Saturday, April 2, 2011

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
Random House, 2000
Trade Paperback, 720 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345443021
Very Highly Recommended

Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to none-not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.

Isaac has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before fathomed. Though the Garuda's request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger.

While Isaac's experiments for the Garuda turn into an obsession, one of his lab specimens demands special attention....

My Thoughts:

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville is part of the steampunk genre and has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Award. Set in New Crobuzon, a sprawling, squalid city where a wide variety of sentient beings and their corresponding cultures live, Perdido Street Station features Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, an independent rogue scientist, and Yagharek, a member of the "bird man" garuda race, along with a wide range of other characters, including Lin, an "insect" khepri sculptress who is Isaac's lover.

Yagharek, whose wings have been sawed off as a punishment for a crime, travels to Isaac's lab in an attempt to regain his power of flight. Isaac takes on the challenge and begins studying all manner of flying things while attempting to prove his crisis energy theory. His obsessive research inadvertently leads to the release of unfathomable creatures who can destroy all sentient beings in New Crobuzon.

Miéville is an incredible writer. The descriptions, settings, and characters are all slowly and intricately developed, resulting in a wonderfully vivid total picture. Miéville never shies away from the more grim realities of the city and his characters. All of the characters are flawed and all of them must face some harsh realities in order to achieve their goals. Every action seemingly comes at a great cost. It is a dark, bleak novel. The writing is dense and best savored slowly.

There are several themes in Perdido Street Station. It is a story of obsessions - compulsive creative obsessions in science and art, as well as obsession with skills or abilities. It is the story of each character's journey, their quest, and transformation. Betrayal, intentional or inadvertent, is also a theme. It becomes a story of redemption, trying to make right what has become a great wrong.

Some mention has been made of Miéville's extensive vocabulary. It is extensive, and I'll admit pausing over one word, something that very rarely happens to me. Don't let the vocabulary stop you from reading him. I found it to be an incredible, unique experience and am planning to seek out more of Miéville's novels based on his writing alone.

Set in the fictional world of Bas Lag, Perdido Street Station is first book in Miéville's New Crobuzon trilogy. The other two books are The Scar and Iron Council. However, Perdido Street Station is a stand alone novel.

Very Highly Recommended


The city reeked. But today was market day down in Aspic Hole, and the pungent slick of dung-smell and rot that rolled over New Crobuzon was, in these streets,
for these hours, improved with paprika and fresh tomato, hot oil and fish and cinnamon, cured meat, banana and onion. pg.7

Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin had just realized that he was dreaming. He had been aghast to find himself employed once again at the university,
parading in front of a huge blackboard covered in vague representations of levers and forces and stress. pg. 8

New Crobuzon was a huge plague pit, a morbific city. Parasites, infection and rumour were uncontainable. A monthly chymical dip was a necessary prophylactic for the khepri, if they wanted to avoid itches and sores. pg. 9

Light glinted in Lin’s compound eyes. Her headlegs quivered. She picked up half a tomato and gripped it with her mandibles. She lowered her hands while her inner mouthparts picked at the food her outer jaw held steady.
Isaac watched the huge iridescent scarab that was his lover’s head devour her breakfast. pg. 10

He had walked out of the university ten years ago. But only because he realized to his misery that he was a terrible teacher.
He had looked out at the quizzical faces, listened to the frantic scrawling of the panicking students, and realized that with a mind that ran and tripped and hurled itself down the corridors of theory in anarchic fashion, he could learn himself, in haphazard lurches, but he could not impart the understanding he so loved. He had hung his head in shame and fled.
In another twist to the myth, his Head of Department, the ageless and loathsome Vermishank, was not a plodding epigone but an exceptional bio-thaumaturge, who had nixed Isaac’s research less because it was unorthodox than because it was going nowhere. Isaac could be brilliant,
but he was undisciplined. Vermishank had played him like a fish, making him beg for work as a freelance researcher on terrible pay, but with limited access to the university laboratories.
And it was this, his work, which kept Isaac circumspect about his lover. pg. 12

For the second time that day Lin luxuriated in the taste of cactus-people sap, as the pterabird loped towards the Greenhouse in Riverskin. Shut out of that monastic sanctuary (the twisting intricate panes of its steep glass dome looming to the east, in the heart of the quarter), despised by their elders, small gangs of cactus youth leaned against shuttered buildings and cheap posters. They played with knives. Their spines were cropped in violent patterns, their spring-green skin savaged with bizarre scarification. pg 18-19

The garuda stared down at him. Isaac's fascination defeated his manners, and he stared frankly back.
The great creature stood more than six feet tall, on cruel clawed feet that poked out from under a dirty cloak. The ragged cloth dangled down almost to the ground, draped loosely over every inch of flesh, obscuring the details of physiognomy and musculature, all but the garuda's head. And that great inscrutable bird face gazed down at Isaac with what looked like imperiosity. Its sharply curved beak was something between a kestrel's and an owl's. Sleek feathers faded subtly from ochre to dun to dappled brown. Deep black eyes stared at his own, the iris only a fine mottling at the very edge of the dark. Those eyes were set in orbits which gave the garuda face a permanent sneer, a proud furrow. pg. 30


samantha.1020 said...

Thanks for the great review! I've been meaning to read this author for some time now and after reading this you've convinced me to request this one from the library. Thanks again :)

Lori L said...

I kept putting off reading Mieville too and now I'm wondering why I waited. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Jeanne said...

I tried this one and couldn't get interested in it, which I'm pretty sure is my fault rather than Mieville's because I've liked other stuff by him and so many people whose opinions I respect--including you, now--have liked it.

Lori L said...

I'm looking forward to reading more Mieville. His writing pulled me into the story - just another confirmation that quality does matter.

Gavin said...

I really need to make time to read this one again! Thanks for the review.