#98: Perdido Street Station – China Mieville


Perdido Street Station is quite the Tome!

The Good:

Mieville builds a rich world filled with amazing sights and peoples. New Crobuzon, the city in which the action takes place, is so very well developed! Bustling with a kaledescope characters,  districts, artifacts new and old, and what feels like a deep history that undergirds the setting.

Mieville also throws in quite a collection of races, beyond just the human characters there are:

  • Garuda: Basically Bird folk
  • Khepri: Insect people, the females are sentient, but the males are smaller and seem to exist only for mating.
  • Wyrmen: Gargoyle-esque knuckle-heads
  • Vodyanoi: Frog-like folk who have a really cool innate “watercraeft” that allows them to temporarily stabilize the structure of water. Made for a very cool dock-worker strike in the book.
  • Cactacae: basically cactus people… i wanted to like them more but they never really seemed as neat as the other races.
  • Also of note: The Remade (mostly victims of the criminal justice system, their bodies are “enhanced” with freakish modifications like pincer hands, or their heads turned around, etc etc.); the Construct Council (a group of mentally linked sentient machines); the Slake Moths (the baddies of the story); and everyone’s favorite The Weaver (an inter-dimensional shifting giant spider beast who talks like a beatnick poet spewing a never-ending stream-of-conciousness performance)

Every race seems to have it’s own unique world view and sub-cultures that paint how the communicate with and move through the world.

The Meh…

Honestly the story-line wasn’t the most compelling. For a world as complex as this one i kept expecting the story to come together. Instead of feeling like a piece of story-craft it instead felt like a window into something happening in a different universe. Here’s what i mean by that: Stories have conflict and conclusions, there are story arcs, things often resolve somewhere along the way and you reach the end realizing that you’ve reached The End. The story line in Perdido Street did almost none of those things. It was a mass of tangled threads all thrown into this beautiful world-building basket together. Some things were left hanging that left me thirsting for some completion, things happened that hinted at deeper workings that we never get to see, the book ended and it didn’t feel like a “The End”…

The more i think about it the more i start to like what Mieville did with that… The story feels more like “Real-life” (IF real life had nightmare moth-men, crazy giant spider things, cactus people, and insects that sort of poop out art…) than many sci-fi/fantasy stories.

A few real plusses for me were: The “resolution” of Yagharek’s (a disgraced Garuda who has been de-winged as a punishment) and Isaac’s (the main protagonist) storyline/relationship was very interesting and well-done. Another high-point for me was the evolution and complexity of Isaac and Lin’s relationship through the story.

I’d give Perdido Street Station a C as a book (admittedly though it gets better the longer i chew on what i read. If it was shorter it would be a B-) , but an A+ as a setting. Reading the book really felt like reading the campaign notes from an amazing tabletop RPG. In fact if anyone ever turns Mieville’s world into an RPG setting, sign me up!

The setting is so rich and deep that although i wasn’t blown away by the story-line i do hope to one day read the other two novels in this series: The Scar, and Iron Council. They’re set in the same world (Bas-Lag) as Perdido Street Station and i’m interested to see what other great sights await us in Mieville’s universe!

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