Thursday, January 27, 2011

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station
Author China Mieville

All manner of aliens and humans coexist in the strange, world-spanning city of New Crobuzon. Here, dark magic and advanced science flourish amid an atmosphere of mysticism and madness, under a government that uses cruel military repression to enforce its laws. Independent cultures and civilizations exist side by side, occasionally overlapping and breeding increasingly grotesque oddities. Mutants and hybrids of every order can be found: those with extra limbs grafted to their bodies or with their heads joined to arcane machinery.

Scientist Isaac der Grimnebulin seeks to verify his unified theory that will link alchemy, biology, and mechanics into what he calls crisis energy. He is visited by the wealthy Yagharek, who belongs to the Garuda, a race capable of flight. Yagharek, though, has had his wings cut from him as punishment for an obscure crime, and he seeks assistance from Isaac to recapture his ability to fly. Isaac engages in wild experimentation as he tries to help, growing more and more obsessive in his lab while he delves deeper into magic and fantastic technology. He gathers together numerous flying creatures and imprisons a mysterious giant caterpillar that feeds on a hallucinogen, giving it the ability to induce nightmares in others and steal their dreams. When the caterpillar metamorphoses and escapes the lab, it terrorizes the denizens of New Crobuzon, leaving its victims mindless zombies and bringing the full wrath of Parliament down on Isaac s head.

Review:  I must wave my white flag in defeat! I admit I surrendered half way through Perdido Street Station. I got roughly 300 pages into the 600 page novel. I don't want my 2 star rating to necessarily discourage readers from picking up this book. First, let me explain. Based on the rating system, 2 stars means 'it's ok,' and for me it was. Did I like it, or find it enjoyable? Honestly, not really. In this case, I think it is, 'It's me, not you,' thing. Yep, I think this is the first time I had to gently break up with a book.

Do I think the author is brilliant? Absolutely! There is no arguing this point, the man is a genius. His writing is poetic, descriptive, original while at the same time staying authentic to the roots of science fiction fantasy. It is an epic novel and will be discussed by literary circles for decades. Unfortunately, like many great award winning works it's simply not an entertaining, enjoyable read. Is it intellectual? Perhaps, too much so. My brain was in a virtual mind melt of information, technology, names, maps, structures, creatures, races and machines. Not to mention I'm not all that familiar with science fiction steampunk features so I had to learn those too. This is not a book you can set down and come back to. The length is grueling, so the reader will at some point need to take a break. I found it easier to read only when I had large blocks of time. So, if you find yourself serving a prison sentence, or grounded for the summer, I recommend taking this along. Like other epic novels, it sometimes takes pages of re-reading to get back into the scene.

I can't even begin to imagine what it took to create, edit and proof this book -- which was flawlessly done! It's incredible and frankly makes my head ache just thinking about it. So to the hardcore science fantasy intellectuals, I say you'll likely love it. For those new to the steampunk scene, you may want to wait on this one until you are more familiar with the genre.
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  1. Very fair and honest review; you make it clear that while this may not have done it for you, it is nonetheless a good book that may appeal to others.
    I have not tried the steampunk genre, and I know I wouldn't attempt the style for the first time with a 600 page read :)

  2. I have to compliment you on such an even handed review. You clearly spelled out why you were unable to finish it and why that in no way should keep those familiar with the genre away. I thought it was great the way you extolled the books brilliance and the writer's abilities. And then explain that this book should not be a reader's introduction to intellectual science fiction/steampunk, that one needs to work up to it to appreciate it.

    Job well done!