Monday, August 13, 2007

Perdido once again

Perdido Street Station is hugely entertaining, and I recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy. I use both as there are a number of elements that are more common to science fiction that to fantasy. There is one element that is old hat to scifi readers, but may well elicit a woah among the fantasy readers. Scifi readers will be excited and surprised at how he explores it. There are two reasons I can see why people would not like this book.

Hot human on bug action: Among other creative elements, Mieville populates his city with peculiar races, including cactus people, a watery lifeform, steampunk cyborgs and an intelligent insect. The central character of the book has a relationship with one of the bug people and you get more than one scene of sweet bug lovin'. Just hold your nose and keep reading as this drops off.

Grim reality: Mieville, correctly to my mind, notes that a fantasy world would probably be an unpleasant place to live. His depiction of a city is not terribly pretty, even for the most wealthy. Sure, Mieville is a Marxist for whom nearly everything in the past is inherently inferior, but honestly, would you want to live in 17th century anywhere? Still, if a realist approach is not for you, this book may be inappropriate.

I find that the pluses far outweighs the negatives.

Integrated creativity: Mieville populates this book with more cool creations than two or three normal authors can manage in a lifetime. More importantly, the things he creates nearly always serve the purpose of either driving the story or the themes he is addressing. Too often creativity is a cul de sac, but with Mieville it is a particularly well managed art exhibit.

Non-obvious narrative: Mieville begins his book with four of five plot elements, including a research project, an art commission and a labor dispute (!!). These all come together once the story begins, which is nice, but even better it keeps the reader guessing as to the eventual direction of the story.

Cool monsters: The number of memorable monsters is fairly small. I would include the Balrog, the Shrike, the Grendel (from Legacy of Heorot) and the Paratwa as true standouts. One and perhaps two of the beasts in this story can stand in this elite group.

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