Audiobook Review: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

9 09 2013

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Read by John Lee

Random House Audio

Length 24 Hrs 5 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Perdido Street Station is a brilliant but at times overly complex fantasy tale that twists, meshes and redefines many of the standards of what fantasy is. Most importantly, if you are a big fan of giant empathic man eating killer moths and enjoy listening to them gaining carnal knowledge of each other before heading out to suck the life essence from a human being, this book is for you, you sick twisted excuse of a human being.

Grade: B

I really should learn my lessons. The other day I was scanning through my reviews this year, and realized I have actually listened to very little traditional second world fantasy. I’ve listened to plenty of Urban Fantasy, and other such genre off shoots, but not much tales of worlds other than ours, with magic, and unicorns and elves, and the like. This really isn’t too surprising. Of all my genre faves, second world fantasy is the genre I am probably most hesitant about. Typically, when I jump into a new fantasy reality, it’s part of a series, and I fall in love with the world in book 1, get intrigued my the story progression but dismayed by the lack of any true closure in book 2, and then totally ignore book three. I can probably name 5 series which I have read the first two books in, and still haven’t finished. So, the obvious solution to my fantasy drought would have been to pick up one of this final books in a trilogy, but this would require that awkward adjustment period when you jump back into a fantasy world you haven’t been in for years, but are expected to remember. So, instead, I put out a call on twitter for a stand alone second world fantasy novel. This first thing I learned is there is almost no goddam standalone fantasy novels out there. There are plenty of books that “standalone but exist in the same world” which I know I would be crazily trying to figure out the missing subtext and those little character relationships that are thrown in as Easter Eggs to the series fans. Finally, after receiving a few recommendations for series, or fantasy series that weren’t second world, I finally decided that it was going to come down to two names, China Mieville and Guy Gavriel Kay, fantasist that I believe met my criteria, but I have always been a bit intimidated by. This off course, lead me to my major issue. Upon talking about China Mieville, I suddenly got slammed with PERDIO STREET STATION! PERDIDO STREET STATION! recommendations. So, I chose to, well, take my initial voyage into the world of China Mieville with Perdido Street Station. I guess this is what I get for asking for book recommendations on Twitter.

So, I am going to forgo writing a synopsis about this book, because it is so weird, and really, what same person would believe me. Perdido Street Station is at its core, a love story between a woman who has a human body, but her head is, well, not so much insectile but an actual full bodied insect and a mad scientist, who is really quite sensible. It is also a tale of government corruption, organized crime, and a fantasy exogenous anthropological tour through a fantasy city which is both recognizable and entirely alien. Mieville’s city of New Crobuzon is brilliantly conceived and surprisingly vivid. Each moment he spends showing us around this city is breathtakingly physical. In many ways you feel the heat, smell the stench and find yourself a bit uneasy as you enter each new district, and meet it’s strange other than human denizens. Yet, it’s not just a thought exercise, but a interesting story of a scientist who let his zeal to find a way to give a bird like being restored flight after his wings had been removed due to a crime, lead to a danger that may destroy the entire city. Herein lies the problem. It’s wonderfully done, full of complex action scenarios, strange diverse characters including robots, demons and large spidery things and a fascinating revenge tale involving a disturbing crime boss, but the menace was HUGE EMPATHIC KILLER MOTHS. This is what I get for asking for recommendations on twitter, monstrous moths having sex and eating people’s essence. I have been quite open about my mottephobia. I have an irrational fear and disgust of moths which I trace back to the days when my sister would hide at the bottom of the attic steps and throw dead moths at me when I came down. If a moth lands on me, I feel dirty the rest of the day. And now I have images of giant moths fucking in my brain that can’t be removed without targeted radiation or some PDK-like superdrug. Perdido Street Station was a challenging book for many reasons. Mievelle’s world is so foreign that it takes time to adjust to. In many ways, his world building is the antithesis to much of the fantasy I have read in the past. There were moments I really enjoyed this book, particularly the wonderful city and some of the most fascinating characters I have encountered in fiction, but for the most part my brain was so involved in understanding the book, it forgot to enjoy it. Plus, KILLER MOTHS! I mean, really. One last note, I only later discovered that Perdido Street Station is in fact, listed as part of a series. I know… I know… it’s not a traditional series, but moths and a series. What’s next, finding out that New Crobuzon is actually located in Idaho? Geez…

So, John Lee reads Perdido Street Station, and this makes me angry. I love John Lee. I think he’s one of the best narrators out there particularly when it comes to fantasy. He has a lush voice that can be both simple and complex at the same time. He manages to bring New Crobuzon alive in such beautiful ways.  One day, I would love to interview him for the blog. Of course then I would absolutely have to ask him about moth sex. MOTH SEX. If I ever meet the man in person, the first thing that will pop into my head won’t be his performance in Pillars of the Earth, which I consider one of the greatest narrator performances of all times, or his handling of the wonderful works of Graham Joyce, or even the odd but brilliant choice to have him narrate Brian Hodge’s Prototype… nope, it will be “Here’s the man who voiced killer empathic moth sex.” DAMMITT! Yet, this shouldn’t take away from the fact that once again Lee gives a wonderful performance. Perdido Street Station is a brilliant but at times overly complex fantasy tale that twists, meshes and redefines many of the standards of what fantasy is. Most importantly, if you are a big fan of giant empathic man eating killer moths, and enjoy listening to them gaining carnal knowledge of each other before heading out to suck the life essence from a human being, this book is for you, you sick twisted excuse of a human being.

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3 responses

9 09 2013
montsamu

I am so sorry. I had no idea you had mottephobia. But you know, it resulted in gems like this: “I am going to forgo writing a synopsis about this book, because it is so weird, and really, what same person would believe me.” That is the best line you’ll read in a review all year, folks.

10 09 2013
Dave Thompson

Yeah, I also apologize on not knowing you were terrified of moths. Sorry, man! FWIW, I’m pretty sure none of the other Bas Lag books have Moths in them, though they do have other really fucked up things. Unfortunately, speaking of really fucked up things, none of the other Bas Lag books are in audio.

(Sam’s right – it’s a great review!)

10 09 2013
NancyH

i am also mottephobic, due to a home renovation when i was a kid that left our house open to night bugs for a month or so.. and they would flap out from surprising places unexpectedly. butterflies are similarly suspect, although not quite as bad. take my advice, don’t read “Renaissance Man” by Sean Stewart 🙂

i started Perdido Street on audio book, but it was so strange and so meandering that I found it hard to stay focussed in long sections of description. So I finished it in hard copy, where re-reading a section was easier. i think i envisioned the Perdido moths as more deliberate and ponderous rather than randomly flappy, which i think is the bit that bothers me about actual moths.

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