Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to none -- not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory. Isaac has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before fathomed. Though the Garuda's request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger. While Isaac's experiments for the Garuda turn into an obsession, one of his lab specimens demands attention: a brilliantly colored caterpillar that feeds on nothing but a hallucinatory drug and grows larger -- and more consuming -- by the day. What finally emerges from the silken cocoon will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon -- and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it invokes ...
But, more importantly, Miéville is not a one-trick pony, flaunting a flawless grasp of language; he does have something acute to say about life. Perdido isn't about evil versus good or about any single quest, it's about modern society and its workings. It has something to say about the working man's struggle, about freedom of speech, about racial division, about a totalitarian government's rights and responsibilities, about religious following, about ecological repercussions, and whether it is possible to exist in some sort of harmony with other beings when their history and outlook on life is completely different from yours.
Fortunately, despite bringing up important issues, Miéville manages to do very little preaching. This is in essence a fantasy, inhabited by a living landscape, hideous monsters, and the flawed friends who try to make the best of what's been handed to them. There are no easy solutions offered and no perfect ending, pretty much like life itself. I am, as ever, in awe of the imagination that brought it into being.
This is Mieville's first and foremost talent: worldbuilding. Perdido Street Station takes place in the city of New Crobuzon, a filthy, smoggy, industrial urban wasteland where dozens of different species rub shoulders under the shadow of a fascist government. The city itself is explored through the eyes of a large cast of characters: freelance scientists, artists, convicts, journalists, thieves and adventurers, who come across (or are themselves) a variety of wildly different inhuman races, ranging from the wyrmen, small and stupid gargoyle-like creatures that infest the city's rooftops and slums, to the Weaver, a near-omnipotent gigantic spider that lives beneath the city and speaks in a constant poetic babble. And it's not just monsters - there are a lot of strange concepts jockeying for space here, like the anti-reality energy source called "Torque," the city neighbourhood dominated by an enormous, half-buried skeleton, or the primitive artificial intelligence assembling itself from discarded machines in a city dump. Thankfully Mieville manages to keep them all largely believable and consistent, soothing my fears that I was going to end up reading another clusterfuck of a book like The Court of the Air.
It's unfortunate, given the clear passion Mieville has for his creations, that he often stumbles over his own language when writing about them. Vast swathes of each page are given over to some of the most ridiculously ornate prose I've ever seen. Every sentence is saturated in adjectives, and Mieville seems to rack his brains to think of the most obscure nouns in existence:
There was a suddeon burgeoning swell of foreign exudations. The surface tension of the psychosphere ballooned with pressure, and that hideous sense of alien greed oozed through its pores. The psychic plane was thick with the glutinous effluvia of incomprehensible minds.
It's always frustrating when an otherwise talented writer believes that the best way to paint a picture with words is to cram as many complex ones he can possibly think of into a paragraph. It looks amateurish and slows down the pace of the story, and this is already a book suffering from bad pacing. Let me break down the plot for you: a birdman who has lost his wings comes to New Crobuzon to have them regrown with the help of our protagonist, a scientist named Isaac. In the course of his research Isaac enlists the city's underworld to steal a variety of winged creatures for him to study. One of these is a strange grub that eventually creates a chrysalis and emerges as an extremely dangerous moth-like monster that escapes, frees its brothers from a government lab, and proceeds to terrorise the city with them. Isaac and his cohorts must then try to hunt the moths down.
It takes Mievelle literally three hundred pages to get to the point where the moth emerges from its chrysalis. That's two other novels, right there. And those three hundred pages are not particularly enthralling; Mieville regularly spends pages and pages exploring the minds of characters who are neither relevant to the plot nor particularly interesting. Combined with the aforementioned purple prose, this makes Perdido Street Station an appallingly slow read.
Now, once the story does get going - again, you have to wade through three hundred pages of set-up first - it's actually pretty damn good. Mieville combines elements of fantasy, science fiction and horror to create a very unique story, playing off the strengths of each genre and discarding elements that don't work. His characters, for example, are extremely resourceful and intelligent, devoting themselves to learning as much as they can about the creatures they have unleashed - and Mieville does not hesistate in giving them answers when they deserve them, unlike in most horror novels, when the element of fear relies on the unknown. I was happy to overlook some of the typical problems found in speculative fiction (stilted dialogue, overly rational characters, in-depth explanation of emotions as though they're some kind of bizarre phenomenon) because Mieville was telling an entertaining monster-hunt in an original way in a brilliant fictional city.
Perdido Street Station is, overall, a good book - just not good enough to justify 867 pages and four weeks of my life. I'll certainly read The Scar, but I hope that after his first novel Mieville threw away his thesuarus and got a better editor.
The plot line of this books careens through a heavily layered world. You feel like perhaps Mieville is showing off his particular dark and detailed view of example of socio-enconomic impact of industrialization on a magic based multi-cultral city state. I wondered if this is all there is to the book. Is it just a massively detailed world built to show of the talents of the author? I was happy to discover, when the book final winds down into its last few pages, a message, a moral even.
If you are tired of every fantasy book being about a young boy/girl/rabbit's heroic struggle to save the world from the old and evil wizard/Demon/witch/dog, pick up this book. You never regret reading about a cranky engineer's struggle to return a bird man's ability to fly, while fighting his insect artist girl friend's demon drug pushing patron in the Bas-lag city state plagued by soul devouring butterflies. With stops along the way in cactus men's terrarium city within a city, a junkyard magic cult's artificial intelligence, the aesthetic of art, architecture and urban renewal. If there isn't something in this book for you to like, you just haven't been paying attention.
This is a book thick with an atmosphere so vividly drawn that you can smell the slums and rivers and feel the thick dream-gloom settle over you. In some ways, this book's greatest triumph is its ability to create the story in the reader - this is a book about nightmares and dream-fog, and it's almost impossible to read Meiville's work without feeling that fog settle thick over your brain as you get lost in his dream-world.
Meiville's world-building is astounding, with cultures and races and history and geography and a hundred other tiny details weaving together into a gorgeous tapestry that is hard not to admire. His mind must be a wonderful place to be.
His monsters are top-notch and terrifying, his characters mostly engaging and complex, his city fantastic.
Peridido Street Station does have its faults.
His plot is a little weaker. It takes quite a long time to get going at all, and once we get there the pacing seems weak. I'm pleased that he's able to tie seemingly unconnected bits from the first half of the book back in, but it would have been better for the first half of the book to not seem unconnected at all. Some of the problem-solving that goes on feels a little too easy and coincidental given what we've seen his monsters to to others, and the government feels a little too incompetent given how easy some of the problem-solving is. That said, I spent the final few chapters racing to see what happened, with my heart beating in my throat.
Meiville is dense, and although I enjoyed it, his book was slow going for me. It was one of those books that I enjoyed while I was reading it - I liked being in New Crobuzon - but it had little draw when I wasn't. Save for the last few chapters, I had no need to know what happened next, and so this book only got read on lunch breaks.
He also has an obsession with the disgusting and the filthy. As I mentioned earlier, this works for me sometimes - his slums are vivid and interesting. But he's so attached to the concept that 'shit' or 'shat' become descriptors in nearly every chapter of the book, and something that was clever the first time becomes a distracting sign of 'look how revolting I can be!'
This is a book that should absolutely be read by anyone who's a fan of genre fiction - steampunk, sci fi, fantasy - simply because it /is/ so baffling and bizarre. And wonderful. It's problems are there, but Meiville does something here that few other authors do, and it's worth it to immerse yourself in his world just to experience it.
The story revolves around a male human, Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, an eccentric scientist and his artist girlfriend, Lin, who is a bug-like creature known as a Khepri. It’s not surprising that Mieville has created this wondrous couple, but what is surprising is how fully fleshed out these characters and many others in the book are. But always remember that in Perdido Street Station the strange and repulsive, the sickening and dangerous are often lurking, just around the corner. Is this book a romance? A thriller? Or is it a highly charged, emotional tragedy.
At times Perdido Street Station was a difficult read with it’s dense and complicated prose studded with strange languages and scientific terms. But at the same time, this was also part of the lure of this book. This was my first China Mieville book, but I can assure you that it won’t be long before I pick this author up again.
Perdido Street Station is bizarre, inventive, and fascinating. The streets of New Crobuzon twist and turn with characters from all walks of life, from humans to bug-people to sentient cacti. Old, tired fantasy archetypes have no place in this book. Mieville’s imagination is sweeping in its scope but it extends not only to the big gears of his world, but also to the small, everyday details. There is a fresh, alien quality to New Crobuzon that I haven’t seen in an imaginary world for a long time. Mieville is a smart, versatile writer. He combines a good story with dabblings in philosophy, politics, computer technology, mathematics, and aesthetics. If there’s one thing that might turn people off Perdido Street Station, it’s that the language can be very dense at parts and in the first part of the book, very little happens. But I found that personally, even while I noticed these things, I didn’t mind them much.
Isaac is an eccentric scientist studying Chaos Theory. One day, he is approached by Yagharek, a member of a race called the Garuda (half-man, half-bird). Yagharek’s wings had been chopped off his back as punishment for a major crime, so he commissions Isaac to make him a new set of wings. As part of his research, Isaac acquires hundreds of species of flying things, from the smallest bug to the largest bird. He also studies the process by which caterpillars turn into butterflies. Deciding that his research is going in the wrong direction, Isaac gets rid of the rest of his "collection," and keeps a strange, multi-colored caterpillar that thrives on a very powerful and addictive drug. One night, it emerges from its cocoon as a slake-moth.
Slake-moths are flying, nocturnal creatures, whose wings show an ever-changing color pattern, hypnotizing anyone instantly. This gives the slake-moth the chance to feed on a person’s thoughts, feelings and fears, leaving them in a permanent vegetative state. The Ambassador from Hell is asked to help in stopping the moths (there are now 5 of them terrorizing the city) and declines. The Weaver, a giant spider that can easily move between dimensions and has a liking for scissors, joins the hunt. How does one stop, or even slow down, creatures who can hypnotize anyone instantly?
This is a great steampunk novel. Put Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka and Neal Stephenson together in a blender, add a dash of Neal Gaiman and H.P. Lovecraft, and this is the result. It’s a long novel, about 700 pages, and the body count gets rather high by the end, but this novel is very much recommended.
SPOILERS, LOTS OF THEM
1) Too much description of place in the early chapters.
2) I read lots of fantasy and I'm more than willing to suspend disbelief, but I had trouble with this one. It's cheating, and not very imaginative, to create races by just mixing humans with other species. Human/bird or human/frog or human/cactus(!) The most ridiculous example is a human female body with, apparently, an entire scarab beetle for a head. Give me a break!
3) Plot had some serious problems. Would Isaac really buy that "Lin is already dead" argument? It was 50/50 at best. If he really loved her he would have gone after her.
4) They just happen to witness the moth laying eggs.
5) Any idiot would have killed the big scary monster and THEN dealt with its cache of eggs. Please.
6) You spend weeks working beside someone who personally saved the life of your girlfriend and you don't even bother to TALK to them when you find out something you have spent months avoiding knowing?
7) The handlingers can fly. Huh?
8) The crisis engine is supposed to accomplish "anything." Why don't you use it to fix your girlfriend?
9) My favorite: they lay miles & miles of scrounged up cable in about 45 minutes and the system boots up and works perfectly the very first time!!! hahahahahaha That's the most fantastic thing in the whole book!
10) Deux ex machina spider wasn't enough, he had to come up with another one for the final scene. Je.Sus.
While this looks like a lot of issues, I did actually enjoy reading this book a lot. The prose is nice most of the time and there's lots of fascinating ideas. Some of them just don't pan out. I think there was so much fantastic detail that many people have just overlooked the stupid plot, and that's fine if it works for you. It wasn't quite enough for me.
I'm not quite sure what I expected, but this wasn't exactly a world-changer for me. There's a lot floating around in this book – Mieville muses on religion, artificial intelligence, urban planning, science, and history, but these ideas are basically window-dressing on a big, pulpy film noir narrative. His world can sometimes be beguilingly exotic, but much of Mieville's source material, which likely includes superhero comics, sci-fi everything, and gangster movies, will probably seem achingly familiar to most readers. New Crobuzon can seem a lot like London with a few extra antennae thrown in, it's often too easy to draw a direct connection between the social conditions of Bas-Lag and our own contemporary social issues, and many of Mieville's characters seem like echoes of the boho post-collegiate types that the author probably once ran with. This isn't necessarily a problem, since "Perdido Street Station" is still lots of fun to read. There are some nice touches here – a gigantic set of fossilized ribs of indeterminate origin tower over the city, his characters carry flintlocks, and oddball religious cults flourish. Mieville's also done some reading in cultural studies and related fields – many of characters inhabit in-between cultural spaces, and his treatment of them is admirably sensitive. Also, his invented creatures are appropriately terrifying. The book's overlong, but Mieville works hard to keep a rather intricate plot in motion, and his writing is, by turns, entertainingly purple, gritty, and cinematic. Still, nothing connects on a thematic level. Ideas float in and out of the text and a detailed fantasy world gets built, but I'm not sure Mieville knows exactly what, if anything, he wants his book to say. It's interesting enough, though, to see the (strictly analog) cogs of his mind spin for a few hundred pages. I'll be picking up "The Scar" next. You can't go wrong for two bucks.
One of the things that's so wonderful about this book is that it defies attempts to declare it as belonging to a particular genre; it has elements of science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, crime fiction, dystopia, and horror. And that's just to name a few.
Miéville's prose is another element that I find absolutely superb about this novel. The phrasing, and particularly his choice of word, is extraordinarily well done and particularly evocative. Some readers might find his writing heavy-handed, but I happen to enjoy descriptive writing. His descriptions of New Crobuzon (the rather nasty city in which the story takes place) are so vivid that they honestly make my skin crawl. He creates a gritty, realistic atmosphere and runs with it. I know for a fact this is a place I never, want to visit. Ever.
The world he conceives is extraordinary, complex, and not at all a nice place. The novel swept me along, adding creative element upon creative element. A somewhat lengthy book with a winding plot-line, he builds up to what should be a fantastic ending, but it unfortunately falls flat and I was rather disappointed, especially after what was such a fantastic read.
Experiments in Reading
The basic plot and world building is excellent Issac is a scientist in a twisted world, a distorted mirror of what ours may have been once before some cataclysmic event caused the Fractured Worlds. The city of New Creuzon is filled with humans and non-humans, water and air beings and those even stranger. Issac is commissioned to help a birdbeing who has 'lost' his wings fly again. In so doing he gathers together many other flying beings to study, one being a strange caterpillar, this grows and escapes and Isaac and some friends help save the city from the strange SlakeMoths. The corrupt city politics and criminal gangs interfere. The Weaver is summoned as a massive spider, and is another wonderful concept.
However the downside is the prose. This is written in a slow overly wordy literary style that is just dull and hard work to read. 800 pages are a struggle, this prose makes them much much harder. I ended up skimming swathes of text without losing any plot points or the overall grasp of the magnificent city. The characters are also, despite all the words, thin. Issac gets some attention, mainly paragraphs of drifting verbiage, all the others are thin constructs. This is acceptable for the robots, but the aliens require far more crafting to make them believable.
The second problem with this tome is that it is often unnecessarily dark. There are dark themes, but there is frequently gratuitous dwelling on the specific acts and descriptions which again are better skipped through.
All in all it is a fascinating work imbued with stunning imagination, but it really needs a much heavier hand on the editing.
I won't be re-reading this for some time.
For all that it's over the top, and has few too many balls for Mieville to keep in the air, it's still a worthwhile read. Characters have to make very hard decisions, and live with the consequences. Something new is always happening. The locale is not quite like any you've seen before, unless you've read the The Scar.
Recommended, as long as horror is OK by you.
Isaac Grimnebulin is not your typical scientist, dealing with unorthodox, sometimes illegal experiments that others would claim was borderline science. His newest commission becomes an obsession of impossibilities. His client, a Garuda, a half-man, half-bird entity for reasons he is unwilling or perhaps unable to share has lost his wings and his ability to fly. His challenge for Isaac - help him reclaim the skies once again. While the Garuda is forced to be a prisoner of land, a new terror is upsetting the balance of life in New Crobuzon. Night after night, bodies are found still technically alive, but completely depleted of any form of intelligence, their souls extinguished. Isaac's research into giving the Garuda his freedom once again is intricately connected to these monsters of the air and time is running out to find solutions to both these problems, while the fate of New Crobuzon's citizens hang in the balance.
How do you definite a book that refuses to adhere to any labels? Perdido Street Station is a fascinating mixture of both fantasy and science fiction. Like a surreal dream, the world building is impressive to say the least, filled with creatures and species of various kinds, making New Crobuzon a melting pot of life and death, existing side by side. The characters, both main and supporting are completely strange and foreign and yet familiar at the same time, demonstrating the roles and structures of a society filled with its own customs and traditions. It takes patience to fully immerse yourself in this dark, gritty, queer, and completely off the beaten track world, but once you are in, it does not let you go. Mieville displays with a flourish his ability to take command of the written word and presents to the readers a story that is beyond definition, filled with inhuman monsters and creations, yet in the end telling a very human story. Highly recommended.
Like I said - fascinating stuff. And the worldbuilding in the novel is really worth the price of admission. But somehow... it loses momentum towards the end. Plot threads are carefully established and then quietly dropped; character arcs, similarly. The prose loses momentum, too - amateurish stuff like the use of the same adjective twice in two sentences, and there's a point where I seriously considered putting the book down if he used the word "faecal" one more time - and the end when it comes is a bit unsatisfying.
But that said, it's worth the price of admission for the worldbuilding. I may read his others and see what I think of those before passing judgement.
The themes are also classic – the potential but also the risks of advancing technology, the battle of good v. evil, bravery and loyalty, but also betrayal (once or twice I thought I had strayed into a George R.R. Martin book!). Yet there were also two themes which I see as more modern (and, I think, perhaps primarily urban) – the connectivity of everything, physically and psychically, and the increasing need and ability of humans to utilize this, and the way in which different cultures share space and time, specifically crowded cities, interacting yet not really integrating, with some shared values yet very alien to each other in other ways.
The characters, of course, are not classic ones. Mieville has created a range of species, some more human-like and some less, and he uses their different characteristics to support the story in some unique ways. Isaac is a great character, as is Yag, his client, and there are many other interesting characters, some of which drive the main plot and others of which are more minor. The city itself is also a key character, and the descriptions of various buildings and parts of town are some of the most enjoyable sections of the book. And I love that there is a map at the front. Occasionally, though, Mieville just gets carried away with his love for his creations, and there are various sidetracks and subplots and even quite major characters which I felt didn’t enhance the story in any way and just made me feel the book was too long.
On balance, I am giving this book 4 stars, because the story is great, there are some excellent characters, and the writing is very good most of the time, but it is too long, and some of it is too self-indulgent. Having said that, I will certainly be reading more of Mieville’s books next year.
The fantastic aspects weren't as cloying or as cheesy as I had feared; in fact, I quite enjoyed the strange, unhinged imagination. But the goopulent prose drove me crazy, especially in the early pages. Another reviewer called it "shaggy" - I like that. To Mieville's credit, he can often rock the Lovecraftian purple with great success ("I moved in a direction I had never known existed") - though at other times it falls horribly, horribly flat ("... their skin became parchment and their blood ink.").
I realize it's pointless to bitch about it, being part and parcel of the quasi-Gothic steampunk style. However, I still think the novel could still have been as effective with a fifth of the words excised. It took me almost three solid days to read it (off work with the flu - small mercies), and I was frankly exhausted by the end of it.
Still, two novels into his oeuvre I'll venture to say that Mieville crafts a fierce, tight plot, and adheres with rigorous discipline to the logic of his constructed worlds. Whereas The City & The City was clever and thought-provoking, Perdido Street Station is excellent escape literature free of the inconsistencies and obvious glosses that ruin the fun.
What a wonderful book. Mieville has demonstrated again what a great storyteller he is, his vivid and imaginative descriptions of the characters and New Crobuzon made this book really enjoyable. This book was not an easy read (at least not for me) as I had to use the dictionary many times. However, that didn't distract from his brilliant storytelling. The story itself is not just about the characters, but about the city New Crobuzon itself. It's about the politics, the poverty, the criminals, the hard life, the survival but also about the beauty found in a huge city. It's about love and betrayal, about danger and corruption and so much more. Most of the characters in this story are flawed, selfish, careless and some of them are downright horrible, but that was excactly what I enjoyed so much about the story. Nothing seems to be as it is.
step into the vastness of New Crobuzon, this towering edifice of architecture and history, this complexitude of money and slum, this profane steam-powered god."
My fave character in this book was Yagharek the garuda. Punished for a despicable crime, by taking away his ability to fly. He comes to New Crobuzon to find someone who can help him to gain the ability of flight again. To observe his journey from a quiet and ashamed creature, obsessed only with his own predicament and then to turn into a friend and a hero - and in the end to turn into something completely new. Even so that his crime was horrible, I felt for this creature throughout the whole story. I especially liked the ending as it sort of was unexpected, but very fitting.
"I turn and walk into the city my home, not bird or garuda, not miserable crossbreed.
I turn and walk into my home, the city, a man.”
Highly recommended to anyone, who enjoys Mieville's complicated, but imaginative writing and who doesn't mind grabbing a dictionary at times for clarification of words.
Mutant cross-species sex, who'd a thought it?