Prose & Conversation: 'Perdido Street Station' by China Mieville | LitReactor
how Perdido Street Station can be considered a heterotopia, starting from. Foucault's for their own fiendish metaphorical ends, to the disgust of contemporary earlier in describing the hybrid relationship between Isaac and Lin as lovers. His second novel, Perdido Street Station (), which he wrote while working .. It's not a really happy ending, in that the rats, if they follow through on Saul's . JG: If you see sf as a political act, an exploration of the relationship of power and. British author China Miéville's novel Perdido Street Station (), written in the “ weird fiction” and Their inter-species relationship must be kept secret because most New The trap almost succeeds, and four slake-moths end up dead.
Some writers loom in my consciousness for single works, some for their whole oeuvre. John Harrison I consider one of the greatest living writers in any genre, and his influence on me is immense.
I love short stories, and there are writers like Borges, Calvino, and Stefan Grabinski whose short work is a constant reference, but there are others who loom large for me on the strength of a single piece: The biggest recent influence on me, though, is not an sf writer: I first read him a decade ago, but came back to him recently and read all his published work. His influences are radically different from the folklorist tradition that one often associates with African literature.
He writes in the tradition of the Beats, the Surrealists, the Symbolists, and he marshals their tools to talk about the freedom struggle, the iniquities of post-independence Zimbabwe, racism, loneliness, and so on. The epigram to The Scar is taken from his most obscure book, Black Sunlight , and he is a very strong presence throughout my recent writing. I want to turn the discussion from literary influences to your political involvement.
Loving Miéville’s Sentences « Post45
Would you describe that involvement, discussing its effect on your writing? Later, I became interested in postmodernist philosophy, but became very dissatisfied with it in my second year of university. But I also felt there were serious lacunae in that tradition, and, while I continue to identify with feminism as a political struggle, I was unsatisfied by some of its theoretical blindspots.
One was that this theoretical approach dovetailed perfectly with my pre-existing political instincts and commitments, and gave them more rigor. The other was that Marxism— historical materialism—was theoretically all-encompassing: Marxism was able to make sense of all the various social phenomena from a unified perspective.
Although we revolutionary socialists are always accused of being utopian, nothing strikes me as more utopian than the reformist belief that with a bit of tinkering and some good faith, we can systematically improve the world. You have to ask how many decades of broken promises and failed schemes it will take to disprove that hope. Socialism and sf are the two most fundamental influences in my life.
I chose it because I love it.
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And there are places in King Rat where I snatched a bunch of real lyrics, and looped them over each other, so the writing mimicked the music. The story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin is central to the novel, and the African trickster Anansi is there as well. Would you expand on your use of folk tales and myths in King Rat? All the animal superiors came from various mythic or artistic influences.
The Anansi in the book is more the spider in his West Indian incarnation. Lord of the Flies refers to the novel of that name [by William Golding ], of course. Would you discuss that? There are rivers that have been covered up by the city, and tunnels and construction, of which the tube the subway trains are a relatively recent but culturally weighty addition.
The tube map has become incredibly iconic. The very names of stations and train lines loom very large in our culture, so they were ripe to be pilfered. Setting a violent and unpleasant scene there was kind of like pissing in a cozy bedroom. And you put fraternity into the novel.
How and why is that an important theme in the novel? Turning to Perdido Street Station, how is it a London novel? In a very straightforward way, the city of New Crobuzon is clearly analogous to a chaos-fucked Victorian London. London is a trope for literature in an incredibly strong way: John Clute talks about British sf being about ruins, expressing a pessimism about expansionism gone wrong at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, March Can you speak to that in terms of Perdido Street Station?
It rather likes being in the ruins. I think, though, that Perdido Street Station is a little more muscular than that. I think you have to disaggregate them. In what ways does the novel reflect or respond to the contemporary situation politically, aesthetically, personally, or otherwise? There are certain deliberate references: There are general points about the depiction of social tensions and so on. In what ways does the novel develop or explore Marxism?
How does it bring Marxism into a contemporary perspective? Is there a kind of postmodern Marxism and, if so, is it at work in Perdido Street Station?
For me, much of that list is about dialectics, which is something that underpins a lot of what I think about. When I want to explore Marxism, I write non-fiction. However, I represent certain concerns in fictional form because they fascinate me. There are direct political topics, such as the arguments over union organization, over the class basis of fascism, over the internal contradictions of racist consciousness, and so on, in the book.
There are also slightly more abstruse ones. The model of consciousness explored in the book—where human consciousness is apparently ego plus subconscious, but is in fact the dialectical interrelation of the two, rather than an arithmetic addition, is a playful exploration not only of dialectics. It also explores the models of consciousness that I think explain social agency and the relationship between intuition and knowledge, which is something that Gramsci, for example, talks about a great deal.
To that extent, my refusal of the term is particularly regarding postmodernism as an academic movement. Deconstruction, for example—fine, useful method. It was particularly sharp in social anthropology, where the cultural relativism led to some to my mind terrible capitulations to inequity.
Plenty of people I respect massively, like Jameson, have used it: I know that, but still. I reject postmodernism as a philosophical position though God knows it covers too many bases—are we talking Rorty? The point about dialectics is that the postmodern fascination with hybridity and miscegenation too often blurs into a fetishistic and sometimes quite self-indulgent celebration of marginality for its own sake. Now, dialectics are centrally important to me, as they focus on much the same stuff—blurred interstices, gray areas, hard cases—but as part of a social and historical totality.
The conception of totality is absolutely central to my political and theoretical life. Of course it has a bad reputation, what with postmodernist assault on one side, and the grotesque legacy of Stalinism on the other. But the point of dialectics as about movement, dynamism, tendencies within an overall, comprehensible, and total system is incredibly illuminating to me. In terms of historical change—the tensions that drive it being simultaneously within the system, and overthrowing it—and in terms of understanding modernity.
This is obvious in my fiction in that the social tensions and contradictions that drive plot are generally endogenous—I try to avoid the sense of a static system. Modernity, history, is always-already-in-transition. If you see sf as a political act, an exploration of the relationship of power and powerlessness, how do you use sf to make that exploration in Perdido Street Station?
I think sf can be a political act, but generally in a fairly mediated, not to say attenuated, way. Politically speaking, the most important things I do are political: But power relations are very important to the novel, and inform it in what I think is a fairly simple way. If you look at the Surrealists, for example, they examine questions of power and oppression in the very form of their work, which is something very radical, and something that necessarily makes their work less than straightforward: The riches of the corrupt parliament and their machinations, to the bohemian quarter of artists, to a weird university full of students and prejudice, to racial ghettos, various sorts of squalor and degradation, all are picked out beautifully and more than frequently horrifically.
Often I found myself needing to stop reading, overcome by emotions ranging from horror to disgust to pity to shear fascination with the strange beauty just at descriptive passages alone. Unlike Peake however, Mieville's work is far more than just a set of word paintings in a colourful location distantly connected with a plot, since Mieville's characters are complex, three dimensional and all the more real.
I personally didn't find any trouble following the story, albeit that it is definitely a stranger one than you would expect. The principle character or at least the one we spend most time with is Isaac, a middle-aged and somewhat neurotic discredited scientist.
From his fascination with problem solving to his helplessness when things go severely wrong, I found Isaac both likeable and in some cases mildly frustrating, but no different to people I know in reality. One of the highpoints for me was Isaac's relationship with the Kepri sculptor Lin. I find that I care most about romantic relationships in books when I sympathize with the characters involved.
This doesn't mean having both parties be young and beautiful and spout big emotional lines or even be opposing genderbut both have a motivation I can feel and empathize with, and genuinely gain something from being together. Isaac, for all his neurotic focus on problems and his quite realistic fear of what others may think of a cross species relationship is a fundamentally decent minded person who at least tries to do the right thing for others.
Lin is a gentle artist at variants with her own culture and yet trying to make an identity for herself and in her own way can be equally self-obsessed the way both Isaac and Lin understand the other's need for space is really quite adorable.
Despite the alien world and in the case of Lin the extremely alien species, I found both characters believable, and if you told me that before the end of the book I'd find myself literally reduced to tears by a romance which included a fat middle aged scientist and a woman who is part insect I'd have wondered what you were smoking, but I can't deny this actually happened.
Though we spend most of our time with Isaac, or Lin, frequently Mieville gives us other character perspectives, or just generalized views of New Krobuzon as well, yet nowhere did any of this feel ill-fitting or out of place.
I loved that Mieville did not feel that he needed to always be focusing absolutely on building up the events of his plot and freely takes the odd detour just to show how certain events occur as they do or give another aspect on New Krobuzon. Indeed, much like one of my other favourite books, William Horwood's Duncton Found, I loved how Perdido Street Station was a book that needed to be appreciated holistically, that all elements from artistry to plot to dialogue contributed to the full impression rather than just being scattered parts put together.
I also confess I disagree with Ryan Lawler on the profanity, both in some descriptive passages and in characters' own speech, since Mieville uses profanity the same way he uses all aspects of language, to emphasise certain qualities or aspects of the city or give some characters a more realistic turn of phrase.
There is no other way of saying it; Perdido Street Station is a work of art! At times horrific, beautiful, tragic, comic or even uplifting, with a plot which takes unexpected turns and twists and revelations, one of the most unique settings imaginable and above all a style of dark poetry that is truly exceptional.
Less than that, but not by much, and they're the heart of the story! But yes, I've had books do that to me, American Psycho was one for sure.
Some of Jack Ketchum's books. I had to read something very light after The Girl Next Door. But Perdido I didn't find as dark. I thought it was a great journey, so much to witness, but the end was so sad. Even now, if I close my eyes and picture New Crobuzon, I see blackness. The imagery was so dark and gritty, I can't think of a book that has been so Maybe it was the cover art that started me off with the darkness. I came pretty near to tears at the end! This whole novel is set in a bit of a dystopian society, where there are all of these strange breeds and manufactured creatures.
But it's really all about Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the scientist, his love interest Lin who has the head of an insect but the body of a womanand Yagharek, who is part bird, part man he's a garuda. Also playing lesser roles were Derkhan Blueday who is openly gayand Mr. Motley, a crime lord. Those are the main people, I think. We'll get to the Weaver and the Construct Council in a second. Did you like these characters, find yourself rooting for them? I know with Yagharek it's tricky, as his wings have been clipped, he's been punished for a horrible crime—so he's not as innocent.
I loved Lin so much. I was pulling for her and pulling for her. From the very beginning of the story, from the moment she leaves her flat for the first time, it's clear she's in trouble, but she's just so damn graceful, even for a bug-person-thing. I can so picture this creature, slender and wearing flowing clothes, with this head that's so completely different from her body.
Her backstory about living with her mother, who let the male-bug-grubs run all over the place, is so horrific, you can't help but want Lin to make something beautiful of her life. And with her art, she tries. I don't want to give any spoilers to those considering reading It's tricky because it's really Isaac's POV, but we also get the italics, the secondary perspective of Yag, in addition to Lin.
She's an artist, I loved her whole process of eating and secreting and sculpting. Watching the science of Issac is fascinating, and Yagharek is so noble, and yet flawed and fallen. Even in the end I felt for him, when I really shouldn't have. Honestly, I loved Isaac and Yag, too. Mieville is good at writing really, really good and really, really bad characters.
This wasn't one of those books where you weren't sure who to root for.
Prose & Conversation: 'Perdido Street Station' by China Mieville
It's clear from the very start. I definitely was rooting for Issac, and Lin is so sympathetic, but what do you do with Yagharek? I was in his corner up to the very end, and even then not sure how to take the ending.
Suffice to say, Yag is a bit on the gray side. I wanted it to drive me crazy, but he was such a stranger in a super-strange land, it almost made sense to me.
I wanted him to step up and take a bigger role at first — he's so strong and fierce — but when he held back, it sort of made the story more interesting.
I mean, he's obviously a criminal, but the laws of his people are so eccentric, Isaac has a hard time understanding it all, and we do, too. And you have to feel so badly for him. A bird without wings. What could be worse than removing the gift of flight from someone so used to it? I felt his loss of freedom. But like you said Did you get a bit of Spock from him? That and the big eagle on the Muppets is how I saw him—Sam the Eagle.
That was pretty much it. And I didn't get Spock I so want him to fly again. Isaac sees the garuda as brutal creatures, the laws of the Cymek as so savage. But I think we need to have that POV to root for them. I never thought of the garuda as savage, even though I agree Isaac did. I thought of them as, actually, more evolved somehow.
Because the human city was such a mess, and so uncivilized. I'd like to think I'd be open to it. They were beyond our petty struggles, our hypocrisy, which is something Yag talks about towards the end, or the visitor does anyway.
Let's talk about all of the wonderful and weird creatures—the remade and the Weaver, the slake-moths. Is that when you really became invested? Just finishing this last night, I forgot how intense they all were, especially the Weaver and the moths. This was your first read, how did they appear to you? Was it intense, frightening, fascinating?
Well, the first thing that really got me was how Mieville writes about all of the creatures, including animals. The brutality in the things he described. The first time I realized I cared about the story was when he described a slaughterhouse I swear, I could smell the blood, I could hear them squeal, and it broke my heart.
And he did that with his fantastical creatures as well. When the caterpillar-creature in Isaac's lab is dying, I swear I wanted to die with it. It's so pitifully vivid; Mieville kept breaking my heart, over and over again.
I was just looking at the first description of Motley, who strangely enough is a "motley" mix of remade parts, mostly different animals. I should explain that the remade were punished, typically, given horrible alterations involving animal and machine grafts.