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.