This review is quite unique since it includes many genres wrapped into one in this novel. It takes place in a fictional world named Bas-Lag. The plot narrows on the city of New Crubozon. People and humanoids called xenians who have either an animal or plant feature congregate in this city.
It is about a scientist, Isaac, who engages in unorthodox experiments and studies. As such, he is an outcast of the scientific community. When a wingless Garuda comes to him one day, he must challenge everything he knows. They embark on an experiment to help him fly again. The story follows his various misadventures during his experiments.
As for the twists that the novel takes, they can drive the story forward. However, with the main conflict from near the end, it felt that it could have reach a resolution a lot sooner.
Where to begin?
I will say that since Perdido Street Station figures within the weird genre, then the prevalence of Kafka-esque monstrosities is high. A lot of the xenian races fit within New Crubozon quite well. They have purposes within it which directly tie to their inherent characteristics. An intereesting component were the ethnonyms which represented a particular mythology (perhaps because these xenians are like those of mythology). The scarab-headed khepri derive their name from an Egyptian god; and the bird humanoids called garuda trace their origin from the legendary bird of Hinduism. As for the monsters in the novel, they play a dramatic role in shaping the story.
Another feature when it comes to the monsterization within the novel is the Remades. They are criminals who have to live with a certain modification as life-long punishment. This fitted the eerie feel of New Crubozon, where the militiamen and the street thugs originate from the Remades. In this way, Mieville manages to bestow a sense of nobility and fascination upon grotesquerie; especially with the ending. Indeed, it was why Mieville expressed fascination by H. P. Lovecraft’s work. While he did see racism in Lovecraft’s work, he acknowledges that the latter’s hatred helped establish a sense of poeticism that made his own work unique.
As for the uniqueness in Mieville’s own novel, there is definitely the intermingling between steampunk and fantasy. There are airships, machines, and automatons alongside the study into magic–or thaumaturgy.
Another theme that abounds in the novel is the prevalence of corruption. New Crubozon is a big city that attracts people and xenians from many nations. Thus, it is bound to have a system of bribery and snooping. It does dramatically alter to story in such a way that it made me invested in the main characters.
The social aspect of the novel is quite important pertaining to the class division in the city. Mieville himself espouse a very left-wing position which shows in this work. Although it can be an issue for a writer’s personal politics to interfere with his own work, in Mieville’s case fortunately Isaac is not his avatar. The character that would come the closest would be the journalist Derkhan. Of course, she is not a Mary Sue and is met with as much danger as well of the other characters, which is important since this separates the writer from any character bias.
As for the protagonist, Isaac is a former professor who was disgraced due to his relationship with Lin, a khepri. While they diverge from each other throughout the story, they attempt to connect in the most vain way possible. This can definitely be expected from couples setting out in the outside world to make ends meet.
Although he has all this knowledge, he is quite irresponsible with it. Though throughout the novel he does not discover that he is not as clever as he thinks he is. Although he does feel sadness despite his usual angry disposition, there is not a moment of self-reflection that I can think of except near the end.
Lemuel is definitely a smug character, though considering the roles he plays in the novel, he would have no other choice but to act as such. As for Yagharek the wingless Garuda, he is quite a mysterious, melancholic character. He often disappears throughout the first half of the book, though it is speculated where he goes to at the end of the book.
As for Motley, I definitely got the sensation that he was an intimidating figure even before he made an appearance, as described in Lin’s perspective when she is on her way to meet him. This is a perfect technique when trying to introduce such a character. This way is very reminiscent of making details about the eccentric billionaire Stoyte in Aldous Huxley’s After Many A Summer Dies The Swan and the mysterious Sayyiduna in Vladimir Bartol’s Alamut.
It was a bit jarring, whether it has to do with the fact that I am not used to Mieville’s style of writing I cannot say. Perdido Street Station is definitely one of those books that I read the first couple of pages of, stop reading, and then reread it after time passes.
There is a lot of in-depth description about the setting as well as the people within it going about their day. This does highlight the interaction between the different races as well as the architecture and technology needed to maintain various parts of the city.
Normally, I would prefer info-dumping (if I ever do) to be written within the description rather than the dialogue, but since much of it comes from Isaac who was a thaumaturgist who would have far more access to the information than the reader and the other characters, then that would be the exception.
One Big Glorious Ride On An Air-Ship Staring Down A City
This novel is quite promising of not just a sequel, but more series dedicated to the world of Bas-Lag. While it can be a confusing read, it would be worth reading the sequel.
- Huxley, Aldous. “After Many A Summer Dies The Swan.” Perennial Classic. 1965. Cover by Seymour Chwast.
- Mieville, China. “Perdido Street Station.” Del Rey. 2000.