Perdido Street Station is set in New Crobuzon, a decadent and polluted city in a Gothic fantasy world run by steam punk technology. There is eccentric technology in the form of coal powered robots called constructs which coexist with thaumaturgy, a form of magic. This world is populated by humans and all sorts of other sentient beings inspired by world mythology. There is also a class of outcasts called the Remade, criminals who pay the penalty of being remade with bits and pieces of humans, animals and machines. The city is ruled by a bunch of insecure despots who run a police state akin to the one in Orwell’s 1984. In the midst of all of this is Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, an overweight rogue scientist. His lover, Lin, is a Khepri, who are red bodied artistically inclined beings who have scarab beetles instead of heads. Issac is approached by Yagharak, a Garuda who wishes to fly again after having his wings chopped off as a consequence of a crime he commits. In attempting to figure out a solution, Issac begins an intensive study of flying creatures. He acquires a strange multicoloured grub which grows up to become a consciousness sucking monster called a slake moth. The moth escapes and frees four more of its kind and thus starts a reign of queasy, sleepless terror over New Crobuzon. The rest of the book is pretty much about Issac and his friends hunting the moths and in turn being hunted by the moths, the city’s militia and a bunch of gangsters.
Perdido Street Station is an engrossing work and completely unlike any fantasy I have read before. Miéville doesn’t shy away from language that evokes the ugliness and peculiarity of the world he has created. For instance, he leaves us in no doubt as to the fact that the city smells pretty much like shit and the descriptions of inter-species sex were really something else. Unfortunately, there are too many sub-plots, the writing is too dense and there are far too many dead ends. At 640 pages, it’s also a tad long. All in all, Perdido Street Station makes for a bizarre and off-beat diversion but it doesn’t make me hungry for any more of Miéville’s madness.
Miéville was in Bombay this month as part of the British Council's LitSutra Events about which I had written an earlier post which you can read here.