How does one write about a novel so charged, so phantasmagorically creepy, so beautiful as Perdido Street Station? I have to say, now, that between this and Embassytown, I'm completely hooked on anything Miéville writes. His prose is so dense with complex images and complicated descriptions, and characters whose particular points of view broaden our understanding of the worlds that he creates.
Miéville has also encouraged my burgeoning love of steampunk, describing "crisis engines" and circuits and analogue self-creating AIs. This alternative technology, though, fits right in with the alternative world of Bas-Lag, where magic ("thaumaturgy") and Victorian-era tech mingle in an early industrial world controlled by the militia and corrupt government officials. It's grimy, it's violent, and it's a hotbed of new ideas about art and science.
Perdido Street Station asks us to accept a world in which massive dimension-shifting arachnids battle hypnotic, grisly consciousness-sucking moth-like creatures. That's right. And not only do we accept this world- we root desperately for the humans, the spider, the AIs- basically anyone or anything that is willing to fight the moths. For while they don't actually kill their victims, the moths suck the dreams and consciousnesses out of them until the human, the khepri, or whoever, is permanently mindless.
Isaac, the brilliant renegade scientist at the heart of the novel, unwittingly prepares to battle these creatures when he's asked by a "garuda" (a bird-like creature) to help him fly again, since his wings were cut off as punishment back in his own country. Isaac's work on "crisis engines," which capture and harness paradoxical forces, holds the key to giving the garuda back his ability to fly. Ultimately, though, the engine is used for a more important purpose- ridding the world of the moths.
At 700 pages, Perdido Street Station has an epic quality, giving the author time to develop Isaac and explain his research so that we're prepared for its actual use. Further, the intricate descriptions of the many different creatures and races living in New Crobuzon (a major city on Bas-Lag) reveal a teeming world where living together doesn't mean living in harmony (sound familiar?). It is Miéville's ability to pattern his alternative worlds after our own in fantastic and fascinating new ways that draws us in to his books.
I'm planning to read every other novel that he's written, since that's what I try to do with favorite writers.