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Mieville and Perdido Street Station (1 Viewer)

R

Rivettovski

I'm currently reading Perdido Street Station by China Mieville and am stunned by the imagery and use of language, it makes for an incredible experience.

Anybody have anything to say on the book, author, etc?
 

Stewart

Senior Member
Here's my review of it:

I’m not one for fantasy, the thought of the genre immediately brings to mind hordes of orcs, objects with magical properties, and characters who are either good or evil with no middle ground; of course, for this, Tolkien has to shoulder some of the blame. So, it was, with much concern that I took on board the recommendation of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, a fantasy novel that breaks with the stereotypes and thrusts us into a bleak world where science and magic work inharmoniously together, mutants go about their daily lives, and cities are powerful autarchies where even the slightest whisper against the government may lead to you joining the desaparecidos.

It begins with Isaac and Lin, a mixed species couple (he’s human and she’s khepri, an insect hybrid) whose lives change when both receive contracts of work. Isaac is asked by a mysterious visitor to restore his power of flight, while Lin is employed by the local mafia boss to craft his sculpture, an artform in which insect sputum is her medium. As they work at their respective jobs Isaac unwittingly unleashes his research specimens upon the city of New Crobuzon, an event that affects him in a number of ways, and with his friends he sets out to right his wrong.

At 900 pages Perdido Street Station is no breeze, but one can’t help feel that it is drawn out, stuffed with adjectives, and as tedious a read as life in New Crobuzon. It would certainly have benefited from large quantities of editing, but there are some who would argue that it’s a homage to the style of Mervyn Peake. The story, for the first two hundred pages, was nicely taking form, but, when the slake-moths Isaac was researching escape, the novel slides downhill into a depressing chase, which, despite the implied timeframe and urgency, seemed leisurely and unexciting.

It was incredibly drawn out so that small spaces of time were dragged over pages which added nothing to the tension. The story, at the beginning, was shaping up nicely and when the slake-moths escaped the book just went downhill into a really depressing chase which, despite the implied timeframe and the importance, seemed leisurely as the narrative failed to excite.

Miéville shows us that New Crobuzon, a city in the world of Bas-Lag, is a dirty place; grimy windows, littered streets, and scores of nefarious characters. It’s a well realised setting, and not difficult to imagine its soaring towers, its crumbling buildings, the rusted train network, but, by the final two hundred pages, the author still takes many opportunities from the pressing narrative to remind us of the extreme filth and depressive air surrounding the place.

The prose is mediocre, although, having never read Peake, I can’t say whether the tribute is fitting. The author, at times, seems more interested in displaying his extensive vocabulary, but, in an attempt to do so, he finds himself repeating a number of words that actually limits his lexis; ‘extraordinary’, ‘onieric’, and all possibilities of ‘thaumaturgy’ making considerable appearances. And when Miéville wants to describe something as brown then, rather than say it’s brown, he uses the word dun – repeatedly.

The citizens of New Crobuzon are well-crafted and, like the city, utterly loathable. They are also, due to different species, mutations, and immigrants, extremely varied. Aside from the aforementioned humans and khepri, there are winged creatures called garuda, evolved cacti, which I could never visualise without reverting to caricature, and the Remade, those whose bodies have been reconfigured in imaginative ways by the use of controlled magic, are just a few of the types to be found wandering the streets, or, like any society, living ghettoised.

While Perdido Street Station starts well, it devolves into little more than a moth hunt, punctuated with Miéville’s own socialist politics. The climax takes place in the station of the title, the main thoroughfare of New Crobuzon, but it is hard to tell why the book is named after this construction as it only appears in the denouement for approximately fifty pages. All in all, Miéville isn’t a bad writer per se but he is by no means great. Should I wish to read another fantasy novel then I may approach his fiction again, but I will wait until he has a substantial body of work behind him and hope, that with each book, he improves on his craft.
 

Mike C

WF Veterans
I found it stunning. Stretched prose notwithstanding, probably the best fantasy novel of the last 10 years. Anyone who writes, and wants to write fantasy that isn't as formulaic as a sitcom on horseback should read this - worldbuilding at it's finest.

I'd also recommend his first novel, King Rat, urban (set in present day london) and gritty, fantastic.
 

Stiltspear

Senior Member
The first book I read by Mieville was Iron Council, which is one of my favourite books, and after reading Perdido Street Station and The Scar, it makes me appreciate the development and refinement in his writing style.
I found Perdido Street to be much closer to the generic fantasy story, with its unique and well fleshed-out world providing most of the appeal. The characters were reasonably well done, but the story itself was rather uninspired, and as Connor Wolf points out, I found the title to be a misnomer. Having read Gormenghast, I was expecting - and I think Mieville also missed a great opportunity here - to have the station being an omnipresent and dark central character in itself, described vividly in dripping metaphors and just generally made out as a massive shadowing structure that truly feels like the living heart of New Crobuzon. I was disapointed to find it barely mentioned until near the end, and then it was so poorly described I'm still not exactly sure where that large battle took place.

Again, I also agree with Connor Wolf over the repetition of words - Mieville does this in his other books too, but is most prominent here, and because the words themselves are so unique it's to the detriment of the descriptions when you notice them over and over again.
I enjoyed this book but it was also not as good as I was expecting, and the ending also felt a little inexplicable and rushed, with not enough time or emotion given to making Isaac's eventual decison about the garuda understandable.

However this is after all Mieville's first major book, and it's simply a good stepping stone to much greater things. The Scar has a much more interesting story, although bar one or two, the characters are not so well done or memorable as Perdido Street's, but it's Iron Council where Mieville really shines. It has a fantasically original story, brilliant characters, and the prose is noticibly different: much tighter, more refined and more thought out - something that really lets those luscious metaphors integrate better and be signifigantly improved themselves as well. It combines to make his style much more original, mature, and cohesive.

I highly recommend Iron Council, and Mieville's continual improvement is a good sign for future work. Perosnally, I can't wait for his next book in the New Crobuzon world. :D

PS. His book of short stories, Looking for Jake, is also worth checking out. The best stories are the first one, the novella, and Foundation.
 
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