Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Perdido Street Station 

I finished this morning a fairly amazing novel by British author China Mieville entitled Perdido Street Station. It is fresh and new in both style and substance for the science-fiction genre. He's managed to do what I think is a very daunting task at which not many authors who attempt it succeed, and that is to make a location a character as well as your more usual pro/antagonist types. The city of New Crobuzon in this novel is like all the worst parts of Gotham City amplified and no Batman to help save them. In other words, dark and scary. With little dropped hints and mystifying allusions he manages to create a whole background to the city about which the reader wants to know more but never quite get fed. The city itself rests in the ancient and sun-bleached rib cage of some long dead gigantic beast, but that story is never told, because, from the citizen's point of view, they don't know either. It's just a fact of life in New Crobuzon. There are hints to other cities and other nations, but they really play no role in this story except as homelands for certain characters.

Speaking of characters, his are a wonderful collection of anti-heroes (not quite to the extent with which Moorcock crafts his main characters, but still significant) and interesting foils. Their lives fuel the story and keep it going, especially for the first 100 pages before the main plot really takes off. And the bad guys are so well conceived, so evil, and yet, strangely likable for their ingenuity. That's hard to pull off. The main character, the eccentric yet amazingly genuine rogue scientist Isaac der Grimnebulin, is likable despite his flaws and the beauty of language with which Mieville describes his love relationship with his girlfriend Lin (who is of another race altogether not human, so Mieville tackling some social issues as well in a very sci-fi sort of way) is brutal, yet graceful. These are real characters.

The basic story line goes something like this: a half-man, half-bird person who has committed a major crime in his culture has had his wings chopped off as punishment, condemning him to a life on the ground. He comes to Grimnebulin seeking a way to make him fly again. In the course of the research, an unexpected result is yielded which inadvertanly wreaks havoc on the city. Flight research goes on the back burner while the characters attempt, almost futilely, to clean up the mess they accidentally created. Just wait to you read it; I cannot do it justice here.

Syntax and diction are both quite unique and unforgettable. I had to work at some the British colloquialisms present, but as I am a bit of an anglophile, it wasn't too difficult. The vocabulary he employs is direct, gory, and harsh, all adding to the unpleasant ambiance of the city. Some may find some scenes too sanguinary, but it didn't bother me.

The only glitches I perceived with the novel is that it does take a little bit of time to really get going, but I am a patient reader, so that did not bother me and I relished the character development. Towards the end there is a bit of a deus ex machina that was annoying and cheapened the scene, but as some of the same characters appear in the next of Mieville's New Crobuzon stories (The Scar), I am hoping this will be somewhat explained or the vague character who effected the deus ex machina will be more fleshed out. All said and done though, this was a fun read that kept me interested to the last page and I cannot wait to dig into more of Mieville's work. The Scar awaits on my bedside table as I write this.



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