Thoughts on Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

16 Feb


Ok, so I just finished Perdido Street Station, a book that is highly divisive with readers.   People either seem to find it a mesmerizing world to fall into, or an overlong big baggy monster of a book.   I am definitely in the former camp.   I’m not going to do a formal review on this one, because egads it’s just fricking huge.  It would take a book just to describe this book to you.   However, there’s some things I noticed:

1.  This is Mieville’s anti-Tolkien epic:  Instead of going on a fantasy world tour, our protagonists stay in one city.  Instead of pseudo medieval times, we’re set in imaginary Victorian.   The main characters do not have hearts of gold, and aren’t particularly special.   The threat is not world threatening (though serious).   The landscape is unclean, dripping with filth and garbage on every page.   The good guys don’t get rewarded and the bad guys don’t get punished.   I could go on and on but Mieville is going out of his way to show that you don’t have to get a group of people to destroy an item that can destroy the world to have a credible fantasy novel.

2.  The steampunk moniker is overrated:  I don’t see this book as being particularly steampunk.  I don’t mind that.  Steampunk to me is a style–it often has things that look cool but have  no substance behind it.  While the city of Bas-Lag does seem a product of Dickens’s worst nightmares, at the same time you don’t have any of the steampunk silliness of hirsute handlebar mustachioed men riding rocket unicycles in space.

3.  The animal/human/computer division has broken down:  Throughout this book we see humans being twisted and distorted as the remade into completely unnatural beings.  We’ve got people with bug’s heads, bird people, fish people, cactus people, hand people who use people like puppets, robots who gain consciousness and people who lose it.

4.  The theme of choice:  There’s a big bit explaining how the garuda (bird people) hold choice as sacred, and removing other people’s choices is the basis of all crime.   While we really don’t see that system in action, we do see how most of our characters through most of the book have absolutely no choices–rather they are completely manipulated by New Crobuzon, their environment.   In fact, I can see only three places where an individual has a choice and the power to follow through on it.   Isaac chooses to start work on getting Agarak flying again, Lin chooses to take a job with Mr. Motley, and Isaac chooses not to give flight to Angarak in the end due to his crime.   Even in these three choices the characters do not have the foresight to know the possible consequences to these choices.     Even the powerful are largely reacting to forces beyond their control.

5.  The Weaver:  My favorite character.  This spider trickster and his devotion to beauty (on his terms) just delights in any scene he’s in.   He cuts off peoples ears, collects scissors, plays tic-tac-toe with a dead man, dresses people up in fancy dress before dropping them off in a sewer.  He is pure raw energy, uncontrollable, and a scene stealer.

6.  The Ending:  There’s a lot of complaints about the ending.  It’s an ending that is no ending, the protagonists merely leave and nobody wins.   Yes, the slake moths are dead, but in a way, the moths’ threat of drinking people’s consciousness is not gone.  In fact you could argue that New Crobuzon does exactly the same thing, it’s just that the moths are more efficient.

On the whole a very satisfying read.  I highly recommend it.  Just know that this book is VERY dark, not a beach read at all.


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