Pith Helmet

Review: Mieville, China. Perdido Street Station. 2000. New York: DelRey, 2003.
April 28, 2007, 8:45 am
Filed under: Books

Mieville, China. Perdido Street Station. 2000. New York: DelRey, 2003.

As someone who cut my literary teeth on J. R. R. Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, and Robert E. Howard, I don’t like most of the stuff that lands in the sci-fi/fantasy ghetto at the local Books-A-Million. For one thing, I’ve noticed that the back covers of many fantasy novels claim that the works are “original fantasy” novels, but really they are nothing more than Middle Earth retreads. The Tolkien replicant phenomenon is so widespread that it has even inspired the title of one of my favorite web comics: “My Elves Are Different.”

Fortunately, after years of dodging Wheel of Time-style megatomes, those books Harlan Ellison called “puthy-cat novels,” and the Pern novels, even when rewritten by teenagers, I ran across China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. I can safely state, without reservation, that it is the best fantasy novel I’ve read since I last shelved The Citadel of The Autarch.

Mieville’s true talent lies in giving the reader a sense of the place it in which the story is set: the city of New Crobuzan in the world known as Bas-Lag. For anyone who has ever DMed a roleplaying game, this is the novel for you. Mieville masters the art of world-building. For one thing, his world is not the tired, old Middle Ages with magic in which most fantasy novelists love to imprison their characters. New Crobuzan is a sprawling metropolis that has more in common with Dickensian London or Peake’s Gormenghast than it does with Middle Earth or Narnia. Here one can find dirigibles, thaumaturges, robots (better known as Constructs), and militia officers armed with flintlocks. The world is inhabited by run-of-the-mill humans along with the xenian races: the bug-like khepri, the bird-like garuda, and the cactus-like cacatae.

While Tolkien’s novels reflect his understanding of linguistics, Mieville’s novel shows him as the renaissance man that his academic credentials indicate that he is. Not only does he develop his world through imagination and an attention to detail, but also through developing entirely new fields of study: everything from crisis physics to garuda legal theory.

Another attribute to which Bas-Lag owes its richness is Mieville’s character development. Probably the most character development ever given to dwarves was when Walt Disney & Co. gave birth to Dopey, Happy, Bashful, and the gang. Before and after Snow White & The Seven Dwarves, every Gloin hasn’t been that much different from Gimli, who himself hasn’t been that different from Thorin. Mieville avoids the elf-good, orc-bad trap that many fantasy writers fall prey too. He gives his xenians (demi-humans to you D&D types) actual personality.

His characters don’t just face a choice between capital “G” Good and capital “E” Evil. They face situations in which there is no right answer, only the best answer.

In short, I highly recommend Perdido Street Station.


Last Train to Miéville
April 27, 2007, 2:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m finishing up Perdido Street Station by my newest favorite author, China Miéville. While digging up information on the wonderful world of Bas-Lag, I ran across an interview in Guardian Unlimited interview in which Miéville divides people into two camps:

“When I was moving into my new house a few years ago we were having all our kitchen stuff delivered and my then-partner got off the phone, turned to me and said ‘the fridge men are coming.’ Now, it seems to me that there are two kinds of people: those that hear that sentence and think ‘oh good, delivery of the white goods’, and then there’s those people who imagine a kind of enormous cyborg thing…”
–China Miéville

This quote reminds me of when I was living in Athens, Georgia in the early nineties. One evening, I heard an urgent knock on my door. It was the apartment maintenance guy. In a voice steeped in Joe Friday gravity, the workman said, “I’m checking on apartments. We’ve got a hot water heater on the loose.” Immediately, I envisioned a five-foot tall gray metal cylinder with flailing copper pipe appendages bouncing up and down the halls of the apartment complex, spraying hot water and wreaking havoc everywhere.

The Guardian Unlimited also lists China Miéville’s top 10 weird fiction

Woohoo! New Gone With The Blastwave!
Episode #34, “Blues R Stupid”, and Episode #35