China Mieville,
Perdido Street Station
(Macmillan, 2000;
Del Rey, 2001)

China Mieville, author of one previously published dark fantasy novel, King Rat -- a very distinguished debut with a contemporary London setting as the backdrop of a clever reworking of the Pied Piper legend -- now ventures into far more phantasmagorical realms with his sophomore effort, a science fantasy epic so astonishingly good I can't praise it too highly.

Perdido Street Station is set in an urban-gothic fantasy metropolis of New Crobuzon, sprawling and seething with weird technology and thaumaturgy and teaming with diverse inhabitants of all sorts of human and sentient non-human persuasions. Magical and "steampunk" technologies co-exist -- there being Babbage computing engines, coal-powered robot "constructs" and an underclass of biomagically "remade" victims of harsh judgments who may be part-machine, part-animal, or wholly horrific.

The plump, eccentric amateur scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is approached by a visiting Garuda -- a once-winged being now stripped of his wings as punishment for a crime he commited amongst his own kind (about which he is taciturnally reticent), who hopes to buy back the power of flight. The resulting research project produces an unforseen concatenation of monstrous consequences in which a deadly horror is unleashed -- so powerful is it that even the demons of Hell are too frightened to fight it (declining when New Crobuzon's corrupt government begs help from the ambassador of the Netherworld).

It is up to Grimnebulin and his rag-tag group of cronies to do what they can to deal with the flying terror, these protagonists including Isaac's khepri lover (a sculptress from a hybrid human-bodied/scarab beetle-headed insectoid race); Yagharak, the garuda; a gutsy lady reporter for a viciously supressed subversive newspaper; the clandestine group-mind of New Crobuzon's constructs; a secret traitor; a gangster-for-hire; and the Weaver (a truly unique giant intelligent spider with uncanny dimension-spanning powers). Mieville's writing skill is such that he makes all this fit together in a feat of imaginative creativity, devising a truly original setting of Heironymous Boschean decadent complexity and atmosphere written with stylish expertise equal to any of the masterful works of Jack Vance or Gene Wolfe or Mervyn Peake.

Here are thoroughly dimensional characters, quirky and flawed and utterly believable whether human or non-human or mixed. Here is a background of dazzling intricacy, rich in gothic atmosphere, bizarre cultural diversity and local color. Here is a wildly exciting and thrilling plot that relentlessly grips the reader and never lets go until the unexpected ending. (But be warned -- there is a lot of totally appropriate contextual darkness here, some non-gratuitous gross-outs, and plenty of true-to- life cursing.)

This is one of the best books I have ever read.

Perdido Street Station so splendid, so vivid, so clever (Mieville's use of terms such as garuda and khepri from our own global mythic heritage to evoke imagery), one hates for it to end (at 700 plus pages it leaves one craving for more), awestruck by its refreshing and ingenious approach to fantastic fiction. This extraordinary tour de force of the imagination deserves the highest awards and encomiums!

[ by Amy Harlib ]



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