Perdido Street Station
Perdido Street Station comes highly recommended on the steampunk genre, and is the winner of various awards. I haven't read much of steampunk (if you consider Wells' The Time Machine steampunk, then that's all I've read), so I decided to give the genre a try. And I can say this will not be my last book (either on the genre or by China Miéville).
There are two important characters in Perdido Street Station, Isaac, the scientist; and Yagharek, the Garuda (yes, a garuda, a bird-man flying humanoid). The story follows both, as Yagharek reaches New Crobuzon, the city that is the stage of this book, and asks Isaac for help. Yagharek has been made earthbound as his sentence for a crime, and this means that his wings have been sawed off. He asks Isaac to help him fly again, by any means that he can. Isaac as a scientist, will take this problem full on, studying all manner of flying things (and like with any scientist, the solution will be his field of expertise, his life long research).
The problems start (or escalate, because New Crobuzon is a polluted city-state, with a corrupt government, keen on spying on its inhabitants, most of which are terribly poor and lost to drugs) when one of the grubs Isaac acquires grows into a moth, and starts attacking the city. And Isaac will try to fight this new menace.
Perdido Street Station took me a long time to read. Not because it was boring (it wasn't, although there is always a lot of information being given to the reader), but because it was intricate, not a story to be rushed, but to be enjoyed and appreciated. There are parts where the descriptions are beautiful, poetic even, and that bring a vivid image to our minds. This is extremely good, because the creatures and places in the book are built in likewise fashion, of different parts stuck together, in ways that shouldn't, and sights so alien that couldn't possibly belong there.
What I loved the most about Perdido Street Station was the science. When the main character is a scientist, an unorthodox one, full of seemingly crazy ideas and theories, that branch through all the possible fields, there is a chance that the story will feature some science. And, if in the beginning I was unsure and unconvinced by the slow moving plot, all it took to hook me in was a lecture in physics by Isaac (and followed later on by another one on biology). But amidst all the science that happens in New Crobuzon, all the inventions and clockwork (because, after all, this is steampunk), there is still space for magic.
I have read, years ago, that in Fantasy/Science Fiction you have to choose your mojo: you'll either have technology or magic, but not both. I've seen this “rule” defied before, of course, but never as well as in Perdido Street Station, where magic occurs next to a completely analytical Constructed Intelligence (a robot, with Artificial Intelligence, in our world), and it's entirely believable (although I always have to give praise to any author that makes magic entirely believable).
Of all the characters, the one I loved the most was Yagharek, even after I discovered what his crime was. To me, this book was about him, his journey, both geographical and interior, and I always looked forward to those chapters between parts, told in his voice, of his fears and hopes. I also liked Isaac, especially because as the “hero”, he is a completely different one, that coughs and wheezes when he has to run or do the slightest bit of physical work.
There are also other species other than human and garuda, there are insect khepri, water-based vodyanoi, the prickly cactacae people, and a multitude of other different races. With this motley population, there is space to show the tolerance and xenophobia that exists in New Crobuzon. Some races stand apart, some mingle, and some individuals just do as they please.
Betrayal is also a theme in Perdido Street Station, it occurs throughout the novel. In some cases it left me angry, others deeply heartbroken. In all, it was a book that gauged strong emotions, from some amazement and revulsion at the beginning, to the bitter sweet ending.
I loved this book, it appealed to the scientist in me, it was different and it was unmistakeably good.
Other reviews: Speculative Horizons