|Submitted by Joshua Manuel-Paul |
(Aug 10, 2004)
With all of the excitement surrounding the typical fantasy (or sci-fi) fare like the latest Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind, the truly original books in the genre tend to be ignored. Perdido Street Station (and also The Scar) is a novel that, though critically acclaimed and award winning, has been largely ignored by the mainstream fantasy/sci-fi audience.
What makes Perdido Street Station unique is that it is actually reinventing the genre of speculative fiction. Rather than parading out the worn-out narratives aped over and over by the Jordans and Goodkinds and Martins, Mieville has constructed a setting and story that is altogether different. In a fantastical setting chock full of different races, Mieville ignores the typical feudalism-lite garbage and opts for something akin to steampunk: steam-driven engines, pre-revolver pistols, AI that runs on steam, etc. Instead of elven aristocrats, dwarves, and analogues of such races, Mieville provides a bestiary of races that reads like a freakshow. And instead of the sword-toting or magical hero, the protagonist of Perdido Street Station is an overweight scientist. Oh, and he's not white either and is involved in an interspecies affair with a woman with the head of an insect. In fact the whole story is about a scientific project gone awry. Perdido Street Station ends up being a merger of numerous genres: fantasy, science fiction, horror, protest, 19th century Dickens style fable, etc.
Moreover, Mieville is also an academic sporting a PhD from the London School of Economics. Due to this background there is a level of political and economic realism injected into his story. A committed leftist, the author's work is even more unique in its genre because it steers away from the blatantly Ayn Rand or fascist undertones of many other fantasy novels ("The Sword of Truth" series, for example) written by politically uninformed authors who adopt a philosophical framework based on the genre tropes or because they watch too much Fox news. Thus Mieville's work is a development of the New Wave Science Fiction movement of the 60s in which Moorcock and Ballard attempted to bond sci-fi with politics. The idea was that sci-fi/fantasy has the most political potential of any genre and should be used to inundate the public with subversive political messages (ie. Moorcock was an anarchist and anarcho themes read strong in his work) while being a commentary on the development of technology.
Again, it is sad to see that the general public has not begun to flock to Mieville's banner as they have to Jordan or Martin. It is time fantasy moved out of the feudal world of kings and queens and magical orders and hardy heroes on a quest. Mieville's fantasy is a world of a corrupt bourgeousie, radicals, starving proles, and academic - non martial - protagonists. It is more a mirror of our society than any mainstream fantasy novel could hope to be, and that is probably why it is not as widely promoted; many ready fantasy for pure escapism. Perdido Street Station, however, has raised the bar for the genre in terms of originality and potential. It is destined to become a classic and, perhaps, has set the tone for speculative fiction to come.