"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Perdido Street Station

TITLE: Perdido Street Station
AUTHOR: China Mieville

I feel like I've been reading this book forever, yet it was only a few months and when I reached the end, I wasn't ready to let it go. Fortunately, Mieville has written more books in his fictional realm of New Crobuzon.

I'll admit I'm a slow reader, but this is a long (600 plus paperback pages), densely written story. And Mieville is one of those authors who apparently believes "why use one sentence when four will do." But somehow, he wove together a tapestry of a place where the inhabitants might be human or one of many other species, where science has run amok while being caught somewhere pre-modern. New Crobuzon is an intriguing amalgam of scientific and fantastical elements, part biology, part technology, part magic.

At first glance, the story would seem to be about Isaac, an overweight, out of shape, eccentric scientific genius who takes on the challenge of helping a Garuda regain the ability to fly. The Garuda, a half-bird, half-human creature, had his wings surgically removed as punishment for a crime against his people he refuses to explain to Isaac.

In working on this problem, Isaac seeks to learn all he can about flight, which leads him to gain possession of a mysterious and rather large caterpillar that undergoes a most startling metamorphosis that threatens the city and lives of all its inhabitants, something horrific that lives off people's dreams.

To boil this story down to such a simple synopsis does it a disservice. There's so much more going on, with many characters in different situations, from Isaac and his friends to the Mayor and his minions, from some fearful interdimensional creatures to an artificial intelligence seeking to control all, all recognizing and trying to destroy the evil that has taken over the city.

To read this book is to invest time and energy, but the effort will be worth it. Mieville's imagination has amazing range and his story touches all the emotions while covering many themes. Corruption. Naivete. Bigotry. Alien cultures. Xenophobia. Irresponsible science. Evil. Cruelty. The biological urge for survival. Hope. Perseverance. All come into play. And by the end of the book, I realized this wasn't really Isaac's story. It was the Garuda's, after all.