PERDIDO STREET STATION
by China Miéville
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The title of China Miéville’s second novel, Perdido Street Station, refers to the transportation hub of his massive city New Crobuzon. Just as Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast was as much a character in his novels as Steerpike or Flay, so, too, New Crobuzon is as much a living, breathing entity as Isaac Dan der Gimnebulin or Yagharek.
On the surface, Perdido Street Station shares many of the tropes common to so many generic fantasy novels. The city is an amalgam of a variety of races from the insectoid khepri to the flying garuda. Humans and non-humans share the streets, allowing their customary racism to dictate their relationships. The scientist Isaac Dan der Gimnebulin and the khepri artist Lin have a relationship which would fly in the face of convention if they were willing, or able to be open about it.
When Isaac is approached by a garuda whose wings have been stripped from him in punishment and asked to help the garuda recover his ability to fly, the plot is set in motion. In his researches, Issac comes across a slake-moth, a creature which can wreak mass destruction. Isaac and his comrades must try to put the genie back into the bottle to save their world. However, although the plot is complex and absorbing, it is also practically secondary to the imaginative prose which Miéville uses to build his complex world.
Miéville’s world invites comparisons to the aforementioned Gormenghast, the London of Michael Moorcock’s Mother London, the dystopic cities of Philip K. Dick, or the realistic complexities of Charles de Lint’s Newford. However, none of these comparisons is quite fair because they imply that Perdido Street Station is derivative. It isn’t. Instead, while evoking those worlds, Miéville brings his own vision and sensibilities to his writing.
Miéville explores all levels of the societal strata in Perdido Street Station, from Morley, a druglord who hires Lin to create a sculpture of him up to Mayor Rudgutter. In the process, Miéville shows the repugnant forms of torture used for punishment, from Yagharek’s dealaration to the grafting of hands onto a woman’s face. At the same time, New Crobuzon has its own gritty grandeur.
At times, Miéville allows his prose to get in the way of his story and ideas. Although this tends to slow the plotting, it does contribute to the overall texture of the novel, providing the reader with a series of descriptive images of New Crobuzon and its denizens. In some ways, this is a return to an older style of writing, in which the author is more aware of his writing style. While it allows Miéville to build up a richer world, it will also alienate some readers who are not used to the lengthy descriptive and expository passages.While Perdido Street Station is a tour de force, it also points to a career in which China Miéville will find a cult readership base who are tremendously loyal. At the same time, many readers of Perdido Street Station (and his other works?) will find themselves reading his prose and wondering what all the fuss is about.
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