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Perdido Street Station Mass Market Paperback – July 29, 2003
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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PSS does it all, but I think the thing it does so well are explore the themes of power, loss, and redemption. Morally gray characters are everywhere, and even ones you root for will probably do some pretty s***ty things. Such is real life, and such is PSS.
I absolutely cannot wait to read The Scar and Iron Council now. Consider me a Mieville convert.
It's such a sprawling, insane beast of a thing that should, really, probably only be a novella at most, but manages to be absurdly compelling to the very last. The pacing can be a bit uneven, but never hits either end of the dull-slog-to-overwhelming-mess spectrum. Overall I'd say it does a good job of building up to the madness. And that is genuinely what the book is: Madness.
And I love it.
You can read other people's descriptions of the plot and the book's various merits and failures, but I just want to tell you that it's wonderfully good time and you should just give it a whirl.
Then cleanse your pallet with Kraken by the same author! Equally good, but lighter and infused with a great sense of humor.
It's said that any story should only have one or two Big Ideas. These are the philosophical underpinnings of the story -- in layman's terms, they're what the story is *about* outside of the characters. Terminator is about time travel and robots. Those are its Big Ideas. Harry Potter is about a school for magic. That's its Big Idea.
One of the reasons Perdido Street Station feels so dense is that it purposely breaks that rule. This novel is about so many things. It's about art. It's about dreams. Artificial Intelligence, academia, justice, Theories of Everything, free/potential energy, gods, demons, technology. Miéville touches on all of them, and at such a pace that you're never quite sure where he's going with it. As soon as you're sure that this plot point is going to be the central conflict, it falls by the wayside and becomes a subplot or less. This lack of focus is at once breathtaking and aggravating. There is no denying that the novel could have been substantially trimmed, kept the same narrative and touched on almost all of the same themes. Miéville made a conscious decision to jam-pack his novel with a plethora of topics, not all of which pan out to satisfaction, and while I think that's a completely valid choice (as opposed to an objective mistake), it didn't quite work for me.
So what is the actual, central conflict of the novel? Well, we don't actually find out until about halfway through, and describing it ruins some of the surprise. The story revolves around New Crobuzon, a sprawling, dirty, amazing, problematic, multicultural city within the magical steampunk world of Bas-Lag. The initial circumstances that lead to the conflict concern Isaac, a researcher, and his secret girlfriend Lin, a khepri (that is, scarab-headed) artist. Isaac is attempting to use his research into "crisis energy" to help Yagharek, a garuda whose wings have been sheared off as punishment for an unknown crime, and who can no longer fly. Lin, meanwhile, has been commissioned to complete a massive sculpture by a twisted, deformed crime boss, and though she's in over her head, the chance to work on something so monumental is too tempting to pass up.
You might have noticed the races I mentioned -- khepri, garuda -- and those are just a few of the imaginative peoples Miéville uses to populate his world. Those races, incidentally, are the best part of the novel. If you've read other Bas-Lag novels (which I haven't), you might be familiar with some of them, but as a new reader I thoroughly enjoyed being introduced to races outside the traditional elf, human, dwarf fantasy triangle. We have the aforementioned khepri, people with scarab heads and human bodies, garuda, bird-people, cactacae, cactus-people (and as a fan of Final Fantasy, I couldn't help being reminded of cactuar), vodyanoi, humanoid frogs with watercrafting abilities, and more. Even when the narrative sags, Perdido Street Station is worth the read for Miéville's fully-realized use of novel, nonhuman societies.
And really, despite its sometimes heavy, meandering nature, I would recommend you read Perdido Street Station. It represents some true forward-thinking for the genre, and contains some absolutely amazing scenes and creations. I desperately want to give it a 4 out of 5, but to me, that attributes a certain level of "couldn't put it down!"-ness to the novel which it simply didn't possess for me. Indeed, I had to actively force myself to continue more than once.
To continue the metaphor, Perdido Street Station totally represents that expensive gourmet steak with a crazy French sauce and some vegetable you've never heard of. It's absolutely worth a taste, just to experience what an artist can do when all conventions are thrown out the window. But in the end, it's just slightly undercooked for my taste. For me, Perdido Street Station hits 3.5 stars solidly, but I can't quite push it up to the next level.