Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree: Perdido Street Station

A long, long while ago it seems I had this crazy notion of doing a "literature" segment for this blog. I'm a writer and an avid reader, so it makes a lot of sense, right? But since that fateful post about William Gibson's Zero History, it would appear that I haven't really lived up to the end of the bargain I made. It's quite shocking really, when you consider in the two months of not having a computer to call my own I managed to read six books. Compared to the reading rates of many of my friends, this is nothing. But given how much time I usually have/allow to sit around and read, this is quite the achievement.

Oh, but I did manage to hold up to one end of the bargain. It may not be quite summer, but the weather has turned sufficiently sunny to warrant an alteration to the segment's name from "Curled Up Next to the Fire" to "Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree". As seasonal changes go, I think that's a pretty good metaphor.

Anyway, I think it's time to stop babbling about nothing in particular and babble about the specific subject of this entry: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville.

I first came to China Miéville's work with his 2009 novel The City & The City. It was weird, it was wonderful, it is definitely one of those books I'll have to read a second time to see if I can fully grasp all the concepts. It set up a good precedent for future enjoyment of Miéville's work. I can't remember entirely upon what whim I purchased Perdido Street Station, but purchase it I did and after finishing The Hobbit about a month ago and with the promise of the boxset of the entire (so far) Song of Ice and Fire series arriving sometime soon (though now delayed until July), I decided it was time to tackle the 867 page monster of a book in my nice stack of books to read.

And at about half one in the morning, I finally finished it.

Now I'll admit, I found it a bit of a slow-burn. Around halfway through the book, the plot really kicks in and some pretty terrifying monsters are unleashed. But regardless of this, Perdido Street Station is something of an astounding beauty. And for me, it's not actually the characters who stand out - though there are some pretty damn awesome ones in there - but the setting of the novel, New Crobuzon.

Miéville has this incredible way of world-building, where it's almost like the city isn't just a backdrop, but an entire character unto itself. New Crobuzon is this decaying, polluted, steampunk nightmare, populated by people who drift through, carrying on with lives that continue to pollute and stain their city, seemingly uncaring about the consequences, like they've reached such a level of trash and degradation that they're no longer choking on the toxic atmosphere - physical and metaphorical - and instead surrendering themselves to the reality of breathing deep for the rest of their days.

Running through this incredible character are equally incredible races - your bog-standard humans, water-dwelling vodyanoi, insect-headed khepri, the list goes on and on and to say much more would be to risk spoilers. And I don't want to risk spoilers here. Perdido Street Station was a fantastic journey, a novel that subtly drew me in then - at that halfway point I mentioned - sucker-punched me in the gut and ran off, knowing I had no choice but to run after it, crash-tackle it to the ground and keep reading to find out what the frak was going to happen next. Thus I must not say much more, since you must go out, buy this book, read and be astounded by it as I am. And also, take heart in the fact that it's not the last you'll hear of New Crobuzon or its fantastical setting of Bas-Lag. Perdido Street Station was merely the first in a trilogy. When I'm through my big stack of reading (including the imminent arrival of Song of Ice and Fire), I will be obtaining The Scar, book two. Might even risk reading a blurb about it now, since I didn't want to know what it might be about in case it gave away the fate of any of the characters.

At this point, I fear I am saying too much and skirting ever-closer to the dangerous spoiler line. And since it's now quarter past two in the morning, it's probably time for me to adjourn for the night, impressed that I managed to maintain a coherent flow of writing at this hour of the day.

So, in parting, go out and buy Perdido Street Station. It's brilliant.

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