Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Book Review: Perdido Street Station

Title: Perdido Street Station
Author: China Miéville
Year Published: 2000
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Horror

This book has been showered with critical acclaim, described as “revolutionary”, “brilliant”, “complex” and “exhilarating”; having now finished it I can see why this is so. Not being an avid sci-fi reader, I can't really say whether the ideas and world that Miéville has imagined are filled with cliches or what have you. What I can say is that they feel original and are complex and rich, having a depth that goes beyond the narrative of the book.

The story takes place in the steampunk-y city-state of New Crobuzon, a deeply realised and terrifying police state, oozing with its own life, an organism in and of itself. The apparent plot involves scientist Isaac, who is commissioned by a fallen bird-man to restore his flight. Beyond that, I won't reveal more; this is one of those books where there are a few different plot threads going on which (you realise at about a sixth of the way in) end up coming together in some kind of explosion of awesomeness. At first, the going is a bit slow, but after a certain point, everything just kind of snowballs and it becomes quite the page-turner.

As mentioned, I'm not usually a sci-fi reader; my tastes in fantasy usually run towards floaty mythical beings, pretty magicks and boy wizards. It thus came as an off-putting shock when I read that Isaac's lover was a woman with an insect for a head (causing me to have the very reasonable objection of “ewwww” and so on). But once I got past that, it was relatively easy to accept the other terrors in Mi
éville's world, the worst for me being the process of Remaking, whereby criminals are surgically mutilated in various creative ways as punishment. In short, this book will not be everyone's cup of tea – there is nightmare fuel everywhere.

Other concepts and entities though are simply fantastical. I really enjoyed, for example, reading about the cultural aspects of the non-human races in New Crobuzon, as well as the way magic and science are integrated (though not being nearly as clever as the author, I am out of my dept critiquing the logic of it all). My favourite parts though must be the descriptions of the entities to which the mayor appeals. Yup, I know I'm being vague here, but a large part of the joy in reading this book was in concepts like those – things that aren't explained fully, but rather just glimpsed, so you get the sense of something much greater than that which appears on paper.

The writing was another thing I had to adapt to, being dense with description, particularly with regard to the city. You feel sick reading about the churning sludge of polluted rivers, about the layers of grime upon sorry buildings. The language itself is beautiful but thick. It's great, but again, not everyone's cup of tea. If it helps, you get used to it and the writing does (objectively) get less description-heavy as the story progresses.

This isn't the kind of book I'd normally pick up, but I still enjoyed it and found it technically brilliant; it appeals to the intellect more than anything. I am wont to fall in love with much fluffier creatures and did not fall in love with Perdido Street Station. But that is a purely subjective matter and no indication of the quality of this book; I am, after all, someone who happily read
through Twilight.

Alex's Rating: 4/5

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