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Perdido Street Station – Book Review

Written by: China Miéville
Published by: Del Rey

In the front of the book Perdido Street Station, you are given a simple map of the city of New Crobuzon: its precincts, rail lines, and rivers. But it does nothing to illustrate the complexity of this city built under the ribcage of a gigantic skeleton. The architecture is a confusion of grand houses, billowing factories, crowded markets, and grimy rookeries. The population is an unruly mix of humans, khepri (women’s bodies with insect’s heads), vodyanoi (amphibians who shape water like clay), cactus-men (self-explanatory), and other more unusual inhabitants. Even science includes the psychic Remaking of flesh into bizarre and obscene forms, computers made of gears and sprockets, and alchemy is studied alongside atomic theory. New Crobuzon is a city always on the edge of crisis and all that is required to tip it over is a little push.

This push originates from Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, a scientist whose controversial theories have gotten him shoved from the mainstream. So he takes jobs where he can find them. One job comes from Yagharek, an outcast member of the garuda (a noble race of nomadic birdmen from the desert). For the crime of ‘choice-theft in the second degree’, he had his wings cut off. Yagharek hungers for the sensation of flight and offers a lot of money to Isaac to make it possible. Isaac begins by getting all manner of birds and winged insects to study their modes of flight. One particular specimen is a multicolored grub that will only eat dreamshit, the newest drug on the street. What the grub becomes when it emerges from its cocoon will lead Isaac, his friends, and the city itself into a waking nightmare they might not awaken from.

[ad#longpost]The best way to describe this book is rich. Usually most authors ignore their setting, giving it little attention, but Miéville makes it a character in the story. New Crobuzon becomes alive with sights and smells, tastes and textures. Miéville’s writing evokes all the pains and pleasures that come from the city and its denizens. It’s as if Charles Dickens took some LSD and wandered around Victorian London and wrote what he experienced. Miéville always gives us a new strange encounter with something, be it a spider that lives for art or a junkyard that thinks, around every corner. That captures the reader to see what he comes up with. The xenain races are fully realized with imaginative biologies and cultures, from the khepri’s using their spit to produce art to the cactus-men’s ritualistic scarring. They provide an analogy of immigrants integrating into major cities without becoming heavy handed. Miéville successfully mixes steampunk, low fantasy, and urban drama into something unique and very enjoyable. If you want a book that presents the reader with an inventive and vivid tale of obsession and the prices you pay for it, run and pick up Perdido Street Station.

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