Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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Perdido Street Station
by China Mieville
Publisher: Del Rey; (February 27, 2001)

I enjoyed China Mieville's Perdido Street Station a lot, so perhaps I had better begin with its weak points.

First off, it is an extremely dark, grim book. There are scenes here of terrible violence, gruesome horror and there is no real happy ending or fair reward in the traditional sense, even though the 'hero' does basically triumph. Actually this is not a minus so much as to indicate that this may not be a book to suit everyone's tastes; which is fair enough.

The more serious flaw is also the flipside of a strength - Mieville writes like a man drunk with words and there are times when his ornate prose weighs down a story that is straining at its reins, kicking at the dirt and crying out for a breakneck dash. The narrative flow falters now and then, especially once the halfway mark is passed and the game is well afoot. But it never really falls apart.

If, like me, you like dense, evocative prose, you'll be willing to forgive Mieville most of his excesses, particularly in view of the power of his twisted, boundless imagination. More than reminding me of any other writer, Mieville's vision brought to mind the nightmarish canvasses of Salvador Dali or Hieronymus Bosch.


One vision in particular that kept occuring to me (even though it does not directly reflect anything in the story) was William Blake's Ghost of Flea.

Which in a way is very befitting of the setting. The world in PSS is poised uneasily between the remains of a mediaeval past and the onrushing smokestacks and steam engines of an industrial age, much lik Blake's England was.

Arcane arts and grimy technology rub shoulders in the filthy, twisting streets of New Crobuzon, as do a bewildering variety of strange races, from the froglike vodyanoi and the scarab-headed kephri to the Remade, criminals who have been organically and mechanically re-engineered into gruesome new forms.

There are two figures who capture the way the whole work is poised at the cusp between what we usually call SF and fantasy - the Weaver, a whimsical spider-like godlike creature, and the Construct Council, a vast Articificial Intelligence. Fittingly, it is only a collaboration between the two that saves the day in the end. Equally typically, given the dark nature of the book, the third element of that combination is a pathetic, unwilling human sacrifice.

The central characters of PSS - the burly rogue scientist, Isaac dan der Grimnebulin, his kephri lover Lin, the activist/journalist Derkhan Blueday and the garuda or bird-man Yagharek, are all well-defined and believable. I agonised and exulted in sympathy with them and was sorry to leave their company in the end.

But the central character of PSS may well be the ghastly, fantastic city of New Crobuzon itself. I'm rather fond of imaginary cities, and I know I will be walking though these chaotic, winding streets in many dreams and nightmares to come...

A few last points.

Genre? Mieville calls himself a writer of 'weird tales'.

If we had a rating system would I give it full points? No, I would give it a half point less than the full score, but still reccomend it very highly.

Lastly, get the UK edition if you can - the US edition has a seriously dissapointing cover that does NO justice to the book.
 

Foxbat

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I've never heard of this writer or this book but you give it high praise indeed. Any book compared to Bosch deserves a look. It certainly seems a bit different :)
 

Brian G Turner

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I've been waiting for an appraisal of China Meiville (and gender identification!) for ages! So thanks for that, knivesout. :)

I've long been under the suspicion that China Meiville will have far more in common with Neil Gaiman than traditional fantasy writers - would you say that's a fair assessment?
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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I said:
I've long been under the suspicion that China Meiville will have far more in common with Neil Gaiman than traditional fantasy writers - would you say that's a fair assessment?
Exactly. :D

I found a lot of fantasy readers do not really find Mieville to their taste - he may appeal more to horror and sf fans.
 

Hypes

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If you get the Pan pocket edition of Mièville's King Rat (which is also a great book, though not in the same vein as PSS and The Scar), there's a picture of China himself on the inside backcover.

Then again, you could always do a Google Image Search.

Perhaps it's just me, but I always considered Mièville Sci-Fi Steampunk, not fantasy. True, he does have a twisted incarnation of fantasy magic, but it strikes me as more science fiction than anything.
 

Myla Starchild

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Good review knivesout, you address the book's good and bad points well.

Foxbat, get down to the bookshop immediately!

Hypes, I've been looking all over for King Rat but can't find it anywhere. :mad: My copy of The Scar has the same picture though.
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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Someone wanted a pic of Mieville? In any case, here's one:
 

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Hypes

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If you've read King Rat you'll certainly be able to connect his writing with his looks.

That portrait pic makes him look like a cross between David Beckham and Chow Yun Fat.
Isn't he dreamy?
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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You certainly do seem fond of him. :p

Have you read his recent chapbook, The Tain, by the way? I'm waiting to get a hold of the anthology Cities (Ed: Peter Crowther) which includes it, but it would be interesting to hear from someone who has read the story.

Interestingly, John Clute's review of Perdido Street Station actually has a long sequence where he shows how the book is SF, fantasy, steampunk, horror and so on, in turn. I guess Mieville's own classification, 'weird tales' is simpler to resort to!

Seriously, I don't see why SF and fantasy need to have such distinct lines drawn between them, and one of the things I like most about Mievile is that he seems to go ahead and tell his story, and describe his world, without worrying too much about about what the punters will classify it as.
 

Hypes

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Well said - leave it to the bibliothecarians to figure it out. I

Actually, no, I haven't read it. I didn't even know about it, in fact. I'll be sure to look into it, though.
 

Hypes

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I shall go have a cry in the corner now.

I'll wear my tin foil hat, too.
 

ravenus

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I finished Perdido Street Station a few days back and I agree with whatever knivesout has said about it (great review, btw). It can sometimes be very trying with it's tendency towards verbose description when you want the story to rush forth but the effort i well rewarded with a very vivid and spectacular experience.

With this book, China Mieville strikes me as a more cynical modern-day Dickens.
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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Could you elaborate on the Dickensian aspect, ravenus? I imagine you are referring to his ability to vividly depict an entire city (London, in Dickens' case) and all its varied denizens, but I could be wrong.
 

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