Published on July 4th, 2014 | by Michaela Buckley0
Perdido Street Station – China Miéville
One of the last times I wrote about steampunk I couldn’t help but mention its YA leanings and that I consider it an unsung genre, mostly because everyone involved in it is tone-deaf. That’s not to mean however that there isn’t a somewhat prevalent and talented author that seems to have inexplicably escaped my notice until recently, who also manages to subvert the issues surrounding the genre, without losing any of aesthetic and wonder that steampunk has to offer.
To be perfectly honest, I am not even sure if China Miéville is meant to be considered part of the genre or not, being that steampunk fans are notoriously nuts and fairly shielded from the rest of society, but I’m saying he is; lots of low-tech gadgets – check, pointlessly convoluted explanations – check, mechanic turned arse-kicker – you bloody well know it. I really don’t think I need much more evidence than the fact the book is named after a railway station in the story.
The novel’s plot decides its not entirely happy being a fantasy and shifts about half way through the story, starting off following almost exclusively two of the main characters, a freelance scientist called Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, who is hired by the bird-like Garuda, Yagharek, to devise a way for him to return to flying capability, and Lin, a khepri who is hired by a gangster boss to create a sculpture of him using her specialised spit which the insect-headed Khepri lay unique claim. So, the plot is basically the premise for most of the novel when about half way in, it turns into something out of a monster-movie.
To give too much away would spoil the effective build-up that is present in the first half, but I can aknowledge that all of the pieces of the novel come together in a satisfying way, with lots of action and drama ensuing. It’s due to a lot of these themes and different atmospheres that the novel is almost like a game or film, most notably Bioshock, the hop from Lovecraftian horror to swirling mechanical fantasy can be enjoyable, although perhaps I wonder if this is merely a personal pleasure to see lots of my favourite things in one place, like a library of nerdy paraphernalia that I’m allowed to organise and alphabetise to my heart’s content.
Miéville has truly grasped the art of descriptive writing, his style is truly captivating, almost as if the whole place has been painted for you yet leaving just enough out for the reader to allow their own imagination to roam where it will. I suppose the real talent here is knowing when to leave parts out and when it’s okay to dump paragraphs of detail interspersed with the character doing their thing.
Probably my favourite aspect of the novel is its complex array of cultures and races which inform the city that is New Crobuzon, sometimes that simple act of having a map and knowing that there is so much more in the city that you didn’t get to see within the book’s narrative gives the world a lot more depth than if you were to keep it all insulated and neat. It’s a messy city with lots going on, as if action could happen around each corner which might warrant a tale to themselves.
It’s not as if it doesn’t come with its own issues either, such length the first two acts were that the final feels a little stunted in comparison, it’s always a let down to read yet another derivately bow-tied ending, but to go the more philosophical route requires a little more preparation than the author thought it deserves, arising with a rushed finale.
Immersive and engaging, Perdido Street Station is an example of accessible steampunk fantasy with just enough grimness for horror fans. It seems the author likes to experiment so it might be a one off piece of luck, whatever his other work is, at least we can expect it to be interesting.
This would probably make for a half-decent TV show, eh HBO?