Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The birds and the...bugs: A final verdict on Perdido Street Station

I talked about Perdido Street Station once before, shortly after I'd read the scene with the first slake-moth attack, which I thought was a pretty fantastic crossing of MC and HPL - Lovecraft, that is. It took my interest in the book to a whole new level, and I ended up finishing the thing at breakneck speed last Saturday.

If you look at the comments below my earlier post, you'll see that "E" warned me the book was very brutal, cynical, and anti-traditional-fantasy. My response was that as long as it had at least a semi-happy ending, I'd be okay with it. Well, I'm not spoiling as much as you think I'm spoiling when I say that the book had a...satisfying ending; and I can't wait to read the next book in the series, The Scar. Not every character in PSS got what they deserved, and some got things they definitely didn't deserve; but it all hung together in a satisfying whole and had some pretty deep messages about moral gray areas. Going back to E's comments about Miéville intentionally trying to be the anti-Tolkien, I can assure you that the heroes and heroines of Perdido Street Station do things Gandalf and Aragorn could never even contemplate - nor, I think, could Frodo, even at the Cracks of Doom. Funny how I can enjoy both kinds of authors, but then again, I've never been one to fit neatly into anyone else's box. Anyway, what separates Miéville's decent characters from his villains is primarily their sense of guilt; and I think that's a good thing. It's a realistic thing.

So, then, a little more exposition (and warning) for anyone else who thinks they might like to try a little Miéville. I said before that this novel takes place on a world with a wide variety of sapient species, in a city that's sort of a magical mashup of steampunk and Dickens. After a bit of thought, I've realized it also contains a healthy dose of the classic movie Brazil. New Crobuzon's government is as corrupt as they come, justice is rarely served (see, again, my second paragraph), and only the artists and dreamers seem to have some precarious freedom.

Lin is one of those artists. She's a khepri, a member of the species depicted at the top of this post (in a wonderful illustration from artmunki of Deviant Art). Her lover is the human scientist/dreamer Isaaac, who is commissioned to restore flight to a birdman whose wings have been cut off for an unspecified crime. That's the birdman, Yagharek, in the second picture above (by Gordillo, also of Deviant Art). Beyond these three, you'll have a hard time figuring out which of the characters who drift in and out of the story are truly important, but I'll give you two hints: 1) the Weaver is incredibly cool...from a safe distance, and 2) the guy you think is going to have a Han Solo arc does not have a Han Solo arc; this story is much more complex than a Lucas film.

But of course, if you're first learning about this book from me, you're at least as interested in the slake-moths as anything else. So, without spoiling too much, I'll say that they're just as cool as the Weaver and about 100 times more terrifying. Don't expect anything erotic about the descriptions of their attacks, though; China Miéville is not an MC fetishist. He just know how to scare the everliving shit out of an MC fetishist, even when he's writing on that fetishist's home turf. And I don't know about you, but to me, that's a plus. I'm definitely buying more of this guy's stuff.

1 comment:

E said...

I'm very glad that you enjoyed the novel, and appreciated the surprises.

"The Scar" is my favorite of the trilogy, and I hope that you similarly relish it. It is hardly a short book, but I wished it were even longer. It takes place in a different city and a unique culture, one at least as amazing as New Crobuzon's.

"Iron Council" is the most political of the series, and its conclusion has an emotional impact not entirely dissimilar to the first. It also has (probably) my favorite villain of the series, who wreaks havoc on New Crobuzon on a stupendous scale and in a highly surprising way.

If the subgenre continues to appeal to you and run out of any superior suggestions, may I recommend the darkly psychedelic "Etched City" by K.J.Bishop, the sardonic wit of "Tales of the Dying Earth" by Jack Vance (especially the middle two novellas,) the fungi-festering postmodern Ambergris trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, and the especially corroded and bleak "Viriconium" by M.John Harrison-- in roughly descending order of relevance.

A few years back I fell completely for the style, and devoured them all in swift sequence.

Are there any yummy fetishistic elements in any of them? Some a bit more than others-- but absolutely yes.