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Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

June 9, 2008

It’s no surprise that China Mieville lives in London. Perdido Street Station is set in the city of New Crobuzon, a vivid, sprawling steampunk London-analogue.

The scientist Isaac Dan der Gimnebulin unwittingly unleashes a terrible menace on the city, and must do what he can to stone for his mistake. The story moves ponderously towards its shocking climax, at the city’s central transport hub, Perdido Street Station.

New Crobuzon is a city of harsh rule. Unfortunate criminals can expect to become one of the Remade, a social underclass with machine or animal parts grated to their flesh as punishment. An account of Remade sentencing was one of the most lasting impressions of this book. For more well-to-do or organised criminals, the militia are a constant threat. Anyone could be an informer, or even a member of the militia, who patrol the city in masks.

The story is like the city it takes place in, sprawling and vast, with surprising twists and turns, full of memorable characters. It won’t be to everyone’s taste because of this. If you prefer your stories to move in straight line, as opposed to a stately meander, I would recommend The Scar over Perdido. In truth I recommend them both.

To be honest I was about four hundred pages in before I thought I had figured out what the story was about. When I reached the end it turned out that no, I was mistaken, and the story was really about something else entirely. It was no less enjoyable for all that.

This is a book for the urbanite in all of us. There is no travel through the countryside, that is a little-known place, where food ultimately comes from. Narrow twisting streets, suburbs with their own unique character, the university campus, market squares, all these places will be somewhat familiar to the city dweller reading this book.

On its publication, Perdido gave ‘fantasy’ a much-needed shot in the arm, though for that genre I have to say it didn’t take. I would class this a speculative fiction anyway, but there we start in interminable process of labelling, and lets not have that pointless discussion here. Mieville remains unique in the market, and well worth the reading time.

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