Perdido Street Station – China Miéville

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 Winner of the 2001 Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 2001 British Fantasy Award. Nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and British Science Fiction awards

When the Booker longlist was announced there was some anger from the science fiction community that China Miéville was excluded from the list. Damien Walter was particularly vocal on Twitter, and so, keen to ensure I wasn’t missing out on a great author, I decided to read one of his books. It was agreed that Perdido Street Station was the best and so I bought a copy. I was a little daunted when a 870 page chunkster dropped through my letter box, but I was still keen to find out why people were raving about this book.

Perdido Street Station began really well, with vivid descriptions of a strange world.

Sil lived and worked and slept in the tub, hauling himself from one end to the other with his huge, webbed hands and frog’s legs, his body wobbling like a bloated testicle, seemingly boneless. He was ancient and fat and grumpy, even for a vodyanoi. He was a bag of old blood with limbs, without a separate head, his big curmudgeonly face poking out from the fat at the front of his body.  

Isaac, the central character, is employed to study winged animals by a secrective creature who has lost his wings. I loved the character development and the imaginative plot – I was hooked for the first half of the book.

Everything started to go wrong at about the 500 page mark. The plot deteriorated into one long chase scene; I became bored by the continual fighting and longed for the thoughtfulness of the beginning to return. The ending was also a disappointment. It was such a shame, as I was really enjoying it.

I can see why this book won so many fantasy awards, but now I know why it didn’t win the Booker, or any other literary fiction prize. This book is beautifully written, but it doesn’t have the depth required for literary fiction. It is an incredible work of imagination, but in the end it lacked enough emotion or depth for me.

Recommended to people who are very passionate about their science fiction, but not to lovers of literary fiction.


Have you read anything written by China Miéville?

I was very intrigued to read that he is planning to write a book in every genre. He is clearly a talented author and so I will read more of his books in the future. I am especially tempted by his latest book  The City & The City,which is described as detective noir novel. Has anyone read it?

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  1. David H says:

    It’s a good eight years since I read Perdido Street Station, but I’d say it is probably one of the greatest works of the imagination published in the last decade — and its raggediness is part of its charm.

    The City & The City is a something of a departure for Miéville, being much more focused. It works as a detection, but there’s also some very interesting interplay between the fantasy and crime fiction genres, as though he’s pushing them against each other to see how far they’ll hold. I’d recommend giving the book a go.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I agree that the imagination required to create this book is outstanding and I can’t think of a more vivid imaginary world (but I haven’t read that much SF)

      I plan to read The City and the City as it sounds very interesting – I love a well written crime novel and I do enjoy mixed genre books. Thank you for letting me know it is worth reading.

  2. Beth F says:

    I love fantasy, but I’m not big on SciFi; thus I haven’t read anything by Miéville. Sorry it didn’t work out for you — 870 pp is a lot to read to end up unsatisfied.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, Yes it was a big read! It took me a long time to get through it all. I loved the first section, but it was sad to find a disappointing ending. I am really pleased that I read it though.

    2. King Rat says:

      None of Mieville’s novels are SciFi with the possible exception of The City and the City. They are all fantasy, just not fantasy of the swords and sorcery form. Mieville has said numerous times he likes to write about monsters. You probably won’t find a better creator of of monsters than Mieville. His books are generally urban, rather than rural. King Rat, for instance, is centered around an underground London where a magical, mythical rat rules.

      1. Jackie says:

        King Rat, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I am not an expert when it comes to science fiction/fantasy, so thank you for correcting me. I struggle to see the difference between the two. Perdido Street Station takes place in a different, imaginary world, so I just assumed it was science fiction. I agree that Mieville creates great monsters – I look forward to reading more of them in the future.

        1. King Rat says:

          I mention it mostly because a person who likes fantasy but isn’t into scifi (as the commenter is) has a better chance of liking Mieville than someone who is hardcore into science fiction. For someone outside of the two genres, the two (mostly rightfully) get lumped together a lot. If you don’t plan to delve into the genre(s), there’s nothing wrong with lumping them together.

          1. claire says:

            Thanks for letting us know about the distinction. I love fantasy but not much of a science fiction reader. I also thought Mieville wrote SF which is why I haven’t picked him up.

    1. Jackie says:

      Tam, Thank you!

  3. Annabel says:

    I’ve got his YA fantasy Un-Lun-dun in my TBR pile – think I’ll start with that. He appears to be one of those authors who divides opinion, it’s always interesting to see which camp one will fall into…

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I’ll be interested to find out whether each book is very different in style. Let me know what you think of Un-Lun-Dun.

  4. the Reader says:

    Sounds like a good read, I’m into my Science Fiction, I just wrote a post on Ender’s Game on my blog. It’s so funny that you called the book an 870 page chunker!

    The Reader

    1. Jackie says:

      the Reader, I have a copy of Ender’s Game high in my TBR pile. I plan to read it soon – I have heard lots of great things about it.

  5. King Rat says:

    I’ve read The City and the City. It’s much more accessible and tightly written than Perdido Street Station or The Scar. The writing style is more Chandler based than fantasy inspired. But the detective part doesn’t really work as well as SFF people generally think it does. It’s not *bad* in that respect; I’ve read lots worse. But it isn’t great crime writing. On the other hand, for creative ways to explore an idea, The City and the City is top notch. Basically, Mieville took the idea of borders and their arbitrary nature and took it to an extreme. I challenge anyone to read the book and not think about how people differ and why we stay in separate places.

    1. Jackie says:

      King Rat, Thank you for letting me know about The City and the City. It appeals more all the time. I love books that promote thought and anyone who pushes boundaries. I’m going to have to ensure I get a copy soon.

      1. David H says:

        “I love…anyone who pushes boundaries.”

        That comment will take on a whole new meaning once you’ve read The City & The City…

        1. Jackie says:

          David, That is what I like to hear!

  6. Trevor says:

    Weird! I was just looking at this today thanks to a recommendation from elsewhere. Thanks to you, I won’t have to go read it :) .

    1. Jackie says:

      Trevor, I’m pleased to be able to help you! I don’t think you’d enjoy this one, but I think The City and the City may be worth a look. I’ll hopefully be able to let you know soon.

  7. Jeanne says:

    I read a lot of SF, but I couldn’t get through Perdido St. Station either, although loved the descriptions of the world in the beginning. By contrast, I absolutely adore his YA novel UnLunDun; it’s a book about books. So I’m going to keep trying the various sorts of things he writes.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeanne, I didn’t realise it was a book about books – I’m going to have to ensure I find a copy now – thank s for letting me know!

  8. cbjames says:

    I tried to read Perdido Station and I tried to read The City and City. I couldn’t do it. It may just be me but I don’t see what the attraction is. Both books left me confused and cold.

    But he does seem to be very popular right now.

    1. Jackie says:

      CBJames, That is interesting – how far into Perdido Street Station did you get? I loved the first section, but felt I could just give up after reading 600 pages of a book.

      1. cbjames says:

        I didn’t get very far into either book, maybe 15 or 20 pages, possibly 30. I did try two different books, but neither worked for me at all.

        I could be just one of those things.

        1. Jackie says:

          cbjames, I loved the descriptions in the first few pages, but I guess that they are very weird and so could be off putting. It took me about 100 pages to become hooked on the story line, but I agree that Perdido Street Station probably isn’t your sort of thing.

  9. I loved Perdido Street Station and The Scar but I am having real difficulty getting through Iron Council. I just finished The City and the City today, and although I AM a fan of both detective fiction (love Ian Rankin) and science fiction (Peter F. Hamilton, other Mieville, Dan Simmons, etc) I don’t think this latest Mieville novel _works_.

    I am shocked that someone found Perdido Street Station boring after page 500—I could not put the sucked down.It’s completely suspenseful at that point!

    The Scar is probably even better, but I could see that beinga more difficult book to get into. It’s really NOT a New Crobuzon-book, since most of the book takes place away from the City-State.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mad Professah, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I can see why you’d be surprised that someone would get bored at the 500 page mark – because that is where the action all starts to take place, but I’m not a fan of action. I find endless chase scenes dull. I enjoy complex, imaginative plots – not predictable fights.

      The fact that a real Perdido Street Station fan didn’t enjoy The City and the City makes me think that it might be the sort of thing I’d like – they seem to cater to different reading tastes.

      Thank for the thoughtful comment!

  10. Ah, I found your Perdido Street Station review! Again, I haven’t read Perdido, but I will say that while The City & The City isn’t saturated with emotion, it does have it. The main character, the detective, entangles two fellow cops in his quest to solve the case. As they all risk their careers, if not their lives, to find the answers, there develops a bond between them that was palpable, at least to me. Also the book is thoughtful throughout – I sensed no major narrative or tonal break from the beginning to the end. I was initially unsure of how I felt about the ending but now I think it was entirely appropriate.

    1. Jackie says:

      Christy, You are making The City and the City sound really good. I think I will get a copy soon. Thank you for the greater insight into the book!


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