China Miéville, Perdido Street Station (Pan Macmillan UK, 2000; Del Rey US, 2001)

China Miéville sometimes pisses me off because heís such a phenomenal writer. Heís only three years older than me, but at this point heís written four amazing books, run for Parliament, gotten a Ph.D., briefly attended Harvard, and will be teaching at Clarion West in 2003. Not to mention that Perdido Street Station was shortlisted for the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award, won the British Fantasy Award, and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the highest award given by the British Science Fiction Society and presided over by Sir Arthur himself. Makes me sick.

Perdido Street Station is a mammoth of a novel, as epic in scope as War and Peace, and as filled with urban decay as In Viriconium and Gormenghast, to which he gives props. If you dropped the book on a gerbil, you might well kill it. Itís one of the most complex and fascinating novels out there, shattering all the conventions of secondary-world fantasy. Miéville combines science fiction, fantasy, and horror into a mťlange of something entirely different. He calls it weird fiction.

The story is ultimately about two lovers: a portly renegade scientist named Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, and a bohemian khepri artist named Lin who has the body of a woman but the head of a scarab. They live in the sprawling city-state of New Crobuzon where a strange variety of species co-exist, though not very well. The lovers each accept a commission. Isaac is approached by Yagharek, a bird-man from Cymek whose wings have been torn from his body as the result of the ambiguous choice-theft of another; and Lin is summoned by Mr. Motley, a comprehensively Remade gangster boss who has been synergized with so many organic and mechanical components that he no longer resembles anything human. Yagharek wants to regain his ability to fly; Motley wants a sculpture.

Isaac and Linís assignments inadvertently intertwine and cause problems for everyone. Isaac accidentally nurtures a pupa for the narcotic powder it excretes, and it ends up molting into a monster, a slake-moth like a psychic vampire that terrorizes the city with its brothers. They are taken on a ride by the Weaver, a spider-like god-being that speaks in poetry and is only concerned with the web that interlinks everything in the universe. Corrupt politicians make deals with the devil, who is real.

I wonít lie to you, the book isnít easy to read. Itís dense and complex and has a circuitous plot that sometimes seems completely irrelevant, until you keep reading and find that it is essential. And at 700 pages plus, it requires patience. Itís a lot to take in, and Miéville isnít done yet. The next novel in the Bas-Lag series, The Scar, came out in 2002, and the third novel, Iron Council, is expected in 2004. You obviously enjoy fantasy if youíre even visiting this site; try something different. Read Perdido Street Station. Itíll change the way you think about fantasy, and youíll be recommending it to all your friends before you know it.

[Jason Erik Lundberg]

Find out more about China Miéville at the Runagate Rampant Web site.