Review: Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, You Had to Be There

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I finished this book several days ago but waited to write the review. I wasn’t sure for a long time what I would say. I mean, I know I liked the story, the set up, the complexity, but there was also something a little off putting but I wasn’t sure what that was. Then I broke down and looked at some of the other reviews to see if anyone else had the same sense that I did. I was very pleased to note that I wasn’t the only one.

Like many of the other people who reviewed this book, I will not get caught up in enumerating the plot points. It would simply take too much time and it would never really convey the true sense of the book. It’s like the old saying, “You had to be there.”

Perdido Street Station is an enormous book in every way. China Mieville has written a book so layered, and rich, and sensual that I think that one of these days I may need to go back and reread it to get the full effect. The prose is lovely and aged and yet not. The amalgamation of genres here, because I’m not sure I would call it steampunk (but then again, I am not the expert), is well executed. A blending of genres, in the way that Mieville has achieved, I imagine, is not something easily done, and I give him mad kudos for that. It works so well. PSS is fantasy and science fiction and drama and romance and steam and something unnameable all rolled into one. The effect is stunning.

Bas-Lag, the fictional world that Mieville creates in PSS is so richly and thoroughly conceived that I will have clear pictures of the places and people who lived there for a long time to come. Mieville’s style of world building is complete and concrete with so much presence you can almost smell the stink of it. New Crobuzon, the city in which this story takes place is a dirty metropolis populated with many races (as in non-human) all with their own histories, customs, affectations, and physical characteristics.

Mieville does not pretty up any of the races either, by offering idealized fantastical elfin beings. He gives the reader a view of each of his racial creations, including humans, through the same brutally honest eyes. No one is spared inspection, no one is absolved of their own shame or glory. And through the muck of each person’s weakness, beauty, and shame, Mieville has managed to weave an adventure, a mystery, bromance, romance, magical/science lore, and a quest.

I read every word of this book with a sense of writerly awe… and yet there was that off putting “thing”, for lack of a better word. But I do know the word, now, after giving it a lot of thought.

VERBOSITY. Every reader is as different as every author, so I understand and appreciate Mieville’s style here. That said, I tend more towards crisp spare prose. I don’t need the author to guide me or convince me of how I should feel. I can make up my own mind. Just give me the bones, I’ll imagine the flesh on my own. In this tale, and considering Mieville’s story telling style, I see the necessity to embellish and paint, so I can accept much of the wordiness. But not all. I would have preferred to see this manuscript pared down by at least 1/4.

There is also the question of the profanity. Some people are okay with it. Some people even like it, thinking it lends a real or raw quality, I’d venture to say. But me? I find it repellent. More than that, I find it not necessary. Even more than that, I find it shocking. Profanity adds shock value, causes the reader to sit up, pay attention, in my case cringe a little, recognize that something big or deep or noteworthy is happening. In my estimation profanity is a device used to prop up weak prose. It is distracting and lame. Mieville’s prose is absolutely breathtaking, even in all of its verbose glory, and totally DOES NOT require the multiple helpings of profanity in order to keep a reader’s attention. Not mine, in any case.

Mieville uses a lot of “big” words. I think I read in another review that it is almost as if he had a thesaurus on hand as he wrote this. That works for me. I like Mieville’s brave use of uncommon words. I don’t believe in dumbing down prose. I think its okay to ask the reader to step up their game a little bit.

I vacillated about how many stars I wanted to give PSS. For the crafting of unique, varied cultures and races, the inventive use and blending of genres as well as language and style, and also for the central story I’d give PSS five stars any day of the week. But there is the matter of the profanity and verbosity (editor please!). All together I’m giving PSS 3 stars.

I’d likely still read Mieville again. As a reader I feel that Mieville did his job in rendering a compelling story. As a writer, I’ve learned tons from Mieville about writing fearlessly and about giving the imagination freedom to crank out what it wills.

*****

Also posted on Goodreads.

Five More Awesome Words (16-20)

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When I started sharing some of my favorite words back in June, I soon realized that I could never sum them all up in five, so I eventually decided to share a total of twenty.  Alas, these five are the last of that bunch.  After this, I’ll share a total of twenty of my least liked words.  Ah.

Check these out and share some of your favorites in the comments below.

This word probably has at least a half dozen meanings and I like them all.  To me, there are few words as positive as this one.  No pictures come to mind when I think of this word, but I feel buoyed by it.  I feel hopeful.  I feel faithful…

16. faith – allegiance to duty or a person; something that is believed especially with strong conviction; firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

Now this word…hmm…gives me mixed emotions and I suppose that is because it speaks to different parts of me.  As a nurse, I get this slight urge to counsel on the principle ways to maintain good health.  On the other hand hearing this words conjures images and emotions not altogether negative.  I get a sense of beauty, health (I know, contradictions abound here) that comes from lots of rest and good food and happiness and comfort.  I also have visions of regality.

Georgia Peaches

Kevin Trotman via Compfight

17.  corpulent – fleshy; obese; portly; plump; replete.

When I first came across this word I automatically knew what it was in reference to.  I know, it’s gross, but I’m a nurse and when I put on my clinical hat, I’m not all that offended.  That said, the images that come to mind when I hear this word are vivid.  I see a dark hole or well half full with thick, dark, fetid, stinking, goop.  Can you guess this word?

18.  feculent – foul with impurities; of or containing dirt, sediment, or waste matter.

I’m currently writing a story by this name.  I like this word because it suggests something unique and unparalleled.  It suggests being the first.  This word makes me feel capable.  While my hope to be one of these may be considered immodest…I still want it.  Here goes.

19. progenitor – A person who originates an artistic, political, or intellectual movement; an ancestor of an individual in a direct line of descent along which some or all of the ancestral genes could theoretically have passed;

Socialism

Doran via Compfight

To me, this word suggests a certain militancy, which I’m all about.  I hate the status quo.  I despise following rules and traditions that seem to have no practical point or purpose.  I refuse to be a drone and this word seeks to make us all drones.  This word makes us not think for ourselves.

Brief diatribe complete (ha!), I also like the way this word looks.  In opposition to the way this word makes me feel, it has a mathematically balanced quality that I like.

20.  propaganda – Information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

5 Lovely Sounding Words (11-15)

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I only speak English.  I’ve already made up my mind that I intend to remedy that unfortunate condition.  For now, as English is my only language, well…this is all I have to work with.  There are so many words that touch me, either in meaning or in the way they sound.  Check out five more of my favorites and drop a few of yours in the comments section.

My love of this word is all about sound.  I think it’s the -oosh sound it makes which is solid and definite, yet soft.  Am I making sense?  It’s sort of the sound of relief, yeah?

11.  cush – eldest son of Ham in the Bible, Genesis 10:6; upper Egypt; part of the Kingdom of Nubia.

When I hear this word, certain pictures come to mind, namely soft low blue lighting, easy waves of water with a mist hovering above, forgiveness, slowed time, utter ease.

12. ethereal – extremely delicate or refined; heavenly or celestial; (my personal favorite) pertaining to the upper regions of space.

This word just sounds pretty and smart.

13.  cerulean – deep blue; sky blue

I've reached the end of the world

Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

I like this word for its meaning and for the images it conjures in my mind.  Having this is one of the goals in my life.  I’m a woman of today in that I like my luxuries and modern conveniences, but I try as much as possible to remember that much of it is not necessary to a happy or productive life.  I try not to become attached to “things” as they can and likely will make life far more complicated than it has to be.

When I hear, say, or think of this word, I imagine a sparsely furnished room; chair, table, rug, cup, plate, painting on the wall, window.  Clean hard lines, un-fussy fabrics.  Easy.

14. simple – easy to understand, deal with, use; unaffected; unassuming; modest.

This words plays on the tongue like a kitty with a bouncing toy on the end of a string.  It sounds fun and fanciful, but I dislike the meaning.  It sort of flies in the face of #4.

15.  dalliance – a trifling away of time; dawdling.