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Mieville, China - Perdido Street Station

This story takes place in the sprawling, dirty, steam-powered city of New Corbuzon, only some of whose inhabitants are human. Isaac Den der Grimnebulin is one, a freelance scholar and scientist. His lover, Lin. is a talented sculptor and a kephri, a beetle-headed alien humanoid. One fateful day, they both undertake new commissions. During the course of his, Isaac will inadvertently release a terrible, inconceivable danger into the city, putting potentially all of its population at risk, and directly threatening Lin, whose ruthless employer misinterprets Isaac's actions as a direct threat to his own empire. Isaac assembles a ragtag band who engage in a number of remarkable escapades to stop the growing catastrophe that he started.

Mieville can definitely write. Not all of the society that he has invented makes sense, however, and the whole thing hangs together mainly because of the dramatic momentum of the story. He tosses elements together the way that I have done myself when creating roleplaying scenarios, evidently thinking "Wow, what a cool idea!" and chucking it into the mix. When things were clicking, I found myself thinking of Cordwainer Smith's "Instrumentality of Mankind" stories - "The Ballad of Lost C'mell," "A Planet called Shayol," the novel Norstrilia, and others. But Smith had a deep love of both animal and humankind, and a basically optimistic outlook. Mieville seems to me to be much more negative, and pretty disgusted with much of humanity.

Finally, Mieville's basically a horror writer. He dwells lovingly on every scene of pain, terror, and torment that occurs during the course of this story - and there are plenty of them. I don't read horror fiction. Real life is bad enough. I don't know that I will ever re-read this book, and I don't know that I will ever read any more of Mieville's adult fiction. His children's book Un-Lun-Dun has received some stellar reviews, and I may give it a shot, simply because I seriously doubt he'd subject younger readers to the kind of thing that upset me about this book.

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville - review

Having said all this, I will admit that the slake-moths, the horrifying predators that Isaac inadvertently sets loose, are a brilliant creation. I wouldn't be surprised to see them show up in our current D&D scenario at some future date - we have a DM whose main idea of how to challenge players is to throw more and tougher monsters at them (yes, I know ... >sigh<) They're the perfect nightmare for a geek intellectual: they drain you of your dreams and turn you into a vegetable.

I also really loved the Weaver, a terribly powerful psychic creature that's settled into the city as a fixture, inhabiting the parallel dimensions of the titular Perdido Street rail nexus. The Weaver finds humanity engrossing, and goes through spates of fanatical interest in specific human inventions. During the course of the novel, its infatuation is scissors, which it affixes to the walls of its physical dwelling in seemingly abstract patterns. I was reminded of the vampire Armand's fascination with electric blenders in Rice's Queen of the Damned, and also of the psychic entity called the Vatch, in Schmitz' The Witches of Karres, which had a similar interest in humanity and desire to meddle in its affairs for entertainment.

But some of Mieville's inventions seemed to be just half-baked thought experiments, and pretty grisly ones at that. People who commit crimes run the risk of being Remade into grotesque forms. Some of these make a horrific sort of sense, when the convicts' new forms make them work better as some sort of specialized slave labor force. But sometimes Remakings are just weirdly grotesque and pointless, as when a woman who killed her baby has her dead infant's arms permanently affixed to her face as a reminder of her crime. Women who do this sort of thing are usualy suffering postpartum psychoses, so is that really going to deter any of them from doing likewise? And surely it costs resources to do these sorts of things: does the city really have that much extra time/money/human resources to indulge in pointless cruelty?

I can't help but wonder whether this sort of thing has any sort of in-story logic behind it at all. It reminds me of the boys in my sixth-grade class who took advantage of the 17-year locust plague by experimenting with disgusting ways of killed the poor, stupid bugs, mainly to upset their more impressionable classmates. Yuck, China Mieville! You stop it right now, or I'm telling the teacher!


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