Sunday, May 13, 2007

Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville [2]


A Review, with spoilers.

Well my initial reaction: I'm glad I read THE SCAR first, because I wouldn't continue reading China Mieville if I read PERDIDO STREET STATION before THE SCAR. In short, I found PERDIDO STREET STATION a fulsome caricature of Mieville's revelry in interesting creatures, settings, and environments. The characters are pawns to Mieville's imagery, even at the very end -- not a fun read at all. Similar to THE SCAR's main point-of-view (POV) character (Bellis Coldwine), I found Isaac in PERDIDO STREET STATION annoying, uninteresting and just plain drab. The characters I found mildly interesting -- Tanner Sack from THE SCAR, and Lin from PERDIDO STREET STATION -- elicit perfunctory treatment and small, unsatisfying roles.

Unsatisfying endings leave a foul taste in my mouth. I prefer (unconditionally) a satisfying ending from my literature, and I don't read out of some masochistic desire for a bitter ending just for the sake of originality or boldness.

I found PERDIDO STREET STATION's climactic ending entirely unsatisfying, insufferably drawn-out and preachy. The final 3 parts are: The Glasshouse, Crisis and Judgement.

The Glasshouse part contains 36 pages (3 chapters) of set-up to arrive at the slake-moths' nest in the Glasshouse. Maybe ~8 pages of action comprising the climax of The Glasshouse part, and another ~7-9 pages of closure for The Glasshouse.

Following the Glasshouse part, the Crisis part is worse. Get this. The Crisis part contains 62 pages of set-up (5 chapters!) for the first slake-moth to arrive at Perdido Street Station. Slap me silly and call me Gertrude, Mieville sure LOVES to revel in the imagery.

Finally we have a preachy Judgement part where the book teaches us the morality (or lack thereof) of reversing justice. In the end, Yag learns to accept the city he abhored in the beginning. [ Barf ]

Lin's irrecoverable condition casts a very dark, and a very bitter shadow during the final part. You see, on page 321 in the paperback edition I have, Lin disappears from the novel; held, tortured and beaten by Motley the Gangster. Isaac and his companions believe her dead and Isaac mourns her. Nearly 260 pages later, we find that Lin is still alive only to have her mind "half-drained" by the last slake-moth moments later. The book says the slake-moth was only half finished feeding on Lin's mind, so Lin is left with a half-adult, half-pubescent mind. She can't formulate any coherent thoughts, she can't walk straight, and can't eat or crap without help, and she basically needs a nurse 24/7. When our fat scientist character, Isaac, gets aroused in the middle of the night, she returns his affections by trying to mate with him like a dog. Isaac pities her, and cries some more.

So I fail to see the difference between a slake moth completely feeding on a mind of a sentient and half-feeding on Lin's mind. I mean for all intents and purposes, the results are the same right? For me this ending is on the same level as just cleanly killing off Lin & Isaac, while Derkhan flees New Crobuzon. Killing off Lin & Isaac would have been better actually, at least we wouldn't have to read about Lin's condition at the end or Isaac's misery.

I'm at a loss to explain Isaac's actions when Lin turns around to see the slake-moth's wings, especially for someone that supposedly loves Lin and just found her alive after believing her dead for so long. Isaac has his back turned towards Lin (relatively close to him) and the slake-moth while trying to grab Lin's wrist and pull her away as she watches the wings. He even witnesses the slake-moth plunge its slavering tongue into her mouth through his mirror, but does nothing, except trying to reach for her wrist?!?? Uhm, you just found the love you thought dead, and you're going to keep your back turned while you watch the slake-moth slowly approach her and drain her mind?!? I don't understand Isaac's characterization here, he could have turned around, and at least attempted to push her away and sacrifice himself. But, instead, he waits for Yag to do it.

Later, Yag "half-saving" Lin served as a moral plot device for Isaac trying to decide between helping Yag who "half-saves" Lin or preserving the justice passed to Yag long before, from Yag's peers.

Weak, very, very weak.

Endings like these just kill the entire reading experience for me. I didn't like THE SCAR's ending (it just was), but it wasn't half as unsatisfying as the ending in PERDIDO STREET STATION. As you can probably tell, I found PERDIDO STREET STATION's ending very empty.

In PERDIDO STREET STATION, China Mieville has no sides a reader can reliably root for; as a reader, you're hardpressed to care about New Crobuzon and its dissolute denizens, at least from the gruesome, decrepit way Mieville depicts the city. You certainly don't care about its government or the city's architecture. Mieville relishes in delineating the worst, the most squalid parts of the city (Dog Fenn, Spatters, Spit Hearth, The Crow). One begins to wonder if the city has any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Mieville's "main" characters (Isaac & Bellis) are difficult to get behind. Isaac is just annoying, and Bellis' motivations and desires (trying to save New Crobuzon, return to New Crobuzon) from THE SCAR just don't ring true.

In summary: we don't really care about the city and its decrepit architecture, we don't care about the government and certainly not the cruel crime gangs, we don't care for the putrid air, and we definitely don't care about the city's infested rivers. When all the slake-moths come in full force, I couldn't help but =root= for the slake-moths. Seriously, at that point Lin is "dead", Isaac & Derkhan are blah, New Crobuzon is crap, so who cares if the slake-moths turn the entire city into zombies?

It's funny, I wanted to see more of Lin in PERDIDO STREET STATION; instead we get plenty of Isaac. I wanted Isaac and all his companions including Derkhan to die already; instead, Lin dies (twice). In THE SCAR, I wanted to see more of Tanner; instead we receive healthy dose of Bellis, simply serving as our eyes and ears to events, places, creatures, and other people and things.

Mieville's vivid imagery in his settings is as strong ever. Now if he could only balance that with existentialist, empowering characterizations and a somewhat satisfying ending.

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