Perdido Street Station

December 3rd, 2004 Comments Off on Perdido Street Station

Some books leave such a lasting impression on the reader that he or she can’t help but think about them for days afterwards. Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville, is one of the books that caused this effect on me. I finished reading it a few weeks ago but I’m still thinking occasionally about the situations, characters, and possibilities described or suggest by the book.

Any attempt to fit Perdido Street Station into a specific genre is bound to be difficult. The author himself categorizes it as weird fantasy, but I think this is an almost meaningless label. All fantasy (and, by extension, all fantastical literature) must be weird in my opinion. It must instigate a sense of wonder in the readers, leaving them spellbound to the world created by the author and taking them to unexplored frontiers. Weird fantasy doesn’t describe the richness of such books. Whatever category Miéville’s book does fit in, however, one thing is sure: it takes it to the most extreme genre boundaries, presenting readers with one of the best fantastical worlds ever created, populated with wonderful and complex creatures whose lives and journeys compel the readers to keep turning the pages, attracted and repelled by them at the same time. The title of the book is the name of the main train station of the City State of New Crobuzon. The city itself, by the way, is a main character in the book, displaying an incredible complexity and diversity. The story climaxes at the station, but the other parts of the city depicted by Miéville are just as interesting however strange and debased they may seem.

With regards to genre, the book may be tentatively classified as science fantasy, since it has elements of both science fiction and fantasy. Contrary to many other authors who attempted to create complex sagas in this genre, Miéville achieves a perfect balance between the scientific and fantastical aspects of the book, resulting in an engaging tale where no aspect contradicts the other, nor sounds false in the presence of the other. I was especially fascinated by the imaginary version of the Grand Unification Theory created by Miéville, which becomes on of the main components in the narrative — ingenious and very creative.

The plot of the book is reasonably complex, and I don’t want to risk revealing too much about it for those who have not read the book yet. In short, the book tells the story of an Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a scientist who is fascinated by the most esoteric questions, whether they are scientific or occult. While working in his lab, a garuda (a humanoid species with avian characteristics, able to fly) comes and makes a proposition to him. Isaac, awestruck by the problem proposed by the garuda, accepts the commission and starts working in the project. In the midst of the project, however, unexpected events happen, resulting from Isaac’s insatiable curiosity, and the city of New Crobuzon is thrown in the claws of a terror beyond everything it faced before. Isaac then takes to himself the responsibility of freeing the city from this terror, risking everything he has for that. Friends and enemies are quickly involved, each with their own problems and motivations, in a multifaceted and satisfying story line.

The book, as I said, is full of mesmerizing characters. Some examples are Lin, Isaac’s khepri lover (the khepri are a humanoid race with insect-like characteristics) and Yagharek, the garuda. How can you not like a character whose name is Too Too Abstract Individual Yagharek Not To Be Respected? Even the minor characters are interesting. I was especially captivated by the Ambassador of Hell, who, unfortunately, appears briefly; the Remade, beings physically modified by science and thaumaturgy in the most horrible and painful ways, but exhibiting a inalienable humanity; and the Weaver, who, without shadow of doubt, is one of the most enthralling characters I’ve ever came across. You need to read the book to fully understand the charm of those characters.

Although powerfully described, Perdido Street Station is by no means a mere exploration of a fantastic milieu. Rather, the book is an exploration of what makes us human and how differences are necessary and part of our experience and growth. Miéville’s characters struck a deep chord with the readers, making them think about themes like consciousness, love, sacrifice, and the role of the environment in the life of the individual. This last theme is heavily connected to the author’s political view, which is manifest in his work in an interesting and coherent way. No thread in the plot is left unresolved, although some of them allow for a sequel. In fact, there are two others books of the author that take place in the same city although none of them is a direct sequel.

Stylistically, the book is almost perfect. The somber tone and the fast pace, combined with a vocabulary specific to the book, full of the aggressiveness of a modern language and the decadence and ennui of the Victorian age, make for a very pleasant reading. It’s hard not to fill interesting in the word games and stylistic innovations scattered through the book. The problem is that Miéville overdoes it sometimes.

In short, this book will be a welcome addition to the library of any fan of science fiction or fantasy. In fact, Miéville is such a masterful writer that I believe fans of any other fantastical genre would be delighted with the book. I’ve already bought the author’s following book, which takes places in the same world, and I believe I will love it as much as I loved the first one.

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