Friday, August 11, 2006

Lisa's Take: Perdido Street Station (China Mieville)

While we're on the topic of Portly Protagonists, let's talk a little about Isaac. Isaac is a tubby, middle aged, generally brilliant Jack-Of-All-Trades (not to be confused with Jack Half a Prayer) scientist. Did you follow all that? If not, don’t worry – the prose in China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station will more than make up for it. Seriously, go read it right this minute. Shake your head at the early bewilderment – because you will be bewildered, beguiled and bewitched, but it’s worth it.

My apologies; my enthusiasm over this book as quickly derailed me – let me start again. Isaac is a scientist in the fantastical city of New Crobuzon. Estranged from his University companions he dabbles in any interesting subject that comes his way: Vodyanoi watercraft, Garuda flight mechanics, and his own area of focus: Crisis energy. Perdido Street Station follows Isaac and his companions as an experiment grown out of proportion threatens to destroy the populace of New Crobuzon.

How does one characterize a novel as diverse as this? Mieville’s work spans more genres than any description can adequately do justice, but I suppose you can come close by calling it Sci-Fan-Hor. Oh, or maybe Fan-Sci-Horror, so it sort of sounds like Fancy Horror. Yeah, I like that. Mix in a little mystery and some serious suspense, and you have one of the most well crafted novels I’ve ever read. Mieville doesn’t explain things to you – he doesn’t need to. His way with words is such that the sentences spill straight from the page into your imagination and create the most vivid races, places and faces that you’ve never seen before. It will take a little practice – even I will admit that the first 30 or so pages left my head reeling – but once you let yourself sink into it, you’ll never look back.

When’s the best time to read this book, you ask? Well, not when you’re home alone in the dark, I’d say. I would suggest using it to take a break from your regularly scheduled diet of epic fantasy. It’s really damn refreshing to read something that is not only new, but also a single, happy, 500 page story with no loose ends. It doesn’t go on and on and on like some authors we know – you read it, it’s amazing, and you’re done with it; one nice, happy (or not), complete story.

Could there possibly be anything bad about Perdido Street Station? It’s hard for me to say anything bad about Mieville in general, but I’ll knit pick a bit so I sound like I’m not too star-struck. Other than the bit of time it takes to get acclimated to the prose, I wish I had felt a slightly stronger connection to Isaac as a main character. Don’t get me wrong – I ached for him at the right times, was excited at the right times… I just felt like I could have hurt a little more, maybe even cried just a bit. Just a teensy tiny bit more emotion would have done it.

There, see how fair and balanced I am?

Now go consume it. This minute.

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