EPS Review #59 - Perdido Street Station

by China Mieville Pan 2000

I was not going to buy this book, since the hype seemed outrageous, and there are many negative reviews on Amazon. But then I was in a bookstore and there it was, a nice big fat fantasy/steampunk paperback, all 867 pages of it. It is set in the city of New Crobuzon, which is pestilential, fetid, fecal, mephitic, slummy, inhabited by mutants and ruled by crimelords and thugs (so, a plagiarism of NYC). First you have to suspend ridicule at the overdone grunge. Mievelle half-dedicates the book to Mervyn Peake, so you can see the atmosphere he is trying to achieve. It took me a while to realise that this was not an SF earth with fine aliens, but an alternate world with science/thaumaturgy uneasily mixed, and an overabundance of sentient species.

The good news is that the plot does carry you along -- ooh those horrible slake-moths! I liked the fat scientist hero, and his scarab-headed spit-artist girlfriend, and the multidimensional spider-esthete and his dialog, even if he is awfully convenient for the plot. Lots of the characters turn out to have only subsidiary parts, including the crimelord and all the cast of government. And the very end is a fizzle. Maybe it could have been tightened up (a lot) into a great book, but I lived under the shadow of those slake-moths for days, and lingered reading on train platforms to see what would happen to them. That was fun, I guess.

Laurie wrote: not for me! but a good occasion for the word "mephitic".