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Bas-Lag

Bas-Lag is the fictional world in which several of China Miéville's novels are set. Bas-Lag is a world where both magic (referred to as 'thaumaturgy') and steampunk technology exist, and is home to many intelligent races. It is influenced by the themes and tropes of multiple genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The world of Bas Lag is also set to become an RPG setting, developed under Adamant Entertainment.

The Bas-Lag novels

So far there have been three novels set in Bas-Lag. They are:

Additionally, the short story "Jack", featured in the 2005 collection Looking for Jake, is also a Bas-Lag story.

Geography

Bas-Lag possesses an unknown number of continents. Two landmasses, Rohagi and Bered Kai Nev, are named in the three novels, though numerous other landmasses and unique structures play important roles in the novels.

Rohagi

The exact proportions and geography of Rohagi are unknown. New Crobuzon lies about ten miles inland from its eastern coast, which borders the Swollen Ocean. Immediately south of New Crobuzon is the Rudewood, beyond which lies the Mendican Hills. North of New Crobuzon, along the coast but separated by the Bezhek Mountains, are the ruins of Suroch. To the west, about a thousand miles from New Crobuzon and far beyond the Dancing Shoe Mountains, lies the four-hundred mile wide freshwater lake called Cold Claw Loch. The Loch connects with the vast, inland Cold Claw Sea, eight hundred miles to the north, via a natural channel called Cold Claw Sound. The Cold Claw Sea is talon-shaped, stretching eastward a great distance, almost connecting with the Swollen Ocean before curving southward for about two hundred miles, finally ending about seven hundred miles north of New Crobuzon. This southward curve is the Gengris, and is populated by the dangerous and unpredictable grindylow.

According to a protagonist in Iron Council, both Cobsea and Myrshock lie about 750 miles southwest of New Crobuzon. Cobsea lies inland and borders the Cacotopic Stain, a large wasteland created by the unreliable magical energy known as Torque. Myrshock lies on the northern coast of the Meagre Sea. As revealed in Iron Council, a wealthy industrialist had attempted to build a transcontinental railway that would link New Crobuzon with Cobsea and Myrshock, as the two states are trading partners, but was unsuccessful in this endeavor.

South of the Meagre Sea is the Cymek Desert, which is home to the nomadic garudas. The Cymek also contains the northern port city of Shankell, which is known for its brutal gladiatorial combat, and the southern city of Dreer Samheer, both of which are predominantly populated by the cactacae.

West of the Cymek Desert lies the Galaggi Veldt, which is home to Tesh, which is ruled by the Witchocracy. Tesh controls the Fire Water Straits, which lead to an as yet unidentified inland body of water that borders the Swollen Ocean. The control of the Fire Water Straits has resulted in a war between New Crobuzon and Tesh and the results of this war is a plot point in Iron Council, although it is uncertain as to who won the war.

Bered Kai Nev

Bered Kai Nev is a continent that lies to the east of Rohagi. The khepri are believed to be native to this continent, but were driven out by an event known only as The Ravening, and now live as refugees in various cities in Rohagi, although primitive khepri are rumored to still inhabit Bered Kai Nev. No other information regarding this continent has been provided.

Islands and Other Landmasses

The pirate city of Armada is a mobile city-state, consisting of numerous ships that have been lashed together to form a large connected settlement. It is divided into small districts which are ruled by a number of unique rulers, such as a High Cromlech vampir. Armada moves around the Swollen Ocean by means of a small fleet of tug ships and is the central setting of The Scar. Armada's origins are unknown, but it has existed in one form or another for at least a thousand years. At the opening of The Scar, its population is said to number in the hundreds of thousands. The city itself is only about a mile wide, though one character claims that "there are probably as many miles of streets here as in New Crobuzon" owing to all its "layers and layers of decks."

Gnurr Kett is an island that lies 2000 miles south of New Crobuzon and 500 miles east of the Cymek Desert. The island is known for its scholarly reputation and the knowledge that its capital city, Kohnid, has. Some of this knowledge is derived from a colony of anophelii that they maintain. This colony is the only known remnants of what was known as the Malarial Queendom, a brutal regime that was active in most areas of Bas-Lag that had a warm climate.

The Jheshull Islands are a small trio of islands that lie off the coast of Rohagi. They were involved in the Pirate Wars and are considered to be on the decline due to their involvement against New Crobuzon.

Nova Esperium is a penal colony maintained by New Crobuzon and the two fictional settlements can be seen as being analogous to Australia and London. Very few people choose to go to Nova Esperium of their own volition, as the long journey to the colony, combined with the rampant disease and other threats make it a harsh place to live. The exact location of Nova Esperium is not given, although it lies a great distance southeast of New Crobuzon.

History

Ghosthead Empire

Malarial Queendom

The mosquito people ruled much of the continent.

First Umbric Age

The time period in which the Bas-Lag novels are set, the First Umbric Age is given to the period of infighting and feuding that occurred between the various states on Rohagi after the Ghosthead Empire departed.

Pirate Wars

Politics and society

Known states

The Brothers : In Iron Council, The Brothers is said to lie on the western side of Rohagi, beyond the Cacotopic Stain. It is referred to as the "crocodile double-city." Gharcheltist : In Iron Council, Gharcheltist is referred to as "the aquapolis." The name and the wordstyle suggests vodyanoi, but it could also be a Grindylow city. High Cromlech : Almost everything that is currently known about High Cromlech is derived from Uther Doul, one of the primary characters in The Scar. Doul was born and raised in High Cromlech. He describes it as a caste-based nation ruled by undead nobility, called "thanati." These he describes as "liches with sewn-shut mouths, with beautiful clothes and skin like preserved leather."

The living (called "the quick") are a minority in High Cromlech. Most are apparently bred and raised on "farms", and are eventually "snuffed and recast as zombies." Some are reared by the thanati, who are "slain and welcomed to dead society" once they come of age. A small fraction of the living are born free, however, and these survive by doing work that is too skilled for semi-sentient zombies. Zombies would seem to be High Cromlech's primary workforce.

At the bottom of High Cromlech's social ladder are the "vampir", which are referred to as "ab-dead" to distinguish them from the thanati. Based on Doul's description, the vampir are apparently considered little more than vagrants and addicts. He depicts them as living in shanty towns, coming out at night to beg the living for blood. Khadoh : Khadoh's merchants trade with New Crobuzon. Maru'ahm : Maru'ahm is apparently found on the western side of the Rohagi continent, beyond the Cacotopic Stain. In Perdido Street Station, it is said to be ruled by a casino-parliament, "where laws were stakes in games of roulette." This rumor is affirmed in Iron Council, where a character who visited Maru'ahm claims he played for such stakes as property laws and "a whole pot of legislation." This same character mentions a queen and "cardsharp senators", implying that Maru'ahm's government is some form of constitutional or elective monarchy. New Crobuzon : The city-state of New Crobuzon is a major plot device for all three of the Bas-Lag novels, and a substantial part of the Bas-Lag setting. It is situated at the confluence of the Rivers Tar, Canker and Gross Tar, about ten miles west of the Swollen Ocean. Though a self-styled parliamentary republic, New Crobuzon's government more closely resembles an oligarchy with strong imperialistic ambitions. The political system of New Crobuzon is hugely biased towards the human majority and only those ranked higher in society, along with a few others elected in a "suffrage lottery" are allowed to vote. The "Fat Sun" party rules in all the Bas-Lag novels, but other political parties include the xenophobic "New Quill" and the xenotolerent "Diverse Tandency"

The protagonist in The Scar calls New Crobuzon the greatest city in Bas-Lag, but her opinion is substantially biased. Nevertheless, New Crobuzon is certainly one of Bas-Lag's most economically and militarily powerful states. In The Scar, it is capable of dispatching a fleet halfway around the world to combat the pirate-city of Armada. In Iron Council, it carries out a protracted war with the distant city-state of Tesh, and crushes an internal rebellion through force of arms. Qé Banssa : Qé Banssa is built upon the sloping peaks of Dancing Bird Island. It is called a "poor, ugly little fishing port" by a protagonist in The Scar. As with Tarmuth, Qé Banssa seems to survive by dint of New Crobuzon's good will. Salkrikaltor : The Cray Commonwealth of Salkrikaltor is found beneath the waves of the Swollen Ocean, far east of New Crobuzon between the islands Bartoll and Gnomon Tor. Salkrikaltor and New Crobuzon are described in The Scar as being trading partners on amiable terms.

The capital of the Commonwealth is Salkrikaltor City. Most of Salkrikaltor City is located underwater, though there is a "topside" district for non-aquatic creatures that seek to do business with the cray. The submerged part of the City is described in The Scar as "convoluted and interconnected", with "little squares of seaweed topiary" and "coral courtyards." The above-water district is described as consisting mostly of towers carved from rock and coral, "a mass of contrary styles", with floating platforms and buildings suspended by struts and columns. Suroch : Suroch was a city which fought and eventually lost a series of wars against New Crobuzon known in the latter as the Pirate Wars. Throughout the time period covered by the plots of the Bas-Lag novels, Suroch has already been destroyed and rendered uninhabitable by the effects of magical weapons of mass destruction, the "colourbomb" and devices making use of the Torque.

Suroch is the only place in the novels with a Torque contamination similar to that of the Catacoptic Stain, though Torque storms are said to appear randomly. Mentions have been made - especially in Perdido Street Station - of "Cockroach Trees" in Suroch and "Herds of what might once have been human". The publishing of heliotypes of the Torque contamination in the illicit Sacramundi report put an end to Torque experiments in New Crobuzon. Tarmuth : Tarmuth is situated at the mouth of the Gross Tar River, on the coast of the Rohagi continent about ten miles east of New Crobuzon. The protagonist in The Scar describes it as "an ugly, violent town" used by privateers and freebooters as safe harbor. Besides "prostitution and piracy", Tarmuth survives by manufacturing ships, and exists thanks to New Crobuzon's patronage. Troglodopolis : Troglodopolis is referred to in Perdido Street Station as a "chthonic burrow." Vadaunk : Vadaunk lies somewhere south of New Crobuzon, beyond the Cacotopic Stain. According to government propaganda in Perdido Street Station, the changing seasons "bring an onslaught of superstitious repression" there. In Iron Council it is called "the mercenary kingdom." Yoraketche

Known languages

Ragamoll is the common tongue of New Crobuzon. It seems to be widely spoken throughout eastern Bas-Lag by members of all races. Likewise, Salt is the language of the Swollen Ocean, spoken by pirates, sailors and other maritime peoples. In The Scar, Salt is described as a patchwork language which borrows aspects from various other tongues, principally Ragamoll.

The anophellii maintain a written language called High Kettai, which is used by various scholars and publishing houses. It is implied that high Kettai is inflected as it is known to possess an "ironic case." Base Kettai is High Kettai's more widely-understood cousin.

Quiesy (also known as "Deadish") is the principal language of High Cromlech. Since many of its speakers have either sewn-shut mouths or larynxes too decayed to form sounds properly, it consists of a series of coughing grunts, with "intricately timed pauses" that are as important as the spoken element. It can also be "spoken" entirely soundlessly, with gestures or eye movements.

The khepri communicate through sign language and scented chemicals, since their insect-heads do not permit vocalization. They also maintain a written language called High Khepri.

The vodyanoi speak at least three different languages: the primary one being Lubbock and the others Fellid and Southern. The traditional language of the Cactacae is Sunglari. The garuda of the Cymek speak an unnamed language. The people of Tesh, the people of Khadoh, the Salkrikaltor Cray, and the hotchi of the Rudewood all speak their own, eponymous languages.

Known races

Science, technology and magic

The technology on Bas-Lag is wide and varied and evolves over the course of the books. In Perdido Street Station the primary piece of weaponry is the flintlock musket; by the time of Iron Council militia are armed with what appears to be percussion cap weaponry in the form of steam-powered machine guns and pepperpot revolvers.

On pg. 229 of Perdido Street Station Isaac states: "That's where they dropped the colourbomb in 1545. That's what they said put an end to the Pirate Wars, but to be honest with you, Yag, they'd been over for a year before that [...]" The obvious comparison is with the dropping of the A-Bomb in World War II - both from the date (1945/1545) and the comment that the "war had been over for a year": it is arguable that Japan's hope at avoiding complete defeat had been completely destroyed in the series of naval and land defeats that was 1944. Interestingly, in Iron Council, the science behind colourbombs is referred to as a "lost science."

Another power source is The Torque, mentioned on pg. 225, a mysterious energy plaguing the Cacotopic Stain that might be compared to radiation. Torque leads to strange mutations, altering both living creatures and the inanimate environment: for example, during Iron Council, a railway carriage and its three occupants are transmogrified by the Torque into a blob of semi-solid matter containing three nuclei. Another implication of dropping the colourbomb is that it was done to hide the extent of the torque weapon's devastation of city of Suroch, which later revealed to be the unnamed opponent in the Pirate Wars.

In all three novels there are also several mentions of clockwork gems, metaclockwork, sentient robot-like constructs operating with difference engines, and many other inexplicable or fantastic instances of science, magic and combination of both.

In Iron Council, Miéville dedicates a lot of attention to the magic art of golemancy, explaining the logic behind the art and its difference to the calling and control of elementals.

References

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