Perdido Street Station by China MiévillePerdido Street Station by China Miéville

Perdido Street Station

byChina Miéville

Paperback | February 27, 2001

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Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to none—not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.

Isaac has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before fathomed. Though the Garuda's request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger.

While Isaac's experiments for the Garuda turn into an obsession, one of his lab specimens demands attention: a brilliantly colored caterpillar that feeds on nothing but a hallucinatory drug and grows larger—and more consuming—by the day. What finally emerges from the silken cocoon will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon—and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it invokes . . .

A magnificent fantasy rife with scientific splendor, magical intrigue, and wonderfully realized characters, told in a storytelling style in which Charles Dickens meets Neal Stephenson, Perdido Street Station offers an eerie, voluptuously crafted world that will plumb the depths of every reader's imagination.
China Miéville is currently reading for his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics. His first novel, King Rat, was published in 1998. He lives in England.

interview with the author

Q. Tell us a little about your new book PERDIDO STREET STATION.

China Mieville: PERDIDO STREET STATION is about a huge, violent city,
and the clumsy unfolding of a nightmare inside it. I wanted to write a
book that was set in a believable alternative world. It was a world - a city
particularly - that I’d been playing with and creating for some years,
and the development involved evaluating a lot of the stuff I’d already
worked on, discarding some, reshaping some, that sort of thing.

The story was second. I was kicking around an idea about a radically
egalitarian society that through its egalitarianism was deeply concerned
with choice, and freedom for the individual (a riposte to the
anti-socialist slurs of the right-wing). What shape would discontent and
crime take in that society? And what if someone from there came to New
Crobuzon, which was very far from that model? Why would she come?

It is a dark book, and I hope that readers of horror and dark fantasy
will still consider it something for them. It’s urban gothic dark
fantasy again, only set in another world. It’s a fantasy novel -- in that
it’s set in a secondary world inhabited by humans alongside other races,
and there’s magic but this is very far from epic or heroic fantasy. It’s
sort of unheroic, unepic fantasy.

Q. Talk a bit more about world-building.

CM: Histories, laws, cultures, aesthetics -- worlds -- are colossal, and
colossally complex. There is no way you can ever tell the story of a
whole world. No matter how detailed your timeline or carefully
illustrated your bestiary, you can’t possibly explain everything. If
something’s not important to the narrative, then don’t try -- there are
only so many info-dumps a story can take, and I save mine for the stuff
that the reader has to understand.

There are various aspects to creating a believable world. The most
important for me is atmosphere - depending on what the feelings you want
to communicate are, the world you create will have a different shape.
There were other inspirations. I haven’t played role playing games in
years, but I quite enjoy browsing their rulebooks. I like the kind of
obsessive detailed world-creation the best of them involve.

I love bestiaries; a lot of the pleasure is in trying to create
original, plausible, interesting, fantastic creatures. But obviously
that’s not enough. You have to have a story, and you’ve got to be
careful not to make it like a guidebook with a story in it, but a story
that happens to take place in another world. And ideally both the story
and the world should keep you surprised.

Q. In PERDIDO STREET STATION, the city of New Crobuzon is very much a
living, breathing character. Likewise, in your first novel King Rat, the
city of London took on a life of it’s own. You seem fascinated by the
idea of the city as a living thing.


CM:I am interested in cities because they are where social conflict is
sharpest, where social tension and resistance are strongest. It is a
political choice but also an aesthetic one - cities are places where
different sorts of architecture, different sorts of social mapping,
coincide and conflict. I also wanted to write urban fantasy because of
my debt to other writers -- Mervyn Peake, and Mike Harrison and the Mary
Gentle of Rats and Gargoyles --writers who write fantasy with real
politics and economics in them. I was interested in having a fantasy
with capitalist social relations, and capitalism is urban.

I don’t have a taste for the sort of historical fantasy that is set in
an unreal countryside with a hierarchical system that is not even real
feudalism. Part of this is that I just don’t like the countryside --
rural idiocy and sacks of potatoes, as far as I am concerned. In our
real world, the country has become just an adjunct of the town and is of
less interest as a result. Books about cities are just more exciting --
when my surviving characters escape New Crobuzon at the end, it is to go
to another city.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about your politics. You’re a politically- active
member of the International Socialist Tendency.


CM: I’ve been actively involved for some years now, and am looking forward
to getting more active with a spin-off called ATAC - the Arts Tendency
Against Capitalism. I get very tired of people thinking that being a
socialist means supporting North Korea or the erstwhile USSR (it
doesn’t).

Q. What prompted you to become political?

CM: Growing up with a single parent in an ethnically mixed working class
area of London was a good start. And then going to posh schools full of
right wing people who came out with the most outrageous homophobic and
racist drivel, and then going to university and realizing that there was
a way of making sense of all the awful stuff going on as part of the
same phenomenon, a world system that would never reform itself.

It was through being at university that I got interested in serious
socialism, as opposed to flaky socialism, and started reading Marx,
which had a huge effect on me. The thing is, I am not someone who
particularly enjoys the process of politics. I am lazy and all I want to
do is read books about monsters all day. But capitalism doesn’t let me
get one with that, because every time I turn on the news, there are more
dreadful things going on, and it’s impossible to ignore. And it’s all
unnecessary.

Q: So you like to read about monsters; what about film monsters? Do you
have a favorite?


CM: The problem is, of course, that one monster is not enough (is one
monster ever enough...?) I want loads now. These answers are therefore
only true for today. It’s a tie: The Thing from John Carpenter’s, uh,
The Thing, and Irena Dubrovna from Lewton and Tourneur’s Cat People.
Why? Well, with The Thing, because it’s probably the best approximation
of Lovecraftiana on screen, and because it’s a very intelligent (and
impressively gross) representation of a shape-shifter. They wouldn’t
just be shapeless protoplasm, they’d make limbs and organs for
themselves. And Irena Dubrovna because of her facial expression of
amused cruelty when she steps in human form to the side of the swimming
pool.

Q: Perdido Street Station is very cinematic in scope; was that your
intention?


CM: When I imagine a scene, I imagine it visually, but above all
cinematically--I often find myself panning through a scene like a
camera. This is how I work--and it means that I am drawn to movie
imagery. This means that sometimes you have to work hard to police the
cliches and then come back and decide that the cliche is what you need
and what you can get away with. I have scripted and cast both my novels
in my head.

Q. How would you cast Perdido Street Station then?

CM: Hmm...Vermishank would be Martin Landau, I think. Isaac could be LL Cool J
in ten years time, with a big bushy beard, doing an English accent.
(Right....) Lin? Doesn’t really matter, does it? Anyone skinny wearing a
rubber bug head. I’m working on the others.

Q. Your mother now lives in Cuba and you spend a great deal of time
there. What is the science-fiction community like in Cuba?


CM: The Cuban SF scene is really interesting because it’s very, very lively.
They organize their own conventions (one of which I spoke at), they
publish their own books. There’s not such a sharp distinction between
genre and mainstream literature as there is in Britain and the US, so
’lit-fic’ writers are likely to hang with SF writers at the literary
institutes. There’s an amazing range of influences. They had various
(very good) Eastern European SF writers who got translated, such as (I
think) Lem, the Strugatskis, etc. But they also have very treasured
paperback editions of US SF, mostly Golden Age stuff from the fifties
and sixties, but some more recent, which they all share round and
carefully read. Even those who can’t speak English well can almost all
read it. They are some years behind - they’re getting very into
Cyberpunk now. The thing is that they have a considered and erudite but
partial knowledge - what they could get their hands on, they know inside
out, but there are holes, obviously. Not much of the New Worlds
avant-garde wave - I saw no Ballard, no Harrison, some Moorcock but
mostly his pulpest fantasies (I speak as a fan) - which is a shame. Some
of the SF writers - all of whom know each other, and who constitute a
sub-group in a very supportive and small literary scene - are published
in Latin America and Europe, most are published (paid a pittance, if at
all) only in Cuba. They’re hungry and fascinated for any discussion
about Western SF, and what’s going on - books and films, everything.
Whenever I go over there, I bring a bunch of paperbacks and leave them.
There’s also a big comic scene, which blurs at the edges with the SF
scene, as elsewhere.

Q. Some people call you a fantasy writer; others classify you as a
horror or science-fiction writer. How would you classify yourself?

CM: I use the term ’fantastic literature’ as a way of bracketing the genres
of supernatural horror, epic fantasy, low fantasy and science fiction.
The term I would like to reinvigorate is ’weird fiction.’ There’s a
radical moment in all weird fiction and that moment is the positing of
the impossible as true. Whether you make that what the story’s all about
or you simply have it as a starting point, that to me is a radical
moment. Of course, all this stuff is for nothing if you can’t keep
people interested in the actual story...

Essentially I’m a fantasy writer, though in a different tradition that
stresses the macabre, the surreal, the decadent, the lush, the grotesque
- a tradition of grotesquerie, cruelty, sadness and alienation. The
surrealist aesthetic is an alienating aesthetic, the opposite of
Tolkien’s consolatory, comforting aesthetic. Part of that means not
shying away when the dynamic of the aesthetic is quite cruel. In real
life I’m quite sentimental so I overcompensate in my fiction.

Q. You mentioned Tolkien. Many consider him the father of modern
fantasy.


CM: That’s unfortunate because it masks the alternative tradition of weird
fiction: authors like William Hope Hodgeson, Robert Chambers, Clark
Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraftt, and certainly the Weird Tales tradition
with Fritz Leiber, and then Mervyn Peake.

Fantasy’s a frustrating genre in that so much that’s published in it is
so derivative and formulaic, and yet it has the potential to be -- and
sometimes is -- the most radical literary form out there. In PERDIDO
STREET STATION, I’ve tried to write a fantasy novel without stereotypes.
No elves, no dwarfs. Too often, that sort of thing is used as a
shorthand for characterization, just a quickhand way of letting the
reader know that a character is noble, or stolid, or whatever. And I
hate the tendency towards moral absolutism in fantasy, the idea that
orcstrollswhatever are bad, as a kind of racial characteristic. I know
we’ve moved a long way from there recently, and there’s a lot of very
good fantasy that really avoids that kind of laziness, but there’s still
a lot out there that doesn’t, unfortunately. I’m not saying,
incidentally, that you can’t write good, imaginative fantasy with elves
in it, just that I can’t. I also dislike Destiny and Fate a whole lot,
and it features heavily in a lot of fantasy. If I discover that some
character is fulfilling an Ancient Prophecy I tend to lose interest. I’m
interested in the opposite of That Which Has Been Foretold, which is
that which people make happen.

Q. So who would you consider strong influences in your own writing?

CM: Philip K. Dick is probably my single favourite writer. I read something
like Martian Timeslip or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and I
feel that literature has been done, and that the rest of us are just
adding footnotes. And to those who still say that SF isn’t any good at
characterization I have three words: A Scanner Darkly.

M. John Harrison is astonishingly good. Mervyn Peake, Gene Wolfe, Tim
Powers, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, Lewis Carroll, Stanislaw Lem,
Lucius Shepard, Thomas Disch... A few years ago I got into a lot of late
19thearly 20th century slipstream stuff, that straddles SF, fantasy and
horror. The whole Weird Fiction thing I mentioned before. The obvious
name is Lovecraft, and I enjoy his stuff, but I prefer William Hope
Hodgson, and I like people like E.H. Visiak, Robert Chambers and David
Lindsay, and classics like Ambrose Bierce, MR James, Wells mainly for
The Island of Dr Moreau. Some of those people like Lovecraft and Hodgson
are odd, in that their writing is horribly, horribly flawed, awkwardly
written, overblown etc... and yet they had something. I read Hodgson’s
Carnacki stories, for example, especially something like The Hog, and
about a third of me inside is laughing with derision, while the other
two-thirds is transfixed.

Borges, Iain Sinclair, William Golding, Kafka, Bulgakov, The Capek
Brothers, the Strugatski Brothers, Dambudzo Marechera, Jonathan Swift...
The whole surrealist axis, from Lautreamont through Breton and Ernst
onwards. And there are loads of writers who haunt me for years, on the
strength of a single short story. Like Julio Cortazar, solely on the
strength of the fucking peerless House Taken Over, or E.L.White for
Lukundoo, or Scott Bradfield, who is an all-round great writer, but
whose The Secret Life of Houses is achingly perfect.

Q. What about non-genre writers?

CM: A lot of my favourite ’lit-fic’ writers I like for the same sorts of
reasons that I like genre writers. Like Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre is
one of my all-time top ten books, an incredible work of dark
imagination. I love it because I get the same kind of breathless
dislocation and fearful longing from it I do from the best genre
literature.

My favourite scene in that book is when she’s ravenous and she tries to
buy a bun and she has no money, so she tries to swap her gloves for one,
and the baker won’t take them. It freaks me out!

It’s such a cold, terrifying scene: this well-dressed, starving,
wild-eyed woman standing, begging fiercely for food, holding out these
gloves with trembling hands, and the utter alienation and suspicion of
the shop-woman. And she won’t sell her the bun! How’s that for
undermining the surface rationality of the everyday? Gives the Cthulhu
monsters bulging under reality’s skin a run for their money, I reckon.
Two normal human beings, and one would rather let the other starve than
accept a commodity rather than money, even though the commodity is worth
more than the money required, and we totally understand her point of
view!!! The horror, the horror...

Q. Last question...what’s the deal with your name, China?

CM: Because my parents were hippies, and they looked through the dictionary
for a "beautiful word.’ It’s also Cockney rhyming slang for ’mate.’
Basically, in Cockney Rhyming Slang a phrase that rhymes with the word
in question comes to take its place, but then you get rid of the bit
that actually rhymes. That’s how come my name means friend: ’my old
china’ means ’my old mate’ because ’china plate’ rhymes with ’mate.’

Apparently they nearly settled on ’Banyan’ but thankfully flicked
forward a few pages.

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Title:Perdido Street StationFormat:PaperbackDimensions:720 pages, 9.2 × 6.3 × 1.3 inPublished:February 27, 2001Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345443020

ISBN - 13:9780345443021

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Customer Reviews of Perdido Street Station

Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from picks up a third of the way in This is a very interesting book. I bought it as a "steampunk" genre novel, and it does fit that mold. The world created is very imaginative, and had elements that remined me of Gaiman and early Clive Barker, with bit of Orwell thrown in for good measure. The setting is, I think, needlessly detailed and overly complicated, and I gave up very quickly flipping to the city map at the front of the book. The endless neighbourhood and street names all became a bit of a blur after a while. That aside, a great book, with very imaginative and creative charaters.
Date published: 2010-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from urban freak and steampunkishness Miéville’s world is one of a complex urban freak show that takes place a step out of reality, mashing the existential woes of a dozen-odd cross-species, sub-species, super-species, demons, sprites, machines, remade species, and (of course) every dreg of human imaginable. As I have been pondering and practicing the various meditations on writing as of late, there is an appreciation that flows from this tangle of threads. It is as if I am witnessing raw experience form from some focused slake of creativity as a (perhaps) contemporary seeks to drive his will upon the pages. And the story pushes through, egging the reader to feast upon the rich, lush patterns of evoked emotions a step beyond reality and reeking of the urban grunge that we so love to feel below our feet but no deeper than a scuff. True, it is not for everyone: dark, gritty, surreal. But for those who choose to indulge, it is like mental oatmeal: it will stick to the ribcage of your mind for a long time. And you will be left satisfied and maybe longing for more.
Date published: 2008-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best I've Ever Read! Masterful writing and a great story line, for me this book sets a standard I'm hard pressed to surpass. I've read it three times and the story doesn't grow old. Mieville's writing is powerful and descriptive. Highly, highly recommended.
Date published: 2007-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Masterpiece One of the best books I've ever read. Surpassed only by it's sequel "The Scar". Amazingly inventive. I will read anything written by Mieville. A must.
Date published: 2006-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous, something I've been waiting for... Mieville's work is deliciously dark. I haven't felt like this since Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter. I'm ready to read his next book. China is worthy of a huge fan base...
Date published: 2003-04-11

Read from the Book

Chapter OneA window burst open high above the market. A basket flew from it and arcedtowards the oblivious crowd. It spasmed in mid-air, then spun andcontinued earthwards at a slower, uneven pace. Dancing precariously as itdescended, its wire-mesh caught and skittered on the building’s roughhide. It scrabbled at the wall, sending paint and concrete dust plummetingbefore it.The sun shone through uneven cloud-cover with a bright grey light. Belowthe basket the stalls and barrows lay like untidy spillage. The cityreeked. But today was market day down in Aspic Hole, and the pungent slickof dung-smell and rot that rolled over New Crobuzon was, in these streets,for these hours, improved with paprika and fresh tomato, hot oil and fishand cinnamon, cured meat, banana and onion.The food stalls stretched the noisy length of Shadrach Street. Books andmanuscripts and pictures filled up Selchit Pass, an avenue of desultorybanyans and crumbling concrete a little way to the east. There wereearthenware products spilling down the road to Barrackham in the south;engine parts to the west; toys down one side street; clothes between twomore; and countless other goods filling all the alleys. The rows ofmerchandise converged crookedly on Aspic Hole like spokes on a brokenwheel.In the Hole itself all distinctions broke down. In the shadowof old walls and unsafe towers were a pile of gears, a ramshackletable of broken crockery and crude clay ornaments, a case of moulderingtextbooks. Antiques, sex, flea-powder. Between the stalls stomped hissingconstructs. Beggars argued in the bowels of deserted buildings. Members ofstrange races bought peculiar things. Aspic Bazaar, a blaring mess ofgoods, grease and tallymen. Mercantile law ruled: let the buyer beware.The costermonger below the descending basket looked up into flat sunlightand a shower of brick particles. He wiped his eye. He plucked the frayedthing from the air above his head, pulling at the cord which bore it untilit went slack in his hand. Inside the basket was a brass shekel and a notein careful, ornamented italics. The food-vendor scratched his nose as hescanned the paper. He rummaged in the piles of produce before him, placedeggs and fruit and root vegetables into the container, checking againstthe list. He stopped and read one item again, then smiled lasciviously andcut a slice of pork. When he was done he put the shekel in his pocket andfelt for change, hesitating as he calculated his delivery cost, eventuallydepositing four stivers in with the food.He wiped his hands against his trousers and thought for a minute, thenscribbled something on the list with a stub of charcoal and tossed itafter the coins.He tugged three times at the rope and the basket began a bobbing journeyinto the air. It rose above the lower roofs of surrounding buildings,buoyed upwards by noise. It startled the roosting jackdaws in the desertedstorey and inscribed the wall with another scrawled trail among many,before it disappeared again into the window from which it had emerged.Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin had just realized that he was dreaming. He hadbeen aghast to find himself employed once again at the university,parading in front of a huge blackboard covered in vague representations oflevers and forces and stress. Introductory Material Science. Isaac hadbeen staring anxiously at the class when that unctuous bastard Vermishankhad looked in.“I can’t teach this class,” whispered Isaac loudly. “The market’s tooloud.” He gestured at the window.“It’s all right.” Vermishank was soothing and loathsome. “It’s time forbreakfast,” he said. “That’ll take your mind off the noise.” And hearingthat absurdity Isaac shed sleep with immense relief. The raucous profanityof the bazaar and the smell of cooking came with him into the day.He lay hugely in the bed without opening his eyes. He heard Lin walkacross the room and felt the slight listing of the floorboards. The garretwas filled with pungent smoke. Isaac salivated.Lin clapped twice. She knew when Isaac woke. Probably because he closedhis mouth, he thought, and sniggered without opening his eyes.“Still sleeping, shush, poor little Isaac ever so tired,” he whimpered,and snuggled down like a child. Lin clapped again, once, derisory, andwalked away.He groaned and rolled over.“Termagant!” he moaned after her. “Shrew! Harridan! All right, all right,you win, you, you . . . uh . . . virago, you spit-fire . . .” He rubbedhis head and sat up, grinned sheepishly. Lin made an obscene gesture athim without turning around.She stood with her back to him, nude at the stove, dancing back as hotdrops of oil leapt from the pan. The covers slipped from the slope ofIsaac’s belly. He was a dirigible, huge and taut and strong. Grey hairburst from him abundantly.Lin was hairless. Her muscles were tight under her red skin, eachdistinct. She was like an anatomical atlas. Isaac studied her in cheerfullust.His arse itched. He scratched under the blanket, rooting as shameless as adog. Something burst under his nail, and he withdrew his hand to examineit. A tiny half-crushed grub waved helplessly on the end of his finger. Itwas a refflick, a harmless little khepri parasite. The thing must havebeen rather bewildered by my juices, Isaac thought, and flicked his fingerclean.“Refflick, Lin,” he said. “Bath time.”Lin stamped in irritation.New Crobuzon was a huge plague pit, a morbific city. Parasites, infectionand rumour were uncontainable. A monthly chymical dip was a necessaryprophylactic for the khepri, if they wanted to avoid itches and sores.Lin slid the contents of the pan onto a plate and set it down, across fromher own breakfast. She sat and gestured for Isaac to join her. He rosefrom the bed and stumbled across the room. He eased himself onto the smallchair, wary of splinters.Isaac and Lin sat naked on either side of the bare wooden table. Isaac wasconscious of their pose, seeing them as a third person might. It wouldmake a beautiful, strange print, he thought. An attic room, dust-motes inthe light from the small window, books and paper and paints neatly stackedby cheap wooden furniture. A dark-skinned man, big and nude anddetumescing, gripping a knife and fork, unnaturally still, sittingopposite a khepri, her slight woman’s body in shadow, her chitinous headin silhouette.They ignored their food and stared at each other for a moment. Lin signedat him: Good morning, lover. Then she began to eat, still looking at him.It was when she ate that Lin was most alien, and their shared meals were achallenge and an affirmation. As he watched her, Isaac felt the familiartrill of emotion: disgust immediately stamped out, pride at the stampingout, guilty desire.Light glinted in Lin’s compound eyes. Her headlegs quivered. She picked uphalf a tomato and gripped it with her mandibles. She lowered her handswhile her inner mouthparts picked at the food her outer jaw held steady.Isaac watched the huge iridescent scarab that was his lover’s head devourher breakfast.He watched her swallow, saw her throat bob where the pale insectileunderbelly segued smoothly into her human neck . . . not that she wouldhave accepted that description. Humans have khepri bodies, legs, hands;and the heads of shaved gibbons, she had once told him.He smiled and dangled his fried pork in front of him, curled his tonguearound it, wiped his greasy fingers on the table. He smiled at her. Sheundulated her headlegs at him and signed, My monster.I am a pervert, thought Isaac, and so is she.Breakfast conversation was generally one-sided: Lin could sign with herhands while she ate, but Isaac’s attempts to talk and eat simultaneouslymade for incomprehensible noises and food debris on the table. Insteadthey read; Lin an artists’ newsletter, Isaac whatever came to hand. Hereached out between mouthfuls and grabbed books and papers, and foundhimself reading Lin’s shopping list. The item a handful of pork slices wasringed and underneath her exquisite calligraphy was a scrawled question inmuch cruder script: Got company??? Nice bit of pork goes down a treat!!!Isaac waved the paper at Lin. “What’s this filthy arse on about?” heyelled, spraying food. His outrage was amused but genuine.Lin read it and shrugged.Knows I don’t eat meat. Knows I’ve got a guest for breakfast. Wordplay on“pork.”“Yes, thanks, lover, I got that bit. How does he know you’re a vegetarian?Do you two often engage in this witty banter?”Lin stared at him for a moment without responding.Knows because I don’t buy meat. She shook her head at the stupid question.Don’t worry: only ever banter on paper. Doesn’t know I’m bug.Her deliberate use of the slur annoyed Isaac.“Dammit, I wasn’t insinuating anything . . .” Lin’s hand waggled, theequivalent of a raised eyebrow. Isaac howled in irritation. “Godshit, Lin!Not everything I say is about fear of discovery!”Isaac and Lin had been lovers nearly two years. They had always tried notto think too hard about the rules of their relationship, but the longerthey were together the more this strategyof avoidance became impossible. Questions as yet unasked demandedattention. Innocent remarks and askance looks from others, a moment ofcontact too long in public—a note from a grocer—everything was a reminderthat they were, in some contexts, living a secret. Everything was madefraught.They had never said, We are lovers, so they had never had to say, We willnot disclose our relationship to all, we will hide from some. But it hadbeen clear for months and months that this was the case.Lin had begun to hint, with snide and acid remarks, that Isaac’s refusalto declare himself her lover was at best cowardly, at worst bigoted. Thisinsensitivity annoyed him. He had, after all, made the nature of hisrelationship clear with his close friends, as Lin had with hers. And itwas all far, far easier for her.She was an artist. Her circle were the libertines, the patrons and thehangers-on, bohemians and parasites, poets and pamphleteers andfashionable junkies. They delighted in the scandalous and the outré. Inthe tea-houses and bars of Salacus Fields, Lin’s escapades—broadly hintedat, never denied, never made explicit—would be the subject of louchediscussion and innuendo. Her love-life was an avant-garde transgression,an art-happening, like Concrete Music had been last season, or ’Snot Art!the year before that.And yes, Isaac could play that game. He was known in that world, from longbefore his days with Lin. He was, after all, thescientist-outcast, the disreputable thinker who walked out of a lucrativeteaching post to engage in experiments too outrageous and brilliant forthe tiny minds who ran the university. What did he care for convention? Hewould sleep with whomever and whatever he liked, surely!That was his persona in Salacus Fields, where his relationship with Linwas an open secret, where he enjoyed being more or less open, where hewould put his arm around her in the bars and whisper to her as she suckedsugar-coffee from a sponge. That was his story, and it was at least halftrue.He had walked out of the university ten years ago. But only because herealized to his misery that he was a terrible teacher.He had looked out at the quizzical faces, listened to the franticscrawling of the panicking students, and realized that with a mind thatran and tripped and hurled itself down the corridors of theory in anarchicfashion, he could learn himself, in haphazard lurches, but he could notimpart the understanding he so loved. He had hung his head in shame andfled.In another twist to the myth, his Head of Department, the ageless andloathsome Vermishank, was not a plodding epigone but an exceptionalbio-thaumaturge, who had nixed Isaac’s research less because it wasunorthodox than because it was going nowhere. Isaac could be brilliant,but he was undisciplined. Vermishank had played him like a fish, makinghim beg for work as a freelance researcher on terrible pay, but withlimited access to the university laboratories.And it was this, his work, which kept Isaac circumspect about his lover.

Bookclub Guide

Q. Tell us a little about your new book PERDIDO STREET STATION.China Mieville: PERDIDO STREET STATION is about a huge, violent city, and the clumsy unfolding of a nightmare inside it. I wanted to write a book that was set in a believable alternative world. It was a world - a cityparticularly - that I’d been playing with and creating for some years,and the development involved evaluating a lot of the stuff I’d alreadyworked on, discarding some, reshaping some, that sort of thing.The story was second. I was kicking around an idea about a radicallyegalitarian society that through its egalitarianism was deeply concernedwith choice, and freedom for the individual (a riposte to theanti-socialist slurs of the right-wing). What shape would discontent andcrime take in that society? And what if someone from there came to NewCrobuzon, which was very far from that model? Why would s/he come?It is a dark book, and I hope that readers of horror and dark fantasywill still consider it something for them. It’s urban gothic darkfantasy again, only set in another world. It’s a fantasy novel -- in thatit’s set in a secondary world inhabited by humans alongside other races,and there’s magic but this is very far from epic or heroic fantasy. It’ssort of unheroic, unepic fantasy.Q. Talk a bit more about world-building.CM: Histories, laws, cultures, aesthetics -- worlds -- are colossal, andcolossally complex. There is no way you can ever tell the story of awhole world. No matter how detailed your timeline or carefullyillustrated your bestiary, you can’t possibly explain everything. Ifsomething’s not important to the narrative, then don’t try -- there areonly so many info-dumps a story can take, and I save mine for the stuffthat the reader has to understand.There are various aspects to creating a believable world. The mostimportant for me is atmosphere - depending on what the feelings you wantto communicate are, the world you create will have a different shape.There were other inspirations. I haven’t played role playing games inyears, but I quite enjoy browsing their rulebooks. I like the kind ofobsessive detailed world-creation the best of them involve.I love bestiaries; a lot of the pleasure is in trying to createoriginal, plausible, interesting, fantastic creatures. But obviouslythat’s not enough. You have to have a story, and you’ve got to becareful not to make it like a guidebook with a story in it, but a storythat happens to take place in another world. And ideally both the storyand the world should keep you surprised.Q. In PERDIDO STREET STATION, the city of New Crobuzon is very much aliving, breathing character. Likewise, in your first novel King Rat, thecity of London took on a life of it’s own. You seem fascinated by theidea of the city as a living thing.CM:I am interested in cities because they are where social conflict issharpest, where social tension and resistance are strongest. It is apolitical choice but also an aesthetic one - cities are places wheredifferent sorts of architecture, different sorts of social mapping,coincide and conflict. I also wanted to write urban fantasy because ofmy debt to other writers -- Mervyn Peake, and Mike Harrison and the MaryGentle of Rats and Gargoyles --writers who write fantasy with realpolitics and economics in them. I was interested in having a fantasywith capitalist social relations, and capitalism is urban.I don’t have a taste for the sort of historical fantasy that is set inan unreal countryside with a hierarchical system that is not even realfeudalism. Part of this is that I just don’t like the countryside --rural idiocy and sacks of potatoes, as far as I am concerned. In ourreal world, the country has become just an adjunct of the town and is ofless interest as a result. Books about cities are just more exciting --when my surviving characters escape New Crobuzon at the end, it is to goto another city.Q: Let’s talk a bit about your politics. You’re a politically- activemember of the International Socialist Tendency.CM: I’ve been actively involved for some years now, and am looking forwardto getting more active with a spin-off called ATAC - the Arts TendencyAgainst Capitalism. I get very tired of people thinking that being asocialist means supporting North Korea or the erstwhile USSR (itdoesn’t).Q. What prompted you to become political?CM: Growing up with a single parent in an ethnically mixed working classarea of London was a good start. And then going to posh schools full ofright wing people who came out with the most outrageous homophobic andracist drivel, and then going to university and realizing that there wasa way of making sense of all the awful stuff going on as part of thesame phenomenon, a world system that would never reform itself.It was through being at university that I got interested in serioussocialism, as opposed to flaky socialism, and started reading Marx,which had a huge effect on me. The thing is, I am not someone whoparticularly enjoys the process of politics. I am lazy and all I want todo is read books about monsters all day. But capitalism doesn’t let meget one with that, because every time I turn on the news, there are moredreadful things going on, and it’s impossible to ignore. And it’s allunnecessary.Q: So you like to read about monsters; what about film monsters? Do youhave a favorite?CM: The problem is, of course, that one monster is not enough (is onemonster ever enough...?) I want loads now. These answers are thereforeonly true for today. It’s a tie: The Thing from John Carpenter’s, uh,The Thing, and Irena Dubrovna from Lewton and Tourneur’s Cat People.Why? Well, with The Thing, because it’s probably the best approximationof Lovecraftiana on screen, and because it’s a very intelligent (andimpressively gross) representation of a shape-shifter. They wouldn’tjust be shapeless protoplasm, they’d make limbs and organs forthemselves. And Irena Dubrovna because of her facial expression ofamused cruelty when she steps in human form to the side of the swimmingpool.Q: Perdido Street Station is very cinematic in scope; was that yourintention? CM: When I imagine a scene, I imagine it visually, but above allcinematically--I often find myself panning through a scene like acamera. This is how I work--and it means that I am drawn to movieimagery. This means that sometimes you have to work hard to police thecliches and then come back and decide that the cliche is what you needand what you can get away with. I have scripted and cast both my novelsin my head.Q. How would you cast Perdido Street Station then?CM: Hmm...Vermishank would be Martin Landau, I think. Isaac could be LL Cool Jin ten years time, with a big bushy beard, doing an English accent.(Right....) Lin? Doesn’t really matter, does it? Anyone skinny wearing arubber bug head. I’m working on the others.Q. Your mother now lives in Cuba and you spend a great deal of timethere. What is the science-fiction community like in Cuba?CM: The Cuban SF scene is really interesting because it’s very, very lively.They organize their own conventions (one of which I spoke at), theypublish their own books. There’s not such a sharp distinction betweengenre and mainstream literature as there is in Britain and the US, so’lit-fic’ writers are likely to hang with SF writers at the literaryinstitutes. There’s an amazing range of influences. They had various(very good) Eastern European SF writers who got translated, such as (Ithink) Lem, the Strugatskis, etc. But they also have very treasuredpaperback editions of US SF, mostly Golden Age stuff from the fiftiesand sixties, but some more recent, which they all share round andcarefully read. Even those who can’t speak English well can almost allread it. They are some years behind - they’re getting very intoCyberpunk now. The thing is that they have a considered and erudite butpartial knowledge - what they could get their hands on, they know insideout, but there are holes, obviously. Not much of the New Worldsavant-garde wave - I saw no Ballard, no Harrison, some Moorcock butmostly his pulpest fantasies (I speak as a fan) - which is a shame. Someof the SF writers - all of whom know each other, and who constitute asub-group in a very supportive and small literary scene - are publishedin Latin America and Europe, most are published (paid a pittance, if atall) only in Cuba. They’re hungry and fascinated for any discussionabout Western SF, and what’s going on - books and films, everything.Whenever I go over there, I bring a bunch of paperbacks and leave them.There’s also a big comic scene, which blurs at the edges with the SFscene, as elsewhere.Q. Some people call you a fantasy writer; others classify you as ahorror or science-fiction writer. How would you classify yourself?CM: I use the term ’fantastic literature’ as a way of bracketing the genresof supernatural horror, epic fantasy, low fantasy and science fiction.The term I would like to reinvigorate is ’weird fiction.’ There’s aradical moment in all weird fiction and that moment is the positing ofthe impossible as true. Whether you make that what the story’s all aboutor you simply have it as a starting point, that to me is a radicalmoment. Of course, all this stuff is for nothing if you can’t keeppeople interested in the actual story...Essentially I’m a fantasy writer, though in a different tradition thatstresses the macabre, the surreal, the decadent, the lush, the grotesque- a tradition of grotesquerie, cruelty, sadness and alienation. Thesurrealist aesthetic is an alienating aesthetic, the opposite ofTolkien’s consolatory, comforting aesthetic. Part of that means notshying away when the dynamic of the aesthetic is quite cruel. In reallife I’m quite sentimental so I overcompensate in my fiction.Q. You mentioned Tolkien. Many consider him the father of modernfantasy.CM: That’s unfortunate because it masks the alternative tradition of weirdfiction: authors like William Hope Hodgeson, Robert Chambers, ClarkAshton Smith, H. P. Lovecraftt, and certainly the Weird Tales tradition with Fritz Leiber, and then Mervyn Peake.Fantasy’s a frustrating genre in that so much that’s published in it isso derivative and formulaic, and yet it has the potential to be -- andsometimes is -- the most radical literary form out there. In PERDIDOSTREET STATION, I’ve tried to write a fantasy novel without stereotypes.No elves, no dwarfs. Too often, that sort of thing is used as ashorthand for characterization, just a quickhand way of letting thereader know that a character is noble, or stolid, or whatever. And Ihate the tendency towards moral absolutism in fantasy, the idea thatorcs/trolls/whatever are bad, as a kind of racial characteristic. I knowwe’ve moved a long way from there recently, and there’s a lot of verygood fantasy that really avoids that kind of laziness, but there’s stilla lot out there that doesn’t, unfortunately. I’m not saying,incidentally, that you can’t write good, imaginative fantasy with elvesin it, just that I can’t. I also dislike Destiny and Fate a whole lot,and it features heavily in a lot of fantasy. If I discover that somecharacter is fulfilling an Ancient Prophecy I tend to lose interest. I’minterested in the opposite of That Which Has Been Foretold, which isthat which people make happen.Q. So who would you consider strong influences in your own writing?CM: Philip K. Dick is probably my single favourite writer. I read somethinglike Martian Timeslip or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Ifeel that literature has been done, and that the rest of us are justadding footnotes. And to those who still say that SF isn’t any good atcharacterization I have three words: A Scanner Darkly.M. John Harrison is astonishingly good. Mervyn Peake, Gene Wolfe, TimPowers, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, Lewis Carroll, Stanislaw Lem,Lucius Shepard, Thomas Disch... A few years ago I got into a lot of late19th/early 20th century slipstream stuff, that straddles SF, fantasy andhorror. The whole Weird Fiction thing I mentioned before. The obviousname is Lovecraft, and I enjoy his stuff, but I prefer William HopeHodgson, and I like people like E.H. Visiak, Robert Chambers and DavidLindsay, and classics like Ambrose Bierce, MR James, Wells mainly forThe Island of Dr Moreau. Some of those people like Lovecraft and Hodgsonare odd, in that their writing is horribly, horribly flawed, awkwardlywritten, overblown etc... and yet they had something. I read Hodgson’sCarnacki stories, for example, especially something like The Hog, andabout a third of me inside is laughing with derision, while the othertwo-thirds is transfixed.Borges, Iain Sinclair, William Golding, Kafka, Bulgakov, The CapekBrothers, the Strugatski Brothers, Dambudzo Marechera, Jonathan Swift...The whole surrealist axis, from Lautreamont through Breton and Ernstonwards. And there are loads of writers who haunt me for years, on thestrength of a single short story. Like Julio Cortazar, solely on thestrength of the fucking peerless House Taken Over, or E.L.White forLukundoo, or Scott Bradfield, who is an all-round great writer, butwhose The Secret Life of Houses is achingly perfect.Q. What about non-genre writers?CM: A lot of my favourite ’lit-fic’ writers I like for the same sorts ofreasons that I like genre writers. Like Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre isone of my all-time top ten books, an incredible work of darkimagination. I love it because I get the same kind of breathlessdislocation and fearful longing from it I do from the best genreliterature.My favourite scene in that book is when she’s ravenous and she tries tobuy a bun and she has no money, so she tries to swap her gloves for one,and the baker won’t take them. It freaks me out!It’s such a cold, terrifying scene: this well-dressed, starving,wild-eyed woman standing, begging fiercely for food, holding out thesegloves with trembling hands, and the utter alienation and suspicion ofthe shop-woman. And she won’t sell her the bun! How’s that forundermining the surface rationality of the everyday? Gives the Cthulhumonsters bulging under reality’s skin a run for their money, I reckon.Two normal human beings, and one would rather let the other starve thanaccept a commodity rather than money, even though the commodity is worthmore than the money required, and we totally understand her point ofview!!! The horror, the horror...Q. Last question...what’s the deal with your name, China?CM: Because my parents were hippies, and they looked through the dictionaryfor a "beautiful word.’ It’s also Cockney rhyming slang for ’mate.’Basically, in Cockney Rhyming Slang a phrase that rhymes with the wordin question comes to take its place, but then you get rid of the bitthat actually rhymes. That’s how come my name means friend: ’my oldchina’ means ’my old mate’ because ’china plate’ rhymes with ’mate.’Apparently they nearly settled on ’Banyan’ but thankfully flickedforward a few pages.

Editorial Reviews

"[A] phantasmagoric masterpiece . . . The book left me breathless with admiration."
--BRIAN STABLEFORD

"China Miéville's cool style has conjured up a triumphantly macabre technoslip metropolis with a unique atmosphere of horror and fascination."
--PETER HAMILTON

"It is the best steampunk novel since Gibson and Sterling's."
--JOHN CLUTE