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Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

01/07/2002. Contributed by Stephen Hunt

Buy from Amazon US - Buy from Amazon UK
nb: US titles may only be available from Amazon US, and UK titles from Amazon UK.

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pub: Pan. 867 page softcover. Price: £7.99. (UK). ISBN: 0-330-39289-1.

One of the recurring pieces of advice given to struggling wannabe authors is to find an 'original voice'.

Then every so often an author comes along with a voice so original that he or she practically creates a new sub-genre.

Gibson did it with cyberpunk, E. E. Doc Smith did it with space opera. Tolkien did it with sword and sorcery. And now our China has done it with his Dickens-style SF London warped into some terrible, mutant Gormenghast-bad arse city.

The town in question is New Crobuzon, set - like Gormenghast - in a world without any explanation save its own presence. Is New Crobuzon fantasy? Is it an alternative reality? Is it London in an incredibly far future? Is it an alien world? Who knows, just kick back and enjoy the procession of the bizarre that China whips into existence before you.

The main plot line concerns a rogue human scientist, Isaac, and his quest to find a way to grow a new set of wings for an exiled warrior from an avian species, the Garuda. Said flying desert warrior has had his wings amputated as a punishment for some strange crime of philosophy against his people.

Unfortunately for Issac, his quest to let his non-human patron soar in the sky again leads to big trouble - both for him and the city.

The universe is unique. New Crobuzon is a dirty, squalid mess, loosely based in society & touch on the rookeries of early 19th century London. Except that dozens of outlandish species inhabit its streets in uneasy coexistence, ruthlessly ruled by a tyrannical parliament which inflict horrific mutations and cruel genetic alterations as punishment for the most minor crimes.

From democrats demanding a free press, to child criminals stealing bread, sentences that could have been conjured up from the mind of a Nazi doctor are handed out widely by the city's courts. The patrician rulers are fighting a running battle to keep a lid on the simmering slow motion riot of its citizenry.

There is a side-nod to steam-punk, with babbage machines, steam-powered robots, and Victorian-like brands proliferating throughout the book's pages.

If Michael Moorcock had been born in the early 1970s and was just now turning his hand to creating a mutant hybrid of the cyberpunk genre - as warped as any of the 'Remade' criminals shuffling through the pages of Perdido Street - such a bastard, inventive work might have been birthed.

Weird. Disturbing. Compulsive reading.

Stephen Hunt.

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