Perdido Street Station
- Media: #Books #Books 2020
"Constructs that tell tales; earthbound garuda; reporters who make the news; criminal scientists and scientific criminals."
In a disgusting, Dickensian weird fantasy city, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. A misfit band of a wingless garuda (bird man), the outcast scientist he hired, his part-beetle artist girlfriend, a criminal contact, underground reporter, and rotating cast of tag-a-longs spend the first 30% of the book doing not much of anything until a monstrous dream-eating moth breaks loose and turns their world upside down.
SPOILERS Now on the run thanks to letting the brain-sucking moth escape (and free its kin which now torment the city), the scientist and his friends/paid associates bump from one terrible mishap to the next, including:
- Seeing many brains sucked out by moths and Lin (scientist's girlfriend) captured by her mob boss patron (presumed dead).
- Befriending(?) an interdimensional spider-godling.
- Teaming up with a hive-mind of intelligent constructs with ulterior motives (who end up not really being a huge help after all).
- Tracking the moths back to the huge greenhouse where the cactus people live and sneaking in only to get most of the party killed.
- Double-crossing the robots and setting up a new energy engine/murder device which kills the moths while sucking out the brain of an unfortunate they kidnapped (I am still unclear on how this worked).
- Finding Lin (not dead after all) only for her to be partially brain-drained by the last moth, rendering her permanently handicapped.
- Double-crossing the wingless garuda after discovering the truth about the crime that stripped him of flight and fleeing the city as wanted fugitives.
So yeah, all good fun. /END SPOILERS
- Disgust and miserableness
- Morality and impossible choices
- Systematic evils and oppression
The first Miéville book I read was The City and the City, which I enjoyed and adored the worldbuilding so expected Perdido Street Station to be more or the same but with even more fascinating ideas. Little did I know, Miéville is an impressive master of style and The City and the City drew from terse noir mysteries while Perdido is more like Mervin Peake meets Dickens on LSD.
Things I loved...
- There are some brilliant ideas here. Some of the concepts barely mentioned in a throwaway conversation would be enough to write a whole story around. See the Scrapbook concepts section below for some of my favourite examples.
- Once the story finally manifested, the team of monster hunters vs secret police was fun, especially when using the unique setting elements to the max (ex: the Glasshouse ambush).
- The sections from the POV of the evil government were actually some of my favourites (meeting with Hell's ambassador in particular). I would read a whole story like this, showing things from the bad guy administrators and seeing the protaginist's actions through their responses. Wish it happened more.
- Fair play for exploring ordinary people turned criminal heroes in a terrible fantasy system who beat the monsters but a) get zero recognition, b) don't topple the evil government, and c) are forced to flee for their lives and lose basically everything.
Things I didn't...
- That said, man, what a massive downer. Sorry but I like happy endings. You can say it's more realistic but we are talking about stories with spider-gods, cactus people, and brain-sucking moths. It wouldn't be such an issue but the book is also looooooong so prepare for maximum miserableness.
- When I say maximum miserableness I mean Perdido felt like a weird fantasy version of Dickens' England. I imagine this is intentional as it captures the same emphasis on misfortune, injustice, and heightened levels of repulsiveness and general disgustingness of the city. However by about halfway I found the overall miserableness so repetitive and reinforced on every level (the actions, prose, and story) that it began to lose any kind of impact and almost reach comical proportions. Perhaps that was intentional too, but I'm not sure, because I felt it became so drawn out at the end that the moral dilemmas didn't hit as hard as they potentially could.
- "Lin felt vertiginous" is the most concise sentence I could find in Perdido. Purple prose does not begin to describe the descriptions. I highly recommend reading on an e-reader with a dictionary function or you will lose hours looking up words (or save the bother and assume they all mean something visceral disorientating, and/or slimy). This is not necessarily a bad thing but in such a long book, it went past atmosphere and into repetitiveness.
- Speaking of Lin (the scientist's girlfriend), she felt utterly wasted. The scientist would have been a great side character but ends up being the main perspective we get as soon as Lin disappears.
- Nothing much happens for the first 30% of the book (city + character exposition, yes, plot progression, no) so you have to really commit.
I liked the ideas but not the wrappings. I feel like if it was shorter and less overly dramatic in parts I could have gotten into it more. Instead, most of the passing elements and alternate POVs felt more interesting than the main storyline for the first 50% or so. That said, changing those could ruin part of the magic.
Overall, I think it's more of a case of not being a book for me. If I'm going to spend 10+ hours reading something, I'd rather it's not a such a downer. B-Cage of Souls is more my speed, packing all the conceptual brilliance but with a note of hope. However the weird fantasy meets depressingly realistic is a great concept and framing device for exploring society. If that sounds like it might be your thing, Perdido Street Station is worth a try.
- "This is what makes the world, Ms Lin. I believe this to be the fundamental dynamic. Transition. The point where one thing becomes another. It is what makes you, the city, the world, what they are. And that is the theme I’m interested in. The zone where the disparate become part of the whole. The hybrid zone."
- "That’s concrete individuality: an individuality that recognizes that it owes its existence to a kind of communal respect on the part of all the other individualities, and that it had better therefore respect them similarly."
- "The freakshow brought out the voyeur in the populace and the hypocrisy in the gentry."
- "The sea of dreams in which he swam, Isaac realized, contained drops from very far afield."
- "It was policing by decentralized fear."
- "Perhaps I turn too quickly to things from which I would once have recoiled. It is … hard … being between worlds … being of no world. But you have made me remember what I have always known."
- Some other intelligence has made these human streets their own.
- "New Crobuzon was a huge plague pit, a morbific city. Parasites, infection and rumour were uncontainable" --> Rumours as a contagion #magic
- "Oozing obscenely over the top of the Flyside tower was a half-inflated dirigible" #locations
- the River Tar #locations
- "Prisons and torture-chambers and workshops, and their bastard hybrids, the punishment factories, where the condemned were Remade." #locations
- Beetle town remade with mucus #locations
- "The slop from failed experiments, from factories and laboratories and alchymists’ dens, mixed randomly into bastard elixirs. In Brock Marsh, the water had unpredictable qualities. Young mudlarks searching the river quag for scrap had been known to step into some discoloured patch of mud and start speaking long-dead languages, or find locusts in their hair, or fade slowly to translucency and disappear." --> Rivers through the scientific quarter with strange effects #locations
- The Ribs of some leviathan emerging from ground. Houses built around them but nothing can be built inside them. #locations
- the Inchmen #creatures #factions
- The nomadic library of a flying, travelling people #locations
- "Golems thrown together by drunken students beat mindlessly through the sky on clumsy wings made of leather or paper or fruit-rind, falling apart as they flew." #creatures
- "Crematoria vented into the airborne ashes of wills burnt by jealous executors, which mixed with coaldust burnt to keep dying lovers warm." --> IDEA: Crematoria fume ghost wraiths the size of a city. One hive mind #creatures #undead
- "The architect had been incarcerated, quite mad, seven years after Perdido Street Station was completed. He was a heretic, it was said, intent on building his own god."
- "Shops and torture chambers and workshops and offices and empty spaces all stuffed the fat belly of the building," #locations
- "The Dweomers That Live Above The Clouds And What They Can Tell Us." --> read as 'the drowners who live above' #fragments
- The Moon’s Daughters #creatures
- Red Kate, pub proprieter for city's bohemians (artists to rogue scientists and junkie informants) #characters
- Wind-rhino #creatures
- "It appealed to Isaac’s sense of humour to think of the hardest elements of the city’s underworld earnestly scrabbling for birds and butterflies in between their gang-fights and drugs deals." #adventures #fragments
- the LIVING SKULL #creatures #characters
- the man-king of the Bears #creatures
- the STONE MEN of Bezhek --> IDEA: literal stones? Live in a different time from us, like Ents but a million times slower #creatures
- scarabomancer - Beetle fortune teller #characters
- eyes that spasmed and lived in jars of charged liquid #creatures
- intricate, infinitesimal paintings on ladybirds’ backs, visible only through magnifying lenses #fragments
- "rubbing his moaning bones." --> Moaning bones #undead #creatures #magic
- "White-clad scientists moved through the maze between the blocks of glass like spirits in a ruin, taking notes, observing, pacifying and tormenting the cages’ inhabitants." --> Imagine ruins of a zoo #locations
- the Eyespy Killer strikes in Smog Bend. Another eyeless victim was fished from the river. #characters #creatures
- Jack Half-a-Prayer #characters #creatures
- "The water boiled with submersibles carved from great nautili shells." #locations #details
- a fell-moth #creatures
- "He dreamed that he dreamed other people’s dreams, and realized that his dream was true. All he could do was try, with a febrile, terrified intensity, to remember which of the dreams was his own." --> Drug which makes you see torrent snapshots of others dreams. Made from creature which stole/sucked up those dreams #magic #creatures
- "The sea of dreams in which he swam, Isaac realized, contained drops from very far afield."
- The cactus city #locations
- The many-named town #locations
- Old engines to control weather over city now broken for 50 years #details
- Troglodopolis #locations
- A city ruled by witches #locations
- a chthonic burrow #locations #undead
- Very-tea (drug) house in Chimer's end #locations
- Ma Francine, rival crime boss to Mr Motley #characters
- Their daughters did not know what it was they fled, only that their dying broodmas had all bade them go west, and never to turn the wheel. #creatures
- "They had a go at an autopsy, but those horns in its stomach weren’t dead, even though the rest of it was. They fought back, nearly killed the biologist." #creatures
- the cockroach-tree #creatures
- "pieces of the scientist’s body were disappearing every night. No blood, no pain, just … smooth holes in her abdomen or arm or whatever. She killed herself." #mystery
- abyssonauts #characters #creatures #factions
- "‘His Infernal Excellency,’ he declared, ‘the ambassador of Hell.’" #characters #creatures
- "The ambassador had an echo: half a second after he spoke his words were repeated in the appalling shriek of one undergoing torture. The screamed words were not loud." "That “echo”, I believe, was actually spoken first. The … eloquent words we heard from the ambassador’s mouth … those were the real echoes. Those were the twisted reflections.’" #fragments
- "That’s why he wouldn’t come to our aid. That’s why we’re on our own. Because the dæmons are afraid of what we’re hunting.’" #creatures #fragments
- Giant flying man-o-war/jellyfish, huge dangling stingers paralysing those below #creatures
- The central sac was about ten feet in diameter. Each of the creatures had a human rider, visible in a harness sutured to the corpulent body. Below each such body was a thicket of dangling tentacles, ribbons of blistered flesh that stretched the forty or so feet to the ground. The creatures’ pinky-purple flesh throbbed regularly like beating hearts.
- "The voice that emerged from the hissing mouthparts was monotonous, but quite clear. ‘Benjamin Flex, please give your verbal or written assent to accompany myself and other officers of the New Crobuzon militia to a place of our choosing for the purposes of interview and intelligence gathering.’ The militiaman slammed Ben against the wall, hard, eliciting an explosive burst of breath and an unintelligible bark. ‘Assent so noticed in presence of myself and two witnesses,’ the officer responded. ‘Aye?’" #scene
- "Benjamin looked up into the man’s face and saw his own. The man wore a mask of perfectly smooth, rounded mirror, a convex lens that sent Benjamin’s distorted face back at him." #details
- "On every wall, scissors were attached in bizarre designs. Scissors chased each other like predatory fish; they sported on the ceiling; they coiled around and through each other in convoluted, unsettling geometric designs." #rooms
- "They did not eat physical food: they seemed to subsist on the appreciation of beauty – a beauty unrecognized by humans or other denizens of the mundane plane." #creatures #fragments
- An epidemic of nightmares #mystery #magic
- Interdimensional weaver spiders --> "Their spinnerets had become specialized extradimensional glands that Wove patterns in with the world. The world which was, for them, a web. Old stories told how Weavers would kill each other over aesthetic disagreements, such as whether it was prettier to destroy an army of a thousand men or to leave it be, or whether a particular dandelion should or should not be plucked. For a Weaver, to think was to think aesthetically" #creatures
- The Fractured Land #locations #worlds
- "‘Wings – of unstable dimensions and shapes, beating as they do in various planes" #creatures #fragments
- "Isaac’s shirt was half undone, and Vermishank plunged his right hand through the uncovered flesh below Isaac’s neck. Isaac bellowed in rage and pain as his tissue gave like thick clay. It became malleable under Vermishank’s trained hands." --> flesh magic #magic
- "‘What about the ears?’ asked Stem-Fulcher. ‘I have no idea!’ shouted Rudgutter. ‘It made the web prettier! Obviously! So now we have twenty terrified, one-eared militia in the infirmary!’" --> Monster which took ears #mystery #creatures
- "An exhibition was being planned: Dispatches from a Troubled City."
- "The nightmares were splitting the membrane of sleep. They were spilling into the everyday, haunting the sunlit realm, drying conversations in the throat and stealing friends away."
- "‘Brock Marsh sewers, for example. All the unstable runoff from all those labs and experiments, accumulating over the years … makes for a very unpredictable population of vermin. Rats the size of pigs, speaking in tongues. Blind pygmy crocodiles" --> Sewers beneath scientific quarter #locations
- "‘Over in Gross Coil and Skulkford the city’s sitting on layers of older buildings. For hundreds of years they sank into the mire, and they’d just build new ones on top of them. The pavement’s only been solid there for a hundred and fifty years. Over there, the sewers feed into old basements and bedrooms. The tunnels like this one lead into submerged streets. You can still see the road names. Rotten houses under a brick sky." #locations
- "There was no word from the Kinken headquarters of Ma Francine’s Sugardrop Gang. The internal war of succession had doubtless begun." #factions
- "Clamped to his neck was what looked like a human right hand. The skin was livid purple. At the wrist, the flesh of the thing tapered quickly into a foot-long tail like a snake’s. The tail was wound around Rescue’s neck, its tip embedded under his skin, pulsating wetly." #creatures
- "People said that handlingers were the spirits of the spiteful dead. That they were a punishment for sin. That if a murderer committed suicide, their guilty hands would twitch and stretch, snap the rotting skin and crawl away, that that was how handlingers were born." #creatures #undead
- "His skull had been sheered cleanly in two just above his eyes. The top was completely gone. There was a little fringe of congealed blood below the cut. From the wet hollow inside the man’s head snaked a twisting cable, two fingers thick." Body/puppet being used as voice/avatar of giant immobile construct AI #creatures
- ‘Welcome all,’ he said in his quivering voice, ‘to the Construct Council.’ ‘Each construct that is brought into the fold of me becomes I,’ said the man. ‘I am the Council. Every experience is downloaded and shared. #factions
- "‘I do not dream, der Grimnebulin. I am a calculating machine that has calculated how to think." Team up with robots to fight dream eaters #adventures #factions
- "a taciturn Remade human whose left arm had been replaced with an unruly python that he fought to quieten" #creatures #characters
- "Their heads had been twisted around in a half-circle, until they gazed out from their own backs over a twisted, painful-looking neck." #creatures
- "Then quite suddenly, his fingers began to glow from within, as if the bones were illuminated."
- Giant Glasshouse in the city, for cactacae people. No one else allowed in. Heist at the pyramid in the centre #adventures #locations
- Amphibious character bonded with elemental so they can survive on dry land longer #characters #creatures
- Some [boats] they avoided, whispering that they were the homes of monsters, the lairs of the drowned who would not accept that they were dead, even as they rotted. #locations #creatures
- "Three centuries previously, it had been a grandiose resthome for the insane rich" #locations
- Dark Water Station #locations
- "They had to drag me the last twenty feet, into the dried-up bed of the Ghost River." #locations