Perdido Street Station
May 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
I can’t say it wasn’t refreshing to dive back into genre fiction. After the long slog of The House of the Spirits, the bleak concerns underlying The Sound and the Fury’s stylistic verve, and both books’ Dysfunctional Family cores–well! It is nice to read a story where “X fucked Y” isn’t a central plot point and in its place a bunch of ridiculous exciting stuff happens. Perdido Street Station‘s a whirlwind of Zippy Genre Shit. Monsters! Fake-science-magic! Alien species! Giant computer hiveminds!
It’s also a total hot mess.
This is my first trip with Mieville. Dang, his imagination is great. I often say stuff about sci-fi/fantasy authors like “I respect how much work and time went into this created world” but find the creations themselves sort of plodding–not the case here! It’s all so cool.
I could just throw out any one of dozens of details from Perdido Street Station and you’d be intrigued. From the species to the multitudinous religions, the legal systems, the subcultures born of colorful species-class-interest clashing–and this is all contained within one patch of urban sprawl: the steampunk-flavored vaguely Londonish Class-A Gritty Metropolis of New Crobuzon. So many clever spins on old tropes. So many delicious short scene-concepts. Like, there’s this one part where the corrupt government summons an ambassador from Hell with a synthetic sacrifice which apparently they do on the regular to solve problems, because they need some help with the horrible consciousness-eating moth species ravaging the city, only the hell-spawn guy is like “yeah no those things are way too scary for us, whoops is that the time” and it’s really funny and there’s this anthropomorphic insect species that makes art out of their own spit only usually it’s communal except a character’s all “I’m gonna do my OWN spit-art, stick it to the MAN” and thus is part of a total hipster art collective, and–
These are the kinds of things I gleefully gushed about when I was reading Perdido Street Station. The problem is, there’s just too much.
The prose reflects the problem. It’s a lot of fun, albeit Peake-esque to a fault and veering towards unnecessarily purple as it revels in how Yucky and Dark and Not Tolkien-Derivative its visuals are. I shouldn’t recognize you overusing a word like ‘ooze’. It’s smart, though, and…I don’t know how to put it? Dynamic. It makes me want to read more by Mieville because maybe in a story with less excess baggage I could roll around in the indulgent vocabulary without hesitation. I mean, like. Not every book needs its author to be Hemingway. Sometimes you just gotta drape a shimmering costume-shop cloak of adjectives and trash over the bones of your plot and send it to the nightmare ball.
But sentences overcrowded with flashy language can be distracted when your setting is overcrowded with details you don’t use later and your plot is overcrowded with characters and subplots that go nowhere. My feeling is that you can throw in a lot just because Oh Dang That Would Be Awesome, but once the Awesome Things reach a critically irrelevant mass you have to hit pause. Otherwise the story runs the risk of feeling like a theme park ride instead of a book–or, worse, some kind of sightseeing tour where the author steps in to tell you the history and depth and calamity of this place they made up even while you’re checking your watch and going “weren’t we getting to the climax?” Perdido Street Station also has a bit of the disease afflicting a lot of (admittedly, less interesting) genre texts where it’s so determined to ditch the old-style grandeur of high fantasy or cool abstraction of revered sci-fi that it just goes on and on about how gross everything is? Granted, that’s a horror staple too, but it…belabors the point. Like. A lot.
The plot is pretty simple, which is fine and good. There are actually two plots, though (somewhat awkwardly) the second overtakes the first at about the 1/3 mark and brings a storm of subplots with it so that you only remember the first in, like, the last six pages.
Plot #1: Y is paying me (the protagonist) to do something for him (give him back the ability to fly) so I have to figure out how.
Plot #2: WHOOPS I ACCIDENTALLY UNLEASHED HORRIBLE GIANT CONSCIOUSNESS-DEVOURING MOTHS ON THE CITY LOL
The resolution to Plot #2 is suspenseful and great and something I’d love to see on film, honestly. It kills off most of the ensemble cast (my favorite character, Protagonist’s Girlfriend, is technically alive at the end but has also basically been fridged twice) in the fray but was A Nice Romp. Plot #1 gets picked up in the aftermath, when a character we never met before flies in from Y’s desert hometown and informs Our Hero that Y’s wings were removed as punishment for a crime.
What was the crime? Well, remember what I said last week after I finished The House of the Spirits?
I mean, OK. We didn’t see the rape this time, and there was only one, and it’s not rewarded or forgiven–the hero is like “oh, wow, uh, damn, I can’t really help this character in good conscience anymore so I’ll just leave him a note and head off to my bleak future on the run with the other surviving cast member and my lobotomized girlfriend”. It’s one weird note to end on, though. Isaac and Yagharek’s cautious, slow-burn interspecies sort-of-kinda-friendship was one of the most interesting character dynamics in the book for me, so I was pretty disappointed to find out Yagharek had been a rapist the whole time. We get a mini-flashback from Yagharek before the book ends, recounting how he wanted to marry this person but she wanted to marry someone else and so naturally he got so mad and it was thus Rape O’Clock and heeeeeeeeeeeeeere we goooooooooo again.
After I finished Perdido Street Station I read Lolita Files’ sex.lies.murder.fame, which is ridiculous airport fare and stars two women manipulated into falling in love with a sociopath on his road to stardom. He murders them both after they learn the truth, escapes justice, and is set at the end of the book to make like billions of dollars. But all the sex was totally consensual! So I guess that’s something. Wow. …Maybe I’ll just go watch Mad Max: Fury Road again.