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Perdido Street Station
China Miéville
Del Rey, 710 pages


David Stevenson
Perdido Street Station
China Miéville
China Miéville was born in London in 1972. When he was eighteen, he lived and taught English in Egypt, where he developed an interest in Arab culture and Middle Eastern politics. Miéville has a B.A. in social anthropology from Cambridge and a master's with distinction from the London School of Economics. His first novel, King Rat, was nominated for both an International Horror Guild Award and the Bram Stoker Prize. Perdido Street Station won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and was nominated for a British Science Fiction Association Award. He lives in London, England.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

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John Clute calls this book "Steampunk" in a cover blurb. Publishers just love handy labels to identify books. Writers, on the other hand, tend to dislike being pigeon-holed. This time, the label is at least superficially accurate, as the technology used in Perdido Street Station is advanced, yet retro: robots, computers and other machines all seem to run on boilers producing steam -- hard to believe, actually; magic must also be involved.

The first few pages of Perdido Street Station are from the viewpoint of a bitter and alien character, and written in a dark and obscure style. This voice seems appropriate and accurate, even accessible, after you get to know the character. So don't get discouraged if those first few pages are a bit dense.

Next up, the protagonist Isaac and his insect-girlfriend are introduced. He is big and blustery, an eccentric, obsessive, maverick scientist. She is a bohemian artist, outcast from her exotic race of hominid bugs. Their relationship is incredibly romantic and also forbidden and dangerous.

The dark character from Perdido Street Station's first pages shows up in Isaac's laboratory to ask for help in restoring his wings, which were torn from his back as punishment for an unspeakable crime. When you get to know this noir Hawkman (as in DC Comics) better, his obtuse narration will make more sense.

Meanwhile, a corrupt government suppresses the city/state, Isaac's insect-lover accepts a sculpture commission from a gang lord, and the lab's steam powered robot cleaner is recruited by a junk yard-spawned sentient computer to be a part of an artificial intelligence underground. And oh yes, the city/state's menage of intelligent races are menaced by winged monsters, soul-vampires, virtually invulnerable. Civilization's best ally against the monsters seems to be an aesthetic supernatural spider from another dimension, so alien that his pronouncements and conversation are more like poetic puzzles than information.

When the plot has thickened sufficiently, a mysterious Zorro-like hero helps out a bit, then disappears across a rooftop.

Perdido Street Station is an unrelenting, marvelously imaginative stew, suggesting Mervyn Peake with astonishing invention, the diverse, sometimes ornate architecture of the city/state, and black humour. A fantasy epic with this assembly of colourful locales and magical, energetic, appealing characters will have readers expecting a happily-ever-after climax; but while the worst of the evils are overcome, the characters of the story pay a terrible price.

Copyright © 2001 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.


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