Book Review - <i>Perdido Street Station</i> by China Mieville

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville is a fantasy novel set in the gothic London analogue New Crobuzon. The rotund human scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin spends his time dabbling with the applications of Crisis Theory. His secret lover, Lin, is a beetle-headed member of the khepri race. She is a sculptor of unusual technique who is estranged from her khepri roots and spends her time in the Bohemian city underground. Their lives change when Isaac is approached one day by a Garuda - half-man, half-bird - named Yagharek who has been banished from his tribe and clipped of his wings for an unspeakable crime and seeks the scientist's help to once again regain the ability to fly. In his research, Isaac accidently unleashes a deadly meance that threatens the very existence of New Crobuzon.

The focus of the novel is the dark, dirty city of New Crobuzon itself, and this is where Mieville shines. The sprawling city drips with imagery, seeps with flavor, and oozes with atmosphere. Biologically altered Remade, bestowed with extra body parts or mechanical furnishings as punishment for crimes or simply as fashions of self-expression, walk the grimy underworld. Mutant mafia lords supply drugs of choice to crazed junkies. Crooked politicians literally make deals with Satan himself. The brutal militia violently puts down underground movements and workers' strikes. Along the way, we see the birth of a mechanical steampunk artificial intelligence, a greenhouse city of cactus-men, lines of airborne trains, Victorian alchemy, decadent torture devices, and a poetic multi-dimensional spider with hazy moral standing.

Showing his disdain for traditional fantasy novels, Mieville once proclaimed Tolkien to be the "wen on the arse of fantasy literature." Certainly, this is not your father's fantasy novel. In fact, fantasy is probably not a sufficient description of its genre. It lies somewhere where fantasy blurs into science fiction and where sufficiently advanced technologies are indistiguishable from magic. Elements of horror, myth, and steampunk are thrown in just for fun. Very few, if any, characters fit neatly into the categories of good and evil. There is a bitter undertone that permeates the book till the very last page. Relationships are often hierarchically unbalanced, and resolutions are many times ambiguous.

Perdido Street Station is a dense, complex novel of over 700 pages. The descriptive prose is a bit overwritten in places and unnecessarily interferes with an otherwise skillful novel. However, Mieville succeeds in creating a unique, unconventional world of intricate characters and a sohpisticated urban landscape. It is an imaginative work of speculative fiction that shows Mieville to be a talented, promising young writer.

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Bah, I say, to the Tolkien

Bah, I say, to the Tolkien snobbery. Lord of the Rings is a great book and an amazing accomplishment of imagination and scholarship. But I think a lot of critics attack Tolkien as a shorthand for attacking the reams of derivative hackwork inspired by Tolkien (or inspired by Tolkien's success.) Me, I prefer to blame TSR. Or Terry Brooks.

I thought this was an

I thought this was an astonishing novel. Aa reader who had put aside her fantasy novels as she put away "childish things", I had shifted my propensity for the perverse to such authors as Katherine Dunn (Geek Love) and Edward Carey (Observatory Mansions) Carlton Mellick III (Satan Burger). Meiville I picked up on a lark, expecting little. After I grew accustomed to his somewhat purple prose, I found myself continually shocked by the scope of his imagination, and his skillful control of the "Chaos Theory" that was at work in his book. Surprising and transgressive, the only way to compare it to Tolkien is to count the number of pages. Thank god we have authors who refuse to be influenced by JRR, whose influence has actually harmed SF/Fan by locking it off from what is typically refered to as "literature". With Mieville, I believe there exists an author who can punch through these paper walls of genre.