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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
Perdido Street Station

by China Miéville

(US edition: Del Rey, $18.00, 710 pages, trade paperback [no US hardback]; February 27 2001. UK edition: Macmillan, £16.99, 717 pages, hardback; published 2000.)

China Miéville's Perdido Street Station is an unlikely amalgamation of disparate influences, an alchemical potion striving to cover scantransmogrify ink, paper, and imagination into literary gold. It has more than a dash of Dickensian urban pathos. It is imbued with the subtle empathy of magic realism. It borrows and transforms elements of history with the brashness of 1990s steampunk fiction. It is baroque, in style, language, and architecture, explicitly evoking Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. It is British and punk and urban--and all at once industrial, Victorian, modern, and postmodern. It blends science, the magic of fantasy and myth, and alchemy to create a strange, beautiful, and frightening world.

Perdido Street Station is the story of a taboo love affair between a loud and eccentric human scientist, Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, and Lin, a khepri (a humanoid with a head-sized scarab for a head), who is a sculptor of exceptional talent. It's also the story of Yagharek, a garuda (bird-like humanoids), and his quest to regain his sense of self. It's a picturesque trip through the many subcultures and boroughs of New Crobuzon, a city-state where bizarre species coexist both peacefully and tensely. It's a tale of crime and corruption, of conspiracies and solidarities, of passions and betrayals, of monsters and torture, of discoveries and mysteries, of adventure and terror, and, ultimately, of hope and transformation.

That ultimate transformation, like so much in this novel, has ambiguous implications. Perdido Street Station is a huge novel, and its setting is so peculiar, its story so vast, and its many characters so diverse, that its ambiguity is endemic. And that's one of the novel's strengths. It demands active participation from the reader's imagination. It's a rich, multilayered treat, delicious to bite into--and it bites back ferociously.

Originally published, in slightly different form,
in The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 2 June 2001.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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