Saturday, April 01, 2006

Perdido Street Station

Perdido Street Station is a celebration of grotesquerie in every sense of the word. It is an almost revoltingly eclectic conglomeration of the most far-reaching and diverse themes, motifs, and symbols in the realm of speculative fiction, sprung forth from the most fecund imagination of a British author set to outdo all his contemporaries in the deliverance of the perverse and the macabre.

It is interesting how British authors, most of all, seem to revel in this brand of macabre fiction. We see signs of incipient madness in giants such as Peter F Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, and others. Mieville's New Crobuzon is the student of their devices. Almost from the beginning it is depicted in such filth, chaos and despair that the reader is disinclined to take the author's words at face value, assuming, rather, an unsubtle attempt at hyperbole. New Crobuzon itself seems to be an agglomeration of various disparate elements of other brilliantly realized worlds. Its post-Victorian air and cheerful
debauchery recall the city Ankh-Morpork of Pratchett's Discworld. Its macabre fusion of machine and man is reminiscent of Alistair Reyonld's Inhibitors series. The mindbending horror of the slake-moths is perfectly captured in the ruinous depredation of the undead in Hamilton's Confederation Universe novels. Yet what sets Perdido Street Station apart is the author's casual treatment of this deliberately instituted filth. Mieville achieves this effect by making New Crobuzon the centerpiece of his narrative, in an acknowledgement of the setting as an integral part of an appreciation of the novel.

New Crobuzon is set to become a defining landmark in the techno-fantasy playland. With it Mieville conceives a whole new way to unite science fiction with fantasy, creating something so new and unique that it defies all current boundaries. In Mieville fiction refuses to conform to boundaries and bleeds cross-genre, something that perhaps only readers as modern as we are are prepared to accept. The defining thing about New Crobuzon and its world, Bas-Lag, is that magic becomes a scientific and technological curiosity, a plaything for engineers. It is a world where stuffy academics from established institutions mutter hexes with impunity and self-styled mediums use electrochemical cells. The chief theme seems to be fusion, and Mieville's work embraces the concept on all levels, especially in the deranged Motley and the phenomenon of the Remade. Mieville's world is overrun with strange forces of chaos that foster unity and disunity at will, and this allows him an excuse to set his imagination loose, filling the hundreds of pages with strange constructs (pun intended, don't even try to guess what this means if you haven't read the book), macabre creations of darkness and light, and the occasional non sequitur irrationality ala Douglas Adams. It is a world where eldritch realms share space with the physical and phantasmorgic entities roam before an incredulous science. Despite this seemingly fantastic realm, however, Mieville's characters are real and tangible, with real lives, insecurities, and attachments. And many of Mieville's ideas have real-world relevance, being metaphors of such issues as homosexuality, ethics in industry, and the dangers of unrestrained advancement.

All in all, Perdido Street Station is a testament to the power of grotesquerie and an unrestrained imagination. While I have yet to finish the book, its been a jolly disgusting ride through much filth and excitement.

1 comment:

~autolycus said...

You forgot Iain Banks, Lord Dunsany, George MacDonald, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Brian Aldiss, Arthur C Clarke, and that grand old man of the baroque, Michael Moorcock. The sad thing is that Brit F&SF has always been undersold while being the most wonderful heir of the continental Gothic tradition.