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Perdido Street Station

by

Perdido Street Station Cover

 

 

Author Q & A

Q. Tell us a little about your new book PERDIDO STREET STATION.

China Mieville: PERDIDO STREET STATION is about a huge, violent city,

and the clumsy unfolding of a nightmare inside it. I wanted to write a

book that was set in a believable alternative world. It was a world - a city

particularly - that I'd been playing with and creating for some years,

and the development involved evaluating a lot of the stuff I'd already

worked on, discarding some, reshaping some, that sort of thing.

The story was second. I was kicking around an idea about a radically

egalitarian society that through its egalitarianism was deeply concerned

with choice, and freedom for the individual (a riposte to the

anti-socialist slurs of the right-wing). What shape would discontent and

crime take in that society? And what if someone from there came to New

Crobuzon, which was very far from that model? Why would s/he come?

It is a dark book, and I hope that readers of horror and dark fantasy

will still consider it something for them. It's urban gothic dark

fantasy again, only set in another world. It's a fantasy novel — in that

it's set in a secondary world inhabited by humans alongside other races,

and there's magic but this is very far from epic or heroic fantasy. It's

sort of unheroic, unepic fantasy.

Q. Talk a bit more about world-building.

CM: Histories, laws, cultures, aesthetics — worlds — are colossal, and

colossally complex. There is no way you can ever tell the story of a

whole world. No matter how detailed your timeline or carefully

illustrated your bestiary, you can't possibly explain everything. If

something's not important to the narrative, then don't try — there are

only so many info-dumps a story can take, and I save mine for the stuff

that the reader has to understand.

There are various aspects to creating a believable world. The most

important for me is atmosphere - depending on what the feelings you want

to communicate are, the world you create will have a different shape.

There were other inspirations. I haven't played role playing games in

years, but I quite enjoy browsing their rulebooks. I like the kind of

obsessive detailed world-creation the best of them involve.

I love bestiaries; a lot of the pleasure is in trying to create

original, plausible, interesting, fantastic creatures. But obviously

that's not enough. You have to have a story, and you've got to be

careful not to make it like a guidebook with a story in it, but a story

that happens to take place in another world. And ideally both the story

and the world should keep you surprised.

Q. In PERDIDO STREET STATION, the city of New Crobuzon is very much a

living, breathing character. Likewise, in your first novel King Rat, the

city of London took on a life of it's own. You seem fascinated by the

idea of the city as a living thing.

CM:I am interested in cities because they are where social conflict is

sharpest, where social tension and resistance are strongest. It is a

political choice but also an aesthetic one - cities are places where

different sorts of architecture, different sorts of social mapping,

coincide and conflict. I also wanted to write urban fantasy because of

my debt to other writers — Mervyn Peake, and Mike Harrison and the Mary

Gentle of Rats and Gargoyles --writers who write fantasy with real

politics and economics in them. I was interested in having a fantasy

with capitalist social relations, and capitalism is urban.

I don't have a taste for the sort of historical fantasy that is set in

an unreal countryside with a hierarchical system that is not even real

feudalism. Part of this is that I just don't like the countryside --

rural idiocy and sacks of potatoes, as far as I am concerned. In our

real world, the country has become just an adjunct of the town and is of

less interest as a result. Books about cities are just more exciting --

when my surviving characters escape New Crobuzon at the end, it is to go

to another city.

Q: Let's talk a bit about your politics. You're a politically- active

member of the International Socialist Tendency.

CM: I've been actively involved for some years now, and am looking forward

to getting more active with a spin-off called ATAC - the Arts Tendency

Against Capitalism. I get very tired of people thinking that being a

socialist means supporting North Korea or the erstwhile USSR (it

doesn't).

Q. What prompted you to become political?

CM: Growing up with a single parent in an ethnically mixed working class

area of London was a good start. And then going to posh schools full of

right wing people who came out with the most outrageous homophobic and

racist drivel, and then going to university and realizing that there was

a way of making sense of all the awful stuff going on as part of the

same phenomenon, a world system that would never reform itself.

It was through being at university that I got interested in serious

socialism, as opposed to flaky socialism, and started reading Marx,

which had a huge effect on me. The thing is, I am not someone who

particularly enjoys the process of politics. I am lazy and all I want to

do is read books about monsters all day. But capitalism doesn't let me

get one with that, because every time I turn on the news, there are more

dreadful things going on, and it's impossible to ignore. And it's all

unnecessary.

Q: So you like to read about monsters; what about film monsters? Do you

have a favorite?

CM: The problem is, of course, that one monster is not enough (is one

monster ever enough...?) I want loads now. These answers are therefore

only true for today. It's a tie: The Thing from John Carpenter's, uh,

The Thing, and Irena Dubrovna from Lewton and Tourneur's Cat People.

Why? Well, with The Thing, because it's probably the best approximation

of Lovecraftiana on screen, and because it's a very intelligent (and

impressively gross) representation of a shape-shifter. They wouldn't

just be shapeless protoplasm, they'd make limbs and organs for

themselves. And Irena Dubrovna because of her facial expression of

amused cruelty when she steps in human form to the side of the swimming

pool.

Q: Perdido Street Station is very cinematic in scope; was that your

intention?

CM: When I imagine a scene, I imagine it visually, but above all

cinematically--I often find myself panning through a scene like a

camera. This is how I work--and it means that I am drawn to movie

imagery. This means that sometimes you have to work hard to police the

cliches and then come back and decide that the cliche is what you need

and what you can get away with. I have scripted and cast both my novels

in my head.

Q. How would you cast Perdido Street Station then?

CM: Hmm...Vermishank would be Martin Landau, I think. Isaac could be LL Cool J

in ten years time, with a big bushy beard, doing an English accent.

(Right....) Lin? Doesn't really matter, does it? Anyone skinny wearing a

rubber bug head. I'm working on the others.

Q. Your mother now lives in Cuba and you spend a great deal of time

there. What is the science-fiction community like in Cuba?

CM: The Cuban SF scene is really interesting because it's very, very lively.

They organize their own conventions (one of which I spoke at), they

publish their own books. There's not such a sharp distinction between

genre and mainstream literature as there is in Britain and the US, so

'lit-fic' writers are likely to hang with SF writers at the literary

institutes. There's an amazing range of influences. They had various

(very good) Eastern European SF writers who got translated, such as (I

think) Lem, the Strugatskis, etc. But they also have very treasured

paperback editions of US SF, mostly Golden Age stuff from the fifties

and sixties, but some more recent, which they all share round and

carefully read. Even those who can't speak English well can almost all

read it. They are some years behind - they're getting very into

Cyberpunk now. The thing is that they have a considered and erudite but

partial knowledge - what they could get their hands on, they know inside

out, but there are holes, obviously. Not much of the New Worlds

avant-garde wave - I saw no Ballard, no Harrison, some Moorcock but

mostly his pulpest fantasies (I speak as a fan) - which is a shame. Some

of the SF writers - all of whom know each other, and who constitute a

sub-group in a very supportive and small literary scene - are published

in Latin America and Europe, most are published (paid a pittance, if at

all) only in Cuba. They're hungry and fascinated for any discussion

about Western SF, and what's going on - books and films, everything.

Whenever I go over there, I bring a bunch of paperbacks and leave them.

There's also a big comic scene, which blurs at the edges with the SF

scene, as elsewhere.

Q. Some people call you a fantasy writer; others classify you as a

horror or science-fiction writer. How would you classify yourself?

CM: I use the term 'fantastic literature' as a way of bracketing the genres

of supernatural horror, epic fantasy, low fantasy and science fiction.

The term I would like to reinvigorate is 'weird fiction.' There's a

radical moment in all weird fiction and that moment is the positing of

the impossible as true. Whether you make that what the story's all about

or you simply have it as a starting point, that to me is a radical

moment. Of course, all this stuff is for nothing if you can't keep

people interested in the actual story...

Essentially I'm a fantasy writer, though in a different tradition that

stresses the macabre, the surreal, the decadent, the lush, the grotesque

- a tradition of grotesquerie, cruelty, sadness and alienation. The

surrealist aesthetic is an alienating aesthetic, the opposite of

Tolkien's consolatory, comforting aesthetic. Part of that means not

shying away when the dynamic of the aesthetic is quite cruel. In real

life I'm quite sentimental so I overcompensate in my fiction.

Q. You mentioned Tolkien. Many consider him the father of modern

fantasy.

CM: That's unfortunate because it masks the alternative tradition of weird

fiction: authors like William Hope Hodgeson, Robert Chambers, Clark

Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraftt, and certainly the Weird Tales tradition

with Fritz Leiber, and then Mervyn Peake.

Fantasy's a frustrating genre in that so much that's published in it is

so derivative and formulaic, and yet it has the potential to be — and

sometimes is — the most radical literary form out there. In PERDIDO

STREET STATION, I've tried to write a fantasy novel without stereotypes.

No elves, no dwarfs. Too often, that sort of thing is used as a

shorthand for characterization, just a quickhand way of letting the

reader know that a character is noble, or stolid, or whatever. And I

hate the tendency towards moral absolutism in fantasy, the idea that

orcs/trolls/whatever are bad, as a kind of racial characteristic. I know

we've moved a long way from there recently, and there's a lot of very

good fantasy that really avoids that kind of laziness, but there's still

a lot out there that doesn't, unfortunately. I'm not saying,

incidentally, that you can't write good, imaginative fantasy with elves

in it, just that I can't. I also dislike Destiny and Fate a whole lot,

and it features heavily in a lot of fantasy. If I discover that some

character is fulfilling an Ancient Prophecy I tend to lose interest. I'm

interested in the opposite of That Which Has Been Foretold, which is

that which people make happen.

Q. So who would you consider strong influences in your own writing?

CM: Philip K. Dick is probably my single favourite writer. I read something

like Martian Timeslip or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and I

feel that literature has been done, and that the rest of us are just

adding footnotes. And to those who still say that SF isn't any good at

characterization I have three words: A Scanner Darkly.

M. John Harrison is astonishingly good. Mervyn Peake, Gene Wolfe, Tim

Powers, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, Lewis Carroll, Stanislaw Lem,

Lucius Shepard, Thomas Disch... A few years ago I got into a lot of late

19th/early 20th century slipstream stuff, that straddles SF, fantasy and

horror. The whole Weird Fiction thing I mentioned before. The obvious

name is Lovecraft, and I enjoy his stuff, but I prefer William Hope

Hodgson, and I like people like E.H. Visiak, Robert Chambers and David

Lindsay, and classics like Ambrose Bierce, MR James, Wells mainly for

The Island of Dr Moreau. Some of those people like Lovecraft and Hodgson

are odd, in that their writing is horribly, horribly flawed, awkwardly

written, overblown etc... and yet they had something. I read Hodgson's

Carnacki stories, for example, especially something like The Hog, and

about a third of me inside is laughing with derision, while the other

two-thirds is transfixed.

Borges, Iain Sinclair, William Golding, Kafka, Bulgakov, The Capek

Brothers, the Strugatski Brothers, Dambudzo Marechera, Jonathan Swift...

The whole surrealist axis, from Lautreamont through Breton and Ernst

onwards. And there are loads of writers who haunt me for years, on the

strength of a single short story. Like Julio Cortazar, solely on the

strength of the fucking peerless House Taken Over, or E.L.White for

Lukundoo, or Scott Bradfield, who is an all-round great writer, but

whose The Secret Life of Houses is achingly perfect.

Q. What about non-genre writers?

CM: A lot of my favourite 'lit-fic' writers I like for the same sorts of

reasons that I like genre writers. Like Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre is

one of my all-time top ten books, an incredible work of dark

imagination. I love it because I get the same kind of breathless

dislocation and fearful longing from it I do from the best genre

literature.

My favourite scene in that book is when she's ravenous and she tries to

buy a bun and she has no money, so she tries to swap her gloves for one,

and the baker won't take them. It freaks me out!

It's such a cold, terrifying scene: this well-dressed, starving,

wild-eyed woman standing, begging fiercely for food, holding out these

gloves with trembling hands, and the utter alienation and suspicion of

the shop-woman. And she won't sell her the bun! How's that for

undermining the surface rationality of the everyday? Gives the Cthulhu

monsters bulging under reality's skin a run for their money, I reckon.

Two normal human beings, and one would rather let the other starve than

accept a commodity rather than money, even though the commodity is worth

more than the money required, and we totally understand her point of

view!!! The horror, the horror...

Q. Last question...what's the deal with your name, China?

CM: Because my parents were hippies, and they looked through the dictionary

for a "beautiful word.' It's also Cockney rhyming slang for 'mate.'

Basically, in Cockney Rhyming Slang a phrase that rhymes with the word

in question comes to take its place, but then you get rid of the bit

that actually rhymes. That's how come my name means friend: 'my old

china' means 'my old mate' because 'china plate' rhymes with 'mate.'

Apparently they nearly settled on 'Banyan' but thankfully flicked

forward a few pages.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 7 comments:

mikecampbellsan, August 19, 2012 (view all comments by mikecampbellsan)
A phantasmagorical work. A bit steam punky, a bit fantastical, and entirely engaging. If you want to dip your toe into the "New Weird" of fantasy/sci fi, this hit by China Mieville is a great choice. Follow up with The Scar if you like the world of New Crobuzon.
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Anthony Thayer, September 2, 2011 (view all comments by Anthony Thayer)
The story Mr. Mieville spins about this amazing steampunk metropolis is so sprawling and varied that it is difficult to fit into my poor brain. Every re-read reveals more and more of the world, and every book that takes place in this world only adds to the weight and feel. Politics and rage and romance and descriptions that defy description make the whole thing feel so real. Though difficult to read at times, it pays to keep with it and see it through all of the filth and grit for the shining core of the story to come through.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
Roy Christopher, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Roy Christopher)
Less of a book and more of an alternate universe.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780345459404
Author:
Mieville, China
Publisher:
Del Rey Books
Author:
Mieville, China
Location:
New York
Subject:
Finance
Subject:
Fantasy fiction
Subject:
Science Fiction - Adventure
Subject:
Economics - General
Subject:
Scientists
Subject:
Science / Adventure
Subject:
Science Fiction and Fantasy-Adventure
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st mass market ed.
Edition Description:
Mass market paperback
Series Volume:
v. 1
Publication Date:
20030731
Binding:
MASS MARKET
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
640
Dimensions:
7 x 4.2 x 1.1 in 0.6688 lb

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Related Subjects

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Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » Adventure
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » Staff Picks

Perdido Street Station Used Mass Market
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$7.99 In Stock
Product details 640 pages Del Rey Books - English 9780345459404 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Perdido Street Station is an excellent tale. The characters are realistic, as is the city they live in (even though it is a far-fetched fantasy land). The story is well paced and carries the reader forward — it will keep your interest piqued till the very end.

"Review" by , "Earthy, sometimes outright disgusting — imagine finding your toilet blocked up by diamonds — but, amazingly in a book of this length, flawlessly plotted and relentlessly,stunningly inventive: a conceptual breakthrough of the highest order."
"Review" by , "The most exciting, enthralling novel I have read in a long time. It is about everything important — love, work, hope, worlds we knew were out there but needed a writer like Miéville to show them to us. His imagination is vast, his talent volcanic. Read this book. It just might be a masterpiece."
"Review" by , "More world building than storytelling, the yarn at least suggests that the author of King Rat is marching forward in his fantasy-writing career."
"Review" by , "It is the best streampunk novel since Gibson and Sterling's."
"Review" by , "[A] phantasmagoric masterpiece...The book left me breathless with admiration."
"Review" by , "This science fiction novel rocked my world. Sex with giant insects. Dream-sucking slake moths. An action-packed thriller with high literary production values. A sprawling, vastly ambitious, exquisitely executed science fiction fantasy with the best possible ending: You want more, more, more."
"Review" by , "Miéville's canvas is so breathtakingly broad that the details of individual subplots and characters sometimes lose their definition. But it is also generous enough to accommodate large dollops of aesthetics, scientific discussion, and quest fantasy in an impressive and ultimately pleasing epic."
"Review" by , "China Miéville's cool style has conjured up a triumphantly macabre technoslip metropolis with a unique atmosphere of horror and fascination."
"Synopsis" by , In the sprawling gothic city of New Crobuzon, a stranger requests the services of Isaac, an overweight and slightly eccentric scientist. But it is an impossible request — that of flight — and in the end Isaac's attempts will only succeed in unleashing a dark force upon the city.
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