE OF JACK HALF-A-PRAYER.
It was them Ori had come to see. He was not there for Adely Gladly.
There were minutes of preparations behind the curtain, while the audience chatted
about the main event, the Dog Fenn Songbird. Ori knew what the Flexible Puppet
Theatre were getting ready, and he smiled.
When the velvet finally parted it did so without brass or percussion, and the
performers waited, so for seconds there was no notice, until a couple of little
gasps as the tobacco smoke seemed to clear and show the stage-within-a-stage.
There were oaths. Ori saw one of the Quillers stand.
There was the usual-the cart-sized puppet theatre with its little carved figures
in garish clothes stock-still on their stage-but the miniature wings and proscenium
arch had been torn off, and the puppeteers stood in plain view dressed too-nearly
like militia officers in dark grey. And the stage was littered with other things,
strange debris. A sheet was stretched and hammered taut and on it some magic
lantern was projecting newspaper print. There were people onstage whose roles
were unclear, a gang of actors, and musicians, the Flexibles disdaining the house
orchestra for an unkempt trio who wore pipes and flutes and held drumsticks by
pieces of sheet steel.
Ori flashed his upturned thumb at the stage. His friends were standing dead still
and silent until the mutters grew intrusive and slightly threatening, and from
the back came a shout of piss off. And then with a massive, painful
sound, someone pounded the metal. Instantly and underneath that still-reverberating
music-man struck a lovely, lively tune half-modelled on street-chants, and his
companion played the steel gently like a snare. An actor stepped forward -- he
was immaculate in a suit, waxed moustaches -- bowed slightly, tipped his hat
ladies in the front row, and bellowed an obscenity just-hidden from the censor
by a consonant inserted at its beginning, an unconvincing nonsense-word.
And there was outrage again. But these Flexibles were consummate -- arrogant
pranksters yes but serious -- and they played their audience with skill, so that
such imposition was quick and funny dialogue, or jaunty music, and it was hard
to sustain anger. But it was an extraordinary challenge or series of challenges
and the crowd vacillated between bewilderment and discontent. Ori realised it
was a question of how much of the play they could get done before it was unsafe
No one was sure what it was they were seeing, this structureless thing of shouts
and broken-up lines and noises, and cavalcades of intricate incomprehensible
costumes. The puppets were elegantly manoeuvred, but they should have been --
were designed to be -- wooden players in traditionalist moral tales, not these
provocateurs whose puppeteers had them speak back tartly to the narrator, contradict
him (always in the puppets' traditional register, a cod-childish language of
compound nouns and onomatopoeia), and dance to the noise and mum lewdness as
far as their joints and strings would allow.
Images, even animations -- pictures in such quick cycles that they jumped and
or fired their guns -- came in stuttering succession onto the screen. The narrator
harangued the audience and argued with the puppets and the other actors, and
over growing dissent from the stalls the story of Jack Half-a-Prayer emerged
in chaotic form. This stilled the angry crowd somewhat-it was a popular story,
and they wanted to see what this anarchic Nuevist crew would do with it.
The barebones introduction was familiar. "No one of us'll for-get, I'm sure,"
the narrator said and he was right, no one could, it was only twenty years ago.
The puppets sketched it out. Some obscure betrayal and Jack Half-a-Prayer, the
legendary Jack, the fReemade boss, was caught. They cut his great mantis claw
from his right hand-they'd given it to him in the punishment factories, but he'd
used it against them, so they took it away. The puppets made this a scene gruesome
with red-ribbon blood.
Of course the militia always said he was a bandit and a murderer, and he did
kill, no one doubted that. But like most versions of the story, this one showed
him as he was remembered: champion-rogue, hero. Jack got caught and it was a
sad story, and the censors let the people have it so.
It wasn't quite a public hanging they gave him -- that wasn't in the constitution
-- but they found a way to show him off. They'd tethered him on a giant stocks
in BilSantum Plaza outside Perdido Street Station for days, and the overseer
had used his whip at the slightest wriggle, deeming it resistance. They paid
people to jeer, it was mostly agreed. Plenty of Crobuzoners came and didn't cheer
at all. There were those who said it was not the real Jack -- he's no claw,
found some poor bugger and lopped off his hand, is all -- but their tone
despairing than convinced.
The puppets came and went in front of the little plywood whipping post to which
the wooden Jack was strapped.
And then da-da-da-da-da went the metal drum. All of the actors on the stage began
to shout and gesture at the militia-puppets, and the screen came up with the
word EVERYONE! and even the sceptical audience played along and began to shout
over here, over here. That was how it had been-a diversion from some in the crowd,
orchestrated or chance was debated, though Ori had his own thoughts. As the militia
dangled across the little puppet-stage,Ori remembered.
It was a young memory, a child's memory -- he did not know why he had been in
the plaza or with whom. It was the first time for years the militia had been
seen like that in their uniforms, had been a forerunner of their turn from covert
policing, and in a grey wedge they had targeted the shouting segment of crowd.
The overseer had drawn a flintlock and dropped his whip and joined them, and
left the tethered figure.
Ori did not remember seeing the rough man who had ascended toward Jack Half-a-Prayer
until he was near the top. He had a vivid image of him, but he did not know if
that was his six-year-old's memory or one constructed from all the reports he
had later heard. The man-here came his puppet now, look, on the stage, while
the militia's backs were turned-had been distinctive. Hairless, viciously scarred,
pocked as if by decades of ferocious acne, his eyes sunken and wide, dressed
inJags, a scarf pulled over his mouth and nose to hide him.
The puppet that skulked exaggeratedly up the steps called out to Jack Half-a-Prayer
with a harsh voice, a twenty-year-old echo of the real man's loud and piercing
call. He called Jack's name, as he had that day. And neared him and pulled out
a pistol and a knife (the puppet's little tinfoil constructions glinted). Remember
me, Jack? he had shouted, and his puppet shouted. I owe you this. A voice like
For years after the murder of Jack Half-a-Prayer the plays had followed the first
conventional understanding. The pockmarked man -- brother, father or lover to
one of the murdering Man'Tis's victims -- was too moved by rage to wait, overcome
righteous and straining to kill. And though it was understandable and no one
could blame him, the law did not work that way; and when they heard and saw him
it was the militia's sad duty to warn him off, and when that didn't work to fire
at him, putting an end to his plans, and killing the Half-a-Prayer with stray
bullets. And it was regrettable, as the legal process had not yet been completed,
but it could hardly have been in any doubt that the outcome would soon have been
That was the story for years, and the actors and puppeteers played Jack as the
pantomime baddie, but noticed that the crowds still cheered him.
In the second decade after the events, new interpretations had emerged, in response
to the question, Why had Half-a-Prayer shouted in what sounded like delight
the man came for him? Witnesses recalled the torn-skinned man raising his
pistol, and thought that they had perhaps seen Jack strain as if to meet him
of course a mercy killing. One of Jack's gang, risking his own life to bring
the humiliations of his boss to an end. And maybe he had succeeded -- could anyone
be sure it was a militia bullet that had ended the Remade captive? Maybe that
first shot was a friend saving a friend.
The audiences liked that much more. Now Jack Half-a-Prayer was back as he had
been in graffiti for decades -- champion. The story became a grand and vaguely
instructional tragedy of hopes noble-but-doomed, and though Jack and his nameless
were now the heroes, the city's censors allowed it, to the surprise of many.
In some productions the newcomer took Jack's life then ended his own, in others
was shot dead as he fired. The death scenes of both men had become more and more
protracted. The truth, as Ori understood it -- that though Jack had been left
dead and lolling in his harness the pock-faced man had disappeared, his fate
-- was not mentioned.
Up the little stairs ran the scarred-man puppet, his weapons outstretched, scooping
up the overseer's dropped whip (a compli-cated arrangement of pins and threads
facilitating the movement), as tradition said he had done. But what was this? "What
is this?" the narrator shouted. Ori smiled-he had seen the script. He was
clenching his fists.
"Why pick up the whip?" the narrator said. Having been caught in the
rude charm of the Nuevist production, the Quillers were definitely standing now,
again shame, shame. "Iber gotter gun:' said the scarred-man puppet directly
to the audience over their rising cries. "Iber gotter knifey. Whybe gonner
"I've an idea, pock-boy," said the narrator.
"Ibey idear already too, see?" the puppet said back. "One an dese," holding
out the gun and the whip, "tain't fer me, see?" An elegant little
mechanism spun the pistol in his wooden hand so that suddenly he held it out
butt-first, a gift for his tethered friend, and he took his knife to Jack Half-a-Prayer's
A heavy glass trailed beer as it arced over the crowd to burst wetly. Treason!came the calls, but there were others now, people standing and shouting yes,
yes, tell it like it is! Dogged, only dancing over the skittering glass, the
Flexible Puppet Theatre continued with their new version of the classic, where
the two little figures were not doomed or cursed with visions too pure to sustain
or beaten by a world that did not deserve them, but were still fighting, still
trying to win.
They were inaudible over the shouting. Food pelted the stage. A disturbance,
and the master of ceremonies came on, his suit rumpled. He was hurried, almost
pushed on by a thin young man -- a clerk from the Office of Censorship who listened
backstage through all registered performances. His job had abruptly stopped being
"Enough, you have to stop,' shouted the MC and tried to pull the puppets
been informed, this performance is over."
He was shocked out of his pompous patter. Thrown scraps hit him, so he cowered
even more than he already was. The supporters of the Flexibles were few but loud,
and they were demanding the show continue, but seeing Fallybeggar's man lose
control the young censor himself stepped up and spoke to the audience.
"This performance is cancelled. This troupe is guilty of Rudeness to New
in the Second Degree, and is hereby disbanded pending an enquiry." Fuck
you, shame, get off, show must go on. What rudeness? What rudeness? The young
censor was quite un-intimidated, and was damned if he'd put this dissidence into
words. "The militia have been called, and on their arrival, all still here
will be deemed complicit with the performance. Please leave the premises immediately." The
mood was too mean for dispersal.
There was more glass in the air and the screams that told it had landed. Quillers
were targeting the stage, Ori saw, heading to beat the performers, and he pushed
himself up and indicated to nearby friends and they headed off to intercept the
knuckle-cracking Quillers, and the riot blossomed.
Adely Gladly ran out, already in her risque costume, and shouted for peace. Ori
saw her, just before he split his fist on the back of some Quill-scum head, then
looked back at the matter in hand. On the stage the Flexible Puppet Theatre were
scooping all their props out of the way. Over the noise of beating and shouts
and percussions of glass the wonderful voice of the Dog Fenn Songbird begged
for the fighting to stop, and no one paid her any notice.
© 2004 China Miéville. Text Here appears courtesy China Miéville,
Pan Macmillan UK and Del Rey/Ballantine/Random House US. Many thanks
to all involved for their permissions.