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Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag) Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 27, 2001
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When Mae West said, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful," she could have been talking about China Miéville's Perdido Street Station. The novel's publication met with a burst of extravagant praise from Big Name Authors and was almost instantly a multiaward finalist. You expect hyperbole in blurbs; and sometimes unworthy books win awards, so nominations don't necessarily mean much. But Perdido Street Station deserves the acclaim. It's ambitious and brilliant and--rarity of rarities--sui generis. Its clearest influences are Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy and M. John Harrison's Viriconium books, but it isn't much like them. It's Dickensian in scope, but fast-paced and modern. It's a love song for cities, and it packs a world into its strange, sprawling, steam-punky city of New Crobuzon. It can be read with equal validity as fantasy, science fiction, horror, or slipstream. It's got love, loss, crime, sex, riots, mad scientists, drugs, art, corruption, demons, dreams, obsession, magic, aliens, subversion, torture, dirigibles, romantic outlaws, artificial intelligence, and dangerous cults.
Generous, gaudy, grand, grotesque, gigantic, grim, grimy, and glorious, Perdito Street Station is a bloody fascinating book. It's also so massive that you may begin to feel you're getting too much of a good thing; just slow down and enjoy.
Yes, but what is Perdido Street Station about? To oversimplify: the eccentric scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is hired to restore the power of flight to a cruelly de-winged birdman. Isaac's secret lover is Lin, an artist of the khepri, a humano-insectoid race; theirs is a forbidden relationship. Lin is hired (rather against her will) by a mysterious crime boss to capture his horrifying likeness in the unique khepri art form. Isaac's quest for flying things to study leads to verification of his controversial unified theory of the strange sciences of his world. It also brings him an odd, unknown grub stolen from a secret government experiment so perilous it is sold to a ruthless drug lord--the same crime boss who hired Lin. The grub emerges from its cocoon, becomes an extraordinarily dangerous monster, and escapes Isaac's lab to ravage New Crobuzon, even as his discovery becomes known to a hidden, powerful, and sinister intelligence. Lin disappears and Isaac finds himself pursued by the monster, the drug lord, the government and armies of New Crobuzon, and other, more bizarre factions, not all confined to his world. --Cynthia Ward
From Publishers Weekly
King Rat (1999), Miville's much-praised first novel of urban fantasy/horror, was just a palate-teaser for this appetizing, if extravagant, stew of genre themes. Its setting, New Crobuzon, is an audaciously imagined milieu: a city with the dimensions of a world, home to a polyglot civilization of wildly varied species and overlapping and interpenetrating cultures. Seeking to prove his unified energy theory as it relates to organic and mechanical forms, rogue scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin tries to restore the power of flight to Yagharek, a member of the garuda race cruelly shorn of its wings. Isaac's lover, Lin, unconsciously mimics his scientific pursuits when she takes on the seemingly impossible commission of sculpting a patron whose body is a riot of grotesquely mutated and spliced appendages. Their social life is one huge, postgraduate bull session with friends and associates--until a nightmare-inducing grub escapes from Isaac's lab and transforms into a flying monster that imperils the city. This accident precipitates a political crisis, initiates an action-packed manhunt for Isaac and introduces hordes of vividly imagined beings who inhabit the twilight zone between science and sorcery. Miville's canvas is so breathtakingly broad that the details of individual subplots and characters sometime lose their definition. But it is also generous enough to accommodate large dollops of aesthetics, scientific discussion and quest fantasy in an impressive and ultimately pleasing epic.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Among the city’s residents is human scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, who receives an unusual commission from a garuda, a bird-human hybrid. The garuda has lost his wings as punishment for an unknown crime, and tasks Isaac with finding a means of restoring his ability to fly. Isaac soon finds himself researching flight in all its forms, collecting a vast menagerie of winged and soon to be winged creatures. Among these specimens is a large, colorful caterpillar of unknown origin, which may not be as innocuous as it seems…
Mieville is a master at creating a setting, and Perdido is full of details and asides that really bring New Crobuzon to life. A decent part of the novel consists of little vignettes that offer a peek into the lives of characters or the inhabitants of some part of the city. This is both one of the novels biggest strengths and weaknesses; while the world-building here is top notch, the main story often drags and gets lost in the details. The central conflict of the novel gets pushed aside at times and doesn’t really become clear until maybe a fourth of the way through the book.
While it can be a bit of a slog, this was a fascinating read with an expertly crafted fantasy setting. Mieville can really make a bizarre setting seem plausible, and the novel is brimming with neat ideas and peaks at other stories. Unfortunately, the main story here often gets lost amid the many streets and neighborhoods of New Crobuzon.
Mieville explores a lot of ideas and creates a whole host of strange and intriguing creatures. This is definitely not your average fantasy book - no knights in shining armor, no powerful wizards saving the day. Instead, you have cactus people, strange spider gods, winged bird people from the desert who have a very non-human set of morals and cultural norms. The setting is almost a character in itself.
The prose does get _too_ dense at points, and it feels like Mieville's very, very fond of his thesaurus. Still, his word choices are solid, if obscure, and all around I really enjoyed this book, miserable as the setting and characters often are. It's worth a try. (If you don't like the prologue, feel free to skip ahead - it's pretty different from the rest of the book. But if you're still not into it after a few chapters, it might not really be for you.)
I give it three stars on the strength of its momentum and the inventive setting, but it is extremely flawed in writing style, plot, and character development.