on February 3, 2003
While accolades like "Dickensian" are a bit over the top, there hasn't been a new novelist in years that deserved as much excitement as China Mieville. Here we have a very impressive tour-de-force of modern science fiction mixed in with cyberpunk, subversive politics, and other heavy aspects of the Gen-X mindset. This novel takes place in a wasted city that is surely inspired by London, on a devastated planet that is probably Earth in the very distant future. Humans have mixed with many races of aliens into a dysfunctional society that has degenerated into a dark age of chaos and repression. Mieville does show some tendencies of the rampaging young writer with a few too many ideas, as this book tends to ramble in places. Sometimes we are lost in lengthy technical descriptions of machinery and architecture (an example is an overly long write-up of the workings of a mailroom in chapter 9), there are too many place names with no impact on the story, and a few too many bizarre alien races.
On the other hand, Mieville has a real gift for political intrigue and power plays in his writing, and bizarrely creative concepts and settings. My favorite is a garbage dump that evolves a collective artificial intelligence due to a computer virus. The most mind-blowing aspect of this novel is the villains - a tribe of mutants who feed on one's thoughts and dreams, and excrete dark psychic pain in amounts that drive entire populations insane. So while Mieville needs a little practice reining in his many ideas into a leaner-and-meaner focus, this book still has the power to blow your mind in ways that sci-fi hasn't been capable of in ages. Here's a hot new writer that deserves to be hot.
on March 7, 2006
If I had to place stupendously imaginative novel Perdido Street Station in a genre, I'd say it was fantasy steampunk. Exotic and nightmarish creatures abound in New Crobuzon, a bustling, chaotic city milieu in a world featuring both magic and primitive technology. There is also a political dimension to the story, which highlights the abuse of power and also reflects the author's left-wing convictions. Be warned that there is a scarcity of happy outcomes for the characters, who are complex and never two-dimensional. If you have read and loved Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books, you will immediately warm to China Mieville.
on May 29, 2003
Perdido is not a casual read. The language is dense, and if you're vocabulary isn't up to snuff, you'll probably struggle with this. Mieville also dedicates an incredible amount of time to imagery and atmosphere. On top of all that, the book takes a while to warm up, and at times the plotting feels loose and disjointed.
So, you may be asking, why did I give this five stars? Because once the story got going, I couldn't put it down, flaws and all. Mieville's imagination is nearly boundless and it's a book, love it or hate it, that's unlike anything else. And in the Weaver, a spider-like god that walks the web of reality, Mieville has created one of the most interesting and wonderfully bizarre characters I've ever come across. The minute he/she/it stepped on the page, I was enthralled. Always. I'd reccomend checking this one out for the Weaver alone.
And even though Perdido felt aimless at times (a tighter plot would have done wonders), certain scenes were so amazing that I doubt I'll ever forget them. The chapter involving the Ambassador of Hell was simply brilliant, and it's just one amongst the many.
Though Perdido is not without its faults, its pros far out-weigh the cons, especially in the latter half. For the patient and open-minded, this is not a book to pass up, for it will definitely make an impression and probably a lasting one.
on January 24, 2006
I finished this a while ago, but it’s one of those books I need a certain distance from before I am ready for any sort of evaluation.
Miéville is not Peake, and I think one does him a disservice by a comparison which can only disappoint. “Perdido Street Station” has a richly detailed setting, painted with all the stops pulled out and a loving eye for the small particulars that create the big picture. But where Peake populated his stories with well-rounded, memorable, idiosyncratic, living, breathing beings, Miéville ‘builds’ his characters like he builds his city, creating props for his fantastic stage rather than personalities. I caught myself wondering, in fact, if it’s not New Crobuzon, who is the true protagonist of the story.
The story ...
Whose story? Isaac’s? Yagharek’s? New Crobuzon’s?
Yagharek with his lyrical, introverted voice came more alive for me than Isaac did, but he was not really given enough room to be the protagonist; he’s more of a catalyst and the frame that tries to hold this sprawling behemoth (pardon the pun) together. Which again leaves the city. The characters don’t really drive the plot, the city does -- this steaming, moving, writhing conglomeration of streets, buildings, machines and populace. And it does not merely drive the main plot, but throws out a multitude of independent little polyp arms, plot lines that lead back to themselves or nowhere in particular. A baroque monster, ugly, frustrating, barely comprehensible at times and utterly fascinating.
What’s it about? Responsibility? Consequences? Guilt? Who we are and what makes us who we are? Maybe.
Why read it?
Because it’s beautiful in the sense that wrought iron is beautiful: Twisted, sooty, pockmarked, it retains the opulence of a bygone era, and yet, or maybe thus, compels with its lush seduction.
It starts laboriously, like the steam engines it portrays so well. But it’s worth staying with, picks up steam after the first third and sweeps the reader along with the inescapable force of a runaway train. A grotesque nightmare ride, the sweaty, haunted feeling of which lingers long after you closed the book.
For all the suction it develops, however, it doesn’t get you anywhere fast: It lingers over style and architecture, takes you on philosophical detours, develops extra themes, supernumerary characters, subplots and a teeming imagery with an abandon that overwhelms at times. It evokes the dizzy sense of wonder the unspoiled visitors of a medieval fair might have felt, their impressions not blurred by speed, but by sheer multitude and alienness.
“Perdido Street Station” doesn’t lend itself to ten-minute-sittings, but will rather reward readers who are ready to stop and take the plunge, who will immerse themselves in the bizarre richesse of this magnificent steampunk epic. Let the rivers Tar and Canker carry you along, sit back and enjoy the ride.
on July 17, 2004
It's not very often that i'm moved to buy a book by the oversimplified, standard-issue blurb on the back cover , but this one actually did the job. The setting alone sounded too good to be true. I bought the book, went home, sat down and started reading.
I had a hard time really getting into the novel, but that didn't scare me away. I've read a lot of books that i didn't find gripping until page one hundred or so. Then i found i didn't really care for any of the characters. Don't get me wrong, i didn't particularly dislike any of them, but i also didn't find myself growing attached to any of them either. It's not that they were boring or two-dimensional, they just didn't breath for me. Still, i read on, and i'll tell you why.
All the positive reviews i've read of this book, and many of the negative ones, at least mention the staggering number of ideas present in this book. I wholeheartedly agree. The level of orginality is, in my opinion, unsurpassed by any other book i've read in ten years. Additionally, while the characters themselves did little for me individually, the setting as a whole did indeed come alive in my mind as i read. That part of the book was not, in fact, too good to be true.
With more appealing characters and a more interesting story, i wouldn't have hesitated to give this book five stars.
on June 19, 2007
Miéville’s world is one of a complex urban freak show that takes place a step out of reality, mashing the existential woes of a dozen-odd cross-species, sub-species, super-species, demons, sprites, machines, remade species, and (of course) every dreg of human imaginable. As I have been pondering and practicing the various meditations on my own writing as of late, there is an appreciation that flows from this tangle of threads. It is as if I am witnessing raw experience form from some focused slake of creativity as a (perhaps) contemporary seeks to drive his will upon the pages. And the story pushes through, egging the reader to feast upon the rich, lush patterns of evoked emotions a step beyond reality and reeking of the urban grunge that we so love to feel below our feet but no deeper than a scuff. True, it is not for everyone: dark, gritty, surreal. But for those who choose to indulge, it is like mental oatmeal; It will stick to the ribcage of your mind for a long time. And you will be left satisfied and maybe longing for more.
on July 10, 2004
Mieville proved already in King Rat that he can write circles around most contemporay Science Fiction authors. This book is also inspired by London (UK). The city of New Crobuzon is a mix of London and Gormenghast. It is not your standard Science Fiction book, Mieville has many sources of inspiration. He mixes elements of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Magical Realism. His descriptions of the various races living in New Crobuzon are reminiscent of Jack Vance.
So, the city, its inhabitants, and the main characters are very well developed, cmplex, and interesting. The plot is s little bit weak at times. The Dream-moths are well described, but they suspiciously eaily defeated. It is almost as if the fight against them is added to justify the book. What I really like in the book is the end. He does not fall in the trap of a "living happily ever after end." No, the end leaves many question marks, many unresolved problems are still there, the main characters are left truly scarred and marked by their experiences, they need to live with the consequences of their actions. The end feels very realistic, life goes on, some conflicts are resolved, some persist, most characters, bad or good, survive. I think that the melancholy ending more than redeems the weak resolution of the plot. Real life is like that.
on July 9, 2004
I read "Perdido Street Station" because I'd been swayed by the hype surrounding it--and was intrigued by the comparisons between Mieville's novel and Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast" books (a series criminally ignored by most readers here in the US). The guy's definitely influenced by Peake: instead of a rambling castle inhabited by wierd bureaucrats, servants and nobility, the reader tours a crumbling metropolis populated by human and demi-human ragpickers and malcontents. The creation New Crobuzon is where the novel succeeds: it's a vividly-painted, real place--and a fine stage on which to set the action. The story, though, is another kettle of fish. I was surprised by how conventional it was at its core: a band of reluctant heroes join forces to take on unstoppable monsters terrorizing their city. It's very, very familiar stuff, overly-reliant on shopworn SF tropes--hand-shaped mind-controlling parasites, mutants firing laser beams from their fingers, etc. Its excessive length doesn't help, either: if a novel ever required a brutal edit, then this is Exhibit A. If you dug "Perdido Street Station," I'd suggest you seek out Mervyn Peake's "Titus Alone" or "Gormenghast" for a similar literary experience--minus the giant dimension-shifting telepathic spiders.
on May 25, 2004
Most urban fantasies deal with elves and such living in modern society on Earth. Here the term has another meaning. The novel takes place in New Crobuzon - a megapolice as great as any in our world. The city with its train stations, dumps and red light districts is as much a character in this novel as others.
The plot takes its time to really start. It's not that nothing happens for the first several hundreds of pages - it's that those events are rather slow and serve to set the scene for later events (think part 1 of Tad Williams' "The Dragonbone Chair" where for 200 pages we followed a boy living in a castle and his daily chores).
The characters are interesting if not overly original. Isaac - a young scientist, who was marked as "crazy scientist" by some of the reviewers is a rational person, trying to understand the universe and its' mysteries. To him comes a garuda (birdman) named Yagharek (and NOT Grimnebulin like one review said, that's really Isaacs' surname - Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin! How did they read the novel, if they don't know the name of one character from another?). Yagharek has no wings, and asks Isaac to find a way - any way, to give him back flight. This triggers the series of events, some of which are spectacularly scary. But still, this novel has more in common with Peake and even Dickens, then Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks.
The author has a great imagination and he puts it to full use here, creating many interesting races and building the city from scratch. Among characters worth mentioning are an Ambassador of Hell, the Weaver (a very interesting creature), Council (who will come into action late in the novel, so I won't tell any more about him).
New Crobuzon looks as real as any city you visited, and it's populated with many colorful characters. And though the book felt overlong in places, by the end of it I new that I'd love to make another visit to this strange and yet familiar land.
on May 5, 2004
I like my fantasy with a complex plot , credible characters , consistent world and rich imagination .
Perdido failed for me fully on the first 3 even if it does fairly on the fourth .
The characters have no credibility , they behave like nobody would .
They are overexcited , yelling for no apparent reason , overreacting , swearing without cause and altogether behaving like Roger Rabbit .
They are unidimensional - you know nothing about their history , their family , their dreams and wishes .
Let's take the main vilain criminal in the story - who is he ?
Where does he come from ? Beside being violent , what does he think ?
The mayor ? A vague shadow without past and future .
Now the plot . If you are used to G.R.R. Martin or S.Erikson then the plot is really poor .
A mutilated wingless avian allien wants to fly again .
A half crazy scientist tries to find a way to help him to fly .
In the process he does an incredibly stupid thing and lets a deadly mind eating monster escape .
The monster frees 4 more .
Everybody tries to kill the 5 monsters and is exceptionaly bad at it (the scene with the handlike parasite beings - remember Allien ? - is particularly ridiculous in that respect) .
The crazy scientist gets lucky and kills the monsters in a really unbelievable way .
End of plot .
Beyond that as far as the style is concerned , Mieville revels in fluids .
Everything is damp , viscous , slimy .
Snot , blood , excrements , slobber , sweat , pus flow freely .
Some of the violence is also gratuitous - the description of the Garuda's mutilation or Lin's tortures didn't need to go in all those details .
Well , I forced myself to get to the end but if you don't like crazy , overspeed , violent cartoons you will not like this one .