Monday, August 30, 2010

Perdido Street Station

by China Mieville (2000).

The book which, if not launched, then anchored the sub-genre "urban fantasy." I've also seen this book categorized as "cyberpunk" elsewhere, as well as the slightly more understandable "steampunk." Guess this a book everyone wants under their banner, then. This forms, along with The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston and City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer, one of the key texts of the "New Weird" fantasy fiction "New Weird" style-movement.  And, by virtue of having some canon authors and a nickname, I suppose its the 00s version of the 80/90s cyberpunks and the 60s/70s new wave (I still find the Cyberpunk literary putsch the most compelling, mainly because its core writers most resembled an old school "literary circle" - friends first, perhaps, before genre-mates. I feel this is born-out by the divergent paths the key five have taken since roughly the mid-80s).


Perdido has a really lush setting in the city of New Crobuzon, a bustling, crowded, powerful, industrial city-state full of all the problems which are indemic to such places.  There are immigrant populations (who are ghettoized), labor disputes, government oppression and spying and the fear thereof and resistance thereto thereon.  All of this comes completely unraveled with the unleashing of a batch of nightmarish, unstoppable Slake Moths via a combination of government experiment and the underworld drug trade.

By far my favorite part involves the government's attempt to combat the Slake Moth crisis once its underway.  A plan is concocted which involves two people, each controlled by a symbiotic host which resembles a big slug, strapped back to back, flying, one blindfolded and the other looking backwards via a helmet mounted with rear-facing mirrors.  Sound strange?  Well, yeah.  But Mieville makes it work.

Anyways, a good chunk of a chapter goes by detailing this plan and launching its first patrol to go and kill some Slake Moths, and you're kinda saying to yourself, "yeah, hey, this is a pretty good plan," and then its like OOPS, SHIT, OH SHIT, MAYBE?, NOPE, SHIT.  A total fucking failure.

This book has this reputation as somehow having a radical socialist political bent to it.  And besides sequences such as the above (government's most elaborate scheme to stop crisis of its own doing results in hapless disaster), I'm kind of at a loss to see the radical edges.  Maybe I'm too lefty to begin with? That's my conclusion.  That, or most sci-fi/fantasy fans are more righty than they'd care to admit.  I guess the lead character being in love with a lady with a giant beetle for a head might put people on edge, but I found that love story quite sweet and compelling (and heartbreaking, in the end).

Required reading.


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