Wednesday, May 10, 2006

China Miéville: Perdido Street Station

Strange, powerful book. I didn't notice till I finished it that it was 600 pages long. Very dark, foreboding imagery; China Miéville constantly describes how grimy the city is, and how poor the inhabitants are.

The story is a strange combination of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Many kinds of magic run loose. The main character, Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, is a proto-scientist, testing hypotheses, trying different approaches to control the forces he's beginning to understand, and consulting with other experts to share what he's learned and see what they know that might be relevant to his project. There are so many kinds of magic that anything is possible, but Miéville manages to keep most of it as a side show, and the magics that are crucial to the plot are kept under tight dramatic control. Every significant plot twist is plausible based on what we're shown of the powers of the magic beforehand.

The city and its inhabitants are endlessly fascinating. There are 4 or 5 major races, with multitudes of variations, since one of the magics is bio-thaumaturgy, the ability to remake living flesh into different forms. A short catalog of types: humans, garuda (half eagle, half man), vodyanoi (creatures of the water, who can mold living water so it will hold a shape), handlingers (paired parasites with psychic communication and flight), khepri (an arthropod/insect), mobile intelligent cactuses, an actual demon from hell, a meta spider (walking the world's causal web), wyrmen (diminutive, intelligent, communicative flyers), self-aware machines and the humans who worship them, and over them all, slake moths.

The slake moths are the scariest of all: nearly invincible; feeding on a victim's dreams and leaving a zombie behind; able to mesmerise practically anything that's aware. Perdido Street Station is the story of how the slake moths were brought to the city and accidentally released and the struggle to contain or kill them.

There are several back stories, nearly all crawling with depravity, but the one that drives the main story tells of Yagharek, a garuda, punished for the crime of choice theft (preventing another from making choices) who asks for help from der Grimnebulin. In his investigations, der Grimnebulin accidently unleashes the slake moths, and goes to great lengths to contain them. In the final struggle , after the crisis has passed, der Grimnebulin is confronted by Yagharek's victiim, who tells der Grimnebulin what Yagharek has done and asks him to uphold the verdict against him. It feels like a rude shock, pulling us back to an unexplored conflict from the beginning of the book. But the intercalary chapters have explored Yagharek's angst all along, hinting that this was the important substance of the story, and the starker danger of the slake moths was only a distraction.

1 comment:

natalie_eve said...

I own this book, but I never finished it. I remember it being that creepy.

I really need to finish it.