Saturday, January 02, 2010

Review: Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station is China Mieville's steampunk novel set in the city of New Crobuzon. It took me two tries to read it: the first time, I checked it out of the Santa Clara County Library, but could not get past the first few chapters in the 3 weeks I had it. Then the Kindle store gave it away free, and it sat on my Kindle for a few months until I got around to it.

Mieville has probably written the best graphic novel in words. His descriptions are evocative, creating in my mind frame after frame of images corresponding to his characters --- the mad scientist Issac Dan der Grimnebulin, his artist lover Lin, and even the mayor of the city as he confers with the Demon ambassador (it is a tribute to the scope of the novel that this isn't giving away an important part of the book --- less ambitious novel would have made that scene the fulcrum of the novel). Mieville's command of the language is impeccable. He also has a huge vocabulary and is not afraid to use it or invent new ones --- reading this novel on the Kindle made me realized that the reason I rarely used the dictionary feature was because I rarely found authors with such large vocabularies!

The plot starts with Issac being asked to restore a formerly winged sapient to flight, while his artist lover gains a patron. The two threads converge, diverge, and converge again, as one of Issac's research projects goes awry, and he releases a predator into the city that proceeds to threaten the entire locale.

All through this plot presentation, Mieville ensures that the city of New Crobuzon is as much a character as any of the ones that talk and do things. We get introduced to all that various races (including one of Cactus-men), technology, and side plots. In fact, if there's any weakness in the novel, it's that Mieville seems so enraptured of his milleu, that entire pages are devoted to it that are irrelevant to plot and seem like so much padding. For example, did he need to really spend an entire chapter on how cable was laid?

Nevertheless, the plot is interesting, the characters, while perhaps stereotyped and not one hundred percent original, different enough from standard fantasy fare to be very much worth your time. In fact, if urban fantasy was this good, I would be pleased. And it is a meaty novel, so you'll get plenty for your money --- in fact, I don't think I could finish this book within 3 weeks if I didn't have a long travel day during my recent trip. If I get another long travel day ahead, I will probably buy another Mieville book to keep myself occupied and return to the city of New Crobuzon.

Recommended.
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