Review: Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville is the story of a scientist named Isaac in an alternative Victorianesque city. Entirely by accident Isaac has loosed something dangerous on the city and he's desperately trying to make things right. The city has a government out of the movie Brazil, the science is steampunk with a dash of magic, and the humans aren't the only intelligent beings in the city. After a slow start, there's a lot of details to assimilate, Perdido Street Station was a hell of read! Like pop-rocks for the brain story details fired my imagination and stimulated my thoughts in sometimes horrific but mostly delightful ways. Recommended.

Rated: 4 / 5

Perdido Street Station is an expansive novel. This, as they say, is both a blessing and a curse. The exposition at the beginning of the book is so dense the story gets off to a slow start. Slogging through these details is rewarded later in the book and to Mieville's credit, he does a good job of keeping the writing interesting, but there's a lot of setup. If some aspect of the setup clicks for you, it could be enjoyable. For me, the book didn't get interesting until the story transitioned from setup into execution.

Isaac is a relatively accomplished scientist with a bohemian lifestyle and exotic tastes in women. He gets a commission to fix a problem for Yagharek, a member of one of the avian races in this world. Isaac's investigation, quite by accident, causes some very dangerous creatures to pray on the people of the city. Even when Isaac starts making progress fixing the problem, no good deed goes unpunished.

The other major characters such as Isaac's lover Lin and newspaper woman Derkhan Blueday have parallel story threads that start coming together when the shit hits the fan. Mieville does an excellent job of presenting the different threads, both of the mentioned characters and many others, so they stay interesting, move the story forward, and come together seamlessly. The story's backdrop is a dystopian steampunk world where people's bodies can be modified, the government does business with organized crime, being a dissenting voice can get you "disappeared", and there's creatures in the cosmos even people at the top of the food chain fear.

Perdido Street Station is one of the few pseudo-science fantasy books I've read where both the characters and the world-building are exceptionally well done. The characters, with their flaws and virtues, felt real. The world and its technology, though fantastical, was also solid. Nearly anyone can create fictional technology, not many can do as Mieville has and extrapolate a realistic ecology.

These great characters and setting are combined with unflinching storytelling. This is a dark story involving corruption and dysfunction. Mieville's storytelling expertly exposes us to the baser side of the technology without getting voyeuristic. It also manages to string us along wondering about the ending. Although I was fairly sure which characters would survive, I was never absolutely positive and was wrong on one count (sort of, depending on what you consider "dead").

This book isn't about classic happy endings, but the story's end did give me emotional satisfaction. I'm still not entirely sure I know what Perdido Street Station was about, but it involves taking what you have and getting on with life and speaks to how the world is interconnected. After I got past the slow start I really enjoyed it.

Publisher: Del Rey Books / Random House Publishing Group

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