PERDIDO STREET STATION
By China Mieville
Background: A 710-page leviathan of a book, this alternate-world story was published in 2001 to rave reviews. Mieville is brilliant at world-building. If I had to put this book into a genre, I think I would call it dark-slip-sci-fantasteampunk-politico-occultcrime-horror fiction.
What it’s about: New Crobuzon is a sprawling, seedy city in some alternate universe in which there are multiple species of sentience: humans, the cactus people, khepri (women with giant scarabs in place of heads), garuda (bird-people), vodyanoi (fat blobs of people who live in water), and even, unbeknownst to those outside of the Construct Council, artificial intelligence.
Isaac Dan Der Grimnebulin is an outcast scientist working on something called crisis energy, which would basically allow him to manipulate anything in the world. He is in a relationship with a khepri, Lin, which is a big no-no in their society. One day, a garuda whose wings have been ripped off comes to him with the request to make him fly again. Meanwhile, Lin, an artist, is hired by a crime boss / drug lord to make a sculpture of him.
In his research, Isaac studies flying things and grubs which will grow wings, and comes across a unique caterpillar that subsists on the drug “dreamshit,” which basically makes you trip everyone’s dreams for a while. When the grub cocoons itself and transforms, it comes out a dangerous and near-indestructable demon-creature out to suck the minds from sentient beings everywhere.
Lin is kidnapped by the drug lord, who absurdly thinks that Isaac is trying to take over the dreamshit business. Isaac, with a few friends, finds himself pursued by the government militia, the drug lord, the demon he nurtured, and pretty much everything in New Crobuzon, and he is aided only by a few friends and the Weaver: a giant spider that dances over the worldweb across multiple dimensions.
While nightmares ravage the city, Isaac must find a way to destroy the demon and its kin before all of sentient race is turned into mindless zombies.
Why it will keep you up at night: Obviously, there’s a lot going on here. The demonic winged creature is pretty freaky in its total power over you if you look at its mesmerizing wings. There are giant spiders, hellspawn, and even a rotting body being used by a robot in order to communicate with people.
Halfway through, you’ll be captivated by the horrible majesty of this world and wondering how all of the storylines are going to come together. This book is filled with nightmares and suspense and some thrilling action, interspersed by lots of description.
Could it have been cut down by about 200 pages? Yes, probably. There are points that slow the book down almost agonizingly in their long, drawn-out descriptions of the city. But at the same time, these descriptions really make you feel transported into this world. There are pros and cons to the utter lack of brevity.
The ending is bittersweet; heroic and tragic; surprising, triumphant, and heartbreaking. But it’s really the journey that you’ll remember… that, and all those crazy half-human hybrids.