Author: Chine Mieville
Publication Date: 2/27/01
Publisher: Del Rey
Blurb(GR): Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to none—not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.
Isaac has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before fathomed. Though the Garuda's request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger.
While Isaac's experiments for the Garuda turn into an obsession, one of his lab specimens demands attention: a brilliantly colored caterpillar that feeds on nothing but a hallucinatory drug and grows larger—and more consuming—by the day. What finally emerges from the silken cocoon will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon—and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it invokes . . .
A magnificent fantasy rife with scientific splendor, magical intrigue, and wonderfully realized characters, told in a storytelling style in which Charles Dickens meets Neal Stephenson, Perdido Street Station offers an eerie, voluptuously crafted world that will plumb the depths of every reader's imagination.
When we’ve turned this world into a dried up husk and have to resort to shutting ourselves in to life sustaining pods and “living” within some sort of virtual environment, I vote we nominate this guy to imagine and design our virtual
realities. Sure, we’ll probably end up with some weird shit, like fire breathing iguana flowers and pulsating organic clouds that rain mucus and blood (he won’t be able to help himself) but we’ll get the most detailed, complete, panoramic world, and I can guarantee that it won’t feel imaginary.
I think that’s China Mieville’s greatest strength: his limitless imagination and 100% commitment to his ideas. Reading this book feels a bit like watching this video; like living in a place where nothing behaves as you are
accustomed to, but somehow it’s all still graspable. This is my third Mieville, and I keep feeling like, when is he going to run out of ideas?!! I mean, everything that I’ve read from him feels completely original and new…and
this book in particular just has one new and original idea stacked on top of another ad infinitum. At times I did feel like I needed to slow down. It’s like driving 100 miles per hour through an abomination of the Emerald City: everything’s flashing by and I just want to slow down and focus on one of the disgusting, hideous details but I can’t, because…here’s another one!
So yeah, maybe I should actually write something about what this book is about. Just as in the other two Mieville novels that I’ve read, the environment is a major character in this book. New Crobuzon is a putrescent, festering, melting pot of a city, with combustible tension between its highly varied denizens and the city’s leaders (both formal and illicit). It’s a place with a long memory, inhabited by recent arrivals, desperate and ignorant, building their lives up on top of waste, pollution, and the corpse of a desiccated behemoth.
In addition, this book has a large cast of compelling characters, which is something that I felt was missing from The City & The City. Isaac is naïve in the way of scientists: he’s insular and so focused on his own ideas that he doesn’t pay enough attention to their potential impact on the world. He’s a bit of an antihero: he’s impulsive and rash, sometimes lacking in bravery and integrity. I found Lin and Yagharek to be the most fascinating characters. I think there’s some interesting mirroring between them. Lin was born down in the filth and muck, and managed to lift herself out and find a new life, but she can’t help but miss her old home. Yag was born free and powerful, and through his own reprehensible actions, brought himself down to the gutter, and now he can’t get out. Yag is also the only character to be gifted with first person narration for a few passages throughout the novel, which are my favorite
Isaac and Lin are in love, which is difficult because they come from two different worlds, and their relationship is viewed as taboo and perverted. Isaac worries and guards the secret, but Lin is less concerned, as she is already an outcast among her own people. When Yagharek arrives at Isaac’s laboratory, desperate to regain his former power, and Lin is commissioned to create a life size statue of a grotesque underworld boss, events are set in motion which could lead to the destruction of New Crobuzon.
The writing is elaborate and ornamented with a surfeit of big big words. For the most part it feels appropriate, like he’s using just the right word at the right time. It doesn’t feel overdone. However, he definitely has a few favorites that appear frequently enough that I took note: palimpsest, vestige, palimpsest, exudations, ineluctable, palimpsest, autopoiesis, ichor, and uhh…did I mention palimpsest? I wonder; if these words weren’t so conspicuous (because of their big big-ness) would I have even noticed? I mean, if he had used “layered” or “inevitable” twenty times I doubt it would stand out in the same way.
I just have one more thing to add: I’m onto you, Mr. Mieville! That climactic slake moth battle scene? I know exactly where that idea came from. Do you get all of your material from cheesy 90’s movies or what?
Perfect Musical Pairing
Bon Iver – Holocene
Because I listened so obsessively to the new Bon Iver album for the entire time I was reading this book that they melded and layered themselves together. Parts of each were visible, but they had combined and concealed each other as well…they had become a blend, a…oh god, what is that word? I know it…if I could only just remember...it’s on the tip of my tongue….