“Perdido Street Station” by China Miéville; a Review

October 24th, 2004

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

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In my many re-readings of Tolkein, I have come to learn that what I enjoy most about that master’s writing is the full, intricate, and detailed world that he creates, with its own physics, biology, cultures, and mythology. Miéville strives to create such a world, similar to, but divergent and different from our own. It takes place on a world where the moon has two moons of its own, separating it spatially from our own Earth, though temporally it could be in the future or, like Lucas’s “Star Wars” world, “Long ago and far away.” Miéville’s world is rich with sites, sounds and smells, as well as physical laws which depend on other “thautamageric” energies, unknown to us. I thoroughly enjoy the literary exploration of New Corizon, the city-state central to the story.

One of the central plot-lines of “Perdido Street Station” surrounds scientific discovery and research of a “crisis energy”. The science and technology in the world strongly resembles that of “The Princess Bride”, with steam and tubes and circuits that pass other currents than our familiar electrical ones. This research, along with the changing problems that necessitate its research are what drives the story forward. This is where I find a great lack in the book. The story goes forward, several sub plots make nice points about love and loss and how that crosses species/racial-divides. Also, warnings/danger of human-made artificial sentience are made, as well as warnings of the repressions of freedoms. While these are all well and good, the central theme/plot of the story seems just to move the book along without saying much of its own, leaving the reader with something of an empty shell of a theme. To quote from an anonymous post on the Slashdot news site:

“The technology in science fiction is a means to an end, not the end itself. The technology serves the purpose of the plot, not the other way around. Thus its existence is dictated by the plot, and whether or not it is truly predictive of future trends is largely immaterial. Good science fiction generally only tackles a few disruptive ideas at a time, and the rest of the backfiller is just to maintain a suitably futuristic atmosphere.”

– http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=118057&cid=9977560

As opposed to exploring what good or bad could come of the situation and/or technology described in such detail by the central plot-lines, Miéville seems to just use this whole central apparatus as a means to put the protagonists in contact with all of the various sub-characters, who actually provoke some thought. These individual pieces are nice and well done (especially everything involving Remaking), but taken as a whole, they felt scattered and unfocused. It seems as though Miéville was attempting to tackle every problem he could thing of, but in the end he only provides a brief mention of all, and doesn’t delve deep enough into any to provide it enough depth for full thought and consideration.

I really wanted to like “Perdido Street Station”, but in the end it just felt too hollow.

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