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1 Burnside Science Fiction and Fantasy- A to Z

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Perdido Street Station


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ISBN13: 9780345443021
ISBN10: 0345443020
Condition: Standard
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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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Shelly Caldwell, January 20, 2012 (view all comments by Shelly Caldwell)
Probably the strangest and most memorable book I read last year. Very involved and disturbing - scary yet funny - all in all WONDERFUL. Mr. Mieville has the most amazing imagination and vocabulary!

I'm now in the process of reading everything he's ever written. But PDS is still my favorite (although The City and The City was a very close second). I highly recommend his work.
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h, September 22, 2011 (view all comments by h)
This is fantasy that transcends the designation and attracts those not yet initiated into the genre. Mieville is always inventive, his voice urgent, and his imagined worlds far from our own yet reflections on our own.
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Mark Joseph, September 2, 2011 (view all comments by Mark Joseph)
I love Tolkien as much as anyone, but sometimes you want something different. Might as well start at the top--this book is maximally different from The Lord of the Rings. Both are "fantasy" novels, but that is the extent of their similarities. Creator and perfecter of the sub-genre "New Weird," Perdido has everything--a heart-poundingly scary plot, brilliant characterization, more moving parts than any novel I can think of, more than one "I didn't expect that" moment, a fair amount of political commentary and/or subtext, and lots and lots of *weird*. This is one of my favorite books ever, and I'd only have one caveat for the potentially interested reader--if you can't handle weird (especially one central romance between a human man and an insect-headed woman), the book may prove a bit too rich for your tastes.
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Product Details

Mieville, China
Del Rey Books
Mieville, China
Priest, Cherie
New York
Fantasy - General
Fantasy fiction
Science Fiction - Adventure
Science / Adventure
Science Fiction and Fantasy-Fantasy
fantasy;fiction;steampunk;science fiction;sf;new weird;urban fantasy;horror;novel;speculative fiction;dark fantasy;dystopia;weird fiction;new crobuzon;sff;cities;dark;urban;british;magic;science;2000s;cyberpunk;flight;city;drugs;adventure;arthur c. clarke
Edition Number:
1st American ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
The Borden Dispatches
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
8.25 x 5.5 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

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 » Fantasy » General

Perdido Street Station Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$12.50 In Stock
Product details 448 pages PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE - English 9780345443021 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "As far as comparisons go, Miéville could be discussed in the same breath with steampunk authors William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. But it's not a stretch to compare him to the likes of Herman Melville: Both authors have pushed the envelope in their respective genres; both have created memorable, idiosyncratic characters (Bartleby, anyone?); and, perhaps most importantly, they can both be described as fearless and inventive." (read the entire review)
"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 , "[An] appetizing, if extravagant, stew of genre themes....[G]enerous enough to accommodate large dollops of aesthetics, scientific discussion and quest fantasy in an impressive and ultimately pleasing epic."
"Review" by , "[A] powerful tale...that combines Victorian elements with a fantasy version of cyberpunk. Miéville's visceral prose evokes an immediacy that commands attention and demands a wide readership. Highly recommended."
"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 , "[A] phantasmagoric masterpiece...The book left me breathless with admiration."
"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 , "China Miéville's cool style has conjured up a triumphantly macabre technoslip metropolis with a unique atmosphere of horror and fascination."
"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."
"Synopsis" by ,
From Cherie Priest, the award-winning author of Maplecroft, comes a new tale of Lizzie Bordens continuing war against the cosmic horrors threatening humanity…

Birmingham, Alabama is infested with malevolence. Prejudice and hatred have consumed the minds and hearts of its populace. A murderer, unimaginatively named “Harry the Hacker” by the press, has been carving up citizens with a hatchet. And from the church known as Chapelwood, an unholy gospel is being spread by a sect that worships dark gods from beyond the heavens.  

This darkness calls to Lizzie Borden. It is reminiscent of an evil she had dared hoped was extinguished. The parishioners of Chapelwood plan to sacrifice a young woman to summon beings never meant to share reality with humanity. An apocalypse will follow in their wake which will scorch the earth of all life.

Unless she stops it…

"Synopsis" by , Chapter One

A window burst open high above the market. A basket flew from it and arced

towards the oblivious crowd. It spasmed in mid-air, then spun and

continued earthwards at a slower, uneven pace. Dancing precariously as it

descended, its wire-mesh caught and skittered on the buildings rough

hide. It scrabbled at the wall, sending paint and concrete dust plummeting

before it.

The sun shone through uneven cloud-cover with a bright grey light. Below

the basket the stalls and barrows lay like untidy spillage. The city

reeked. But today was market day down in Aspic Hole, and the pungent slick

of dung-smell and rot that rolled over New Crobuzon was, in these streets,

for these hours, improved with paprika and fresh tomato, hot oil and fish

and cinnamon, cured meat, banana and onion.

The food stalls stretched the noisy length of Shadrach Street. Books and

manuscripts and pictures filled up Selchit Pass, an avenue of desultory

banyans and crumbling concrete a little way to the east. There were

earthenware products spilling down the road to Barrackham in the south;

engine parts to the west; toys down one side street; clothes between two

more; and countless other goods filling all the alleys. The rows of

merchandise converged crookedly on Aspic Hole like spokes on a broken


In the Hole itself all distinctions broke down. In the shadow

of old walls and unsafe towers were a pile of gears, a ramshackle

table of broken crockery and crude clay ornaments, a case of mouldering

textbooks. Antiques, sex, flea-powder. Between the stalls stomped hissing

constructs. Beggars argued in the bowels of deserted buildings. Members of

strange races bought peculiar things. Aspic Bazaar, a blaring mess of

goods, grease and tallymen. Mercantile law ruled: let the buyer beware.

The costermonger below the descending basket looked up into flat sunlight

and a shower of brick particles. He wiped his eye. He plucked the frayed

thing from the air above his head, pulling at the cord which bore it until

it went slack in his hand. Inside the basket was a brass shekel and a note

in careful, ornamented italics. The food-vendor scratched his nose as he

scanned the paper. He rummaged in the piles of produce before him, placed

eggs and fruit and root vegetables into the container, checking against

the list. He stopped and read one item again, then smiled lasciviously and

cut a slice of pork. When he was done he put the shekel in his pocket and

felt for change, hesitating as he calculated his delivery cost, eventually

depositing four stivers in with the food.

He wiped his hands against his trousers and thought for a minute, then

scribbled something on the list with a stub of charcoal and tossed it

after the coins.

He tugged three times at the rope and the basket began a bobbing journey

into the air. It rose above the lower roofs of surrounding buildings,

buoyed upwards by noise. It startled the roosting jackdaws in the deserted

storey and inscribed the wall with another scrawled trail among many,

before it disappeared again into the window from which it had emerged.

Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin had just realized that he was dreaming. He had

been aghast to find himself employed once again at the university,

parading in front of a huge blackboard covered in vague representations of

levers and forces and stress. Introductory Material Science. Isaac had

been staring anxiously at the class when that unctuous bastard Vermishank

had looked in.

“I cant teach this class,” whispered Isaac loudly. “The markets too

loud.” He gestured at the window.

“Its all right.” Vermishank was soothing and loathsome. “Its time for

breakfast,” he said. “Thatll take your mind off the noise.” And hearing

that absurdity Isaac shed sleep with immense relief. The raucous profanity

of the bazaar and the smell of cooking came with him into the day.

He lay hugely in the bed without opening his eyes. He heard Lin walk

across the room and felt the slight listing of the floorboards. The garret

was filled with pungent smoke. Isaac salivated.

Lin clapped twice. She knew when Isaac woke. Probably because he closed

his mouth, he thought, and sniggered without opening his eyes.

“Still sleeping, shush, poor little Isaac ever so tired,” he whimpered,

and snuggled down like a child. Lin clapped again, once, derisory, and

walked away.

He groaned and rolled over.

“Termagant!” he moaned after her. “Shrew! Harridan! All right, all right,

you win, you, you . . . uh . . . virago, you spit-fire . . .” He rubbed

his head and sat up, grinned sheepishly. Lin made an obscene gesture at

him without turning around.

She stood with her back to him, nude at the stove, dancing back as hot

drops of oil leapt from the pan. The covers slipped from the slope of

Isaacs belly. He was a dirigible, huge and taut and strong. Grey hair

burst from him abundantly.

Lin was hairless. Her muscles were tight under her red skin, each

distinct. She was like an anatomical atlas. Isaac studied her in cheerful


His arse itched. He scratched under the blanket, rooting as shameless as a

dog. Something burst under his nail, and he withdrew his hand to examine

it. A tiny half-crushed grub waved helplessly on the end of his finger. It

was a refflick, a harmless little khepri parasite. The thing must have

been rather bewildered by my juices, Isaac thought, and flicked his finger


“Refflick, Lin,” he said. “Bath time.”

Lin stamped in irritation.

New Crobuzon was a huge plague pit, a morbific city. Parasites, infection

and rumour were uncontainable. A monthly chymical dip was a necessary

prophylactic for the khepri, if they wanted to avoid itches and sores.

Lin slid the contents of the pan onto a plate and set it down, across from

her own breakfast. She sat and gestured for Isaac to join her. He rose

from the bed and stumbled across the room. He eased himself onto the small

chair, wary of splinters.

Isaac and Lin sat naked on either side of the bare wooden table. Isaac was

conscious of their pose, seeing them as a third person might. It would

make a beautiful, strange print, he thought. An attic room, dust-motes in

the light from the small window, books and paper and paints neatly stacked

by cheap wooden furniture. A dark-skinned man, big and nude and

detumescing, gripping a knife and fork, unnaturally still, sitting

opposite a khepri, her slight womans body in shadow, her chitinous head

in silhouette.

They ignored their food and stared at each other for a moment. Lin signed

at him: Good morning, lover. Then she began to eat, still looking at him.

It was when she ate that Lin was most alien, and their shared meals were a

challenge and an affirmation. As he watched her, Isaac felt the familiar

trill of emotion: disgust immediately stamped out, pride at the stamping

out, guilty desire.

Light glinted in Lins compound eyes. Her headlegs quivered. She picked up

half a tomato and gripped it with her mandibles. She lowered her hands

while her inner mouthparts picked at the food her outer jaw held steady.

Isaac watched the huge iridescent scarab that was his lovers head devour

her breakfast.

He watched her swallow, saw her throat bob where the pale insectile

underbelly segued smoothly into her human neck . . . not that she would

have accepted that description. Humans have khepri bodies, legs, hands;

and the heads of shaved gibbons, she had once told him.

He smiled and dangled his fried pork in front of him, curled his tongue

around it, wiped his greasy fingers on the table. He smiled at her. She

undulated her headlegs at him and signed, My monster.

I am a pervert, thought Isaac, and so is she.

Breakfast conversation was generally one-sided: Lin could sign with her

hands while she ate, but Isaacs attempts to talk and eat simultaneously

made for incomprehensible noises and food debris on the table. Instead

they read; Lin an artists newsletter, Isaac whatever came to hand. He

reached out between mouthfuls and grabbed books and papers, and found

himself reading Lins shopping list. The item a handful of pork slices was

ringed and underneath her exquisite calligraphy was a scrawled question in

much cruder script: Got company??? Nice bit of pork goes down a treat!!!

Isaac waved the paper at Lin. “Whats this filthy arse on about?” he

yelled, spraying food. His outrage was amused but genuine.

Lin read it and shrugged.

Knows I dont eat meat. Knows Ive got a guest for breakfast. Wordplay on


“Yes, thanks, lover, I got that bit. How does he know youre a vegetarian?

Do you two often engage in this witty banter?”

Lin stared at him for a moment without responding.

Knows because I dont buy meat. She shook her head at the stupid question.

Dont worry: only ever banter on paper. Doesnt know Im bug.

Her deliberate use of the slur annoyed Isaac.

“Dammit, I wasnt insinuating anything . . .” Lins hand waggled, the

equivalent of a raised eyebrow. Isaac howled in irritation. “Godshit, Lin!

Not everything I say is about fear of discovery!”

Isaac and Lin had been lovers nearly two years. They had always tried not

to think too hard about the rules of their relationship, but the longer

they were together the more this strategy

of avoidance became impossible. Questions as yet unasked demanded

attention. Innocent remarks and askance looks from others, a moment of

contact too long in public—a note from a grocer—everything was a reminder

that they were, in some contexts, living a secret. Everything was made


They had never said, We are lovers, so they had never had to say, We will

not disclose our relationship to all, we will hide from some. But it had

been clear for months and months that this was the case.

Lin had begun to hint, with snide and acid remarks, that Isaacs refusal

to declare himself her lover was at best cowardly, at worst bigoted. This

insensitivity annoyed him. He had, after all, made the nature of his

relationship clear with his close friends, as Lin had with hers. And it

was all far, far easier for her.

She was an artist. Her circle were the libertines, the patrons and the

hangers-on, bohemians and parasites, poets and pamphleteers and

fashionable junkies. They delighted in the scandalous and the outré. In

the tea-houses and bars of Salacus Fields, Lins escapades—broadly hinted

at, never denied, never made explicit—would be the subject of louche

discussion and innuendo. Her love-life was an avant-garde transgression,

an art-happening, like Concrete Music had been last season, or Snot Art!

the year before that.

And yes, Isaac could play that game. He was known in that world, from long

before his days with Lin. He was, after all, the

scientist-outcast, the disreputable thinker who walked out of a lucrative

teaching post to engage in experiments too outrageous and brilliant for

the tiny minds who ran the university. What did he care for convention? He

would sleep with whomever and whatever he liked, surely!

That was his persona in Salacus Fields, where his relationship with Lin

was an open secret, where he enjoyed being more or less open, where he

would put his arm around her in the bars and whisper to her as she sucked

sugar-coffee from a sponge. That was his story, and it was at least half


He had walked out of the university ten years ago. But only because he

realized to his misery that he was a terrible teacher.

He had looked out at the quizzical faces, listened to the frantic

scrawling of the panicking students, and realized that with a mind that

ran and tripped and hurled itself down the corridors of theory in anarchic

fashion, he could learn himself, in haphazard lurches, but he could not

impart the understanding he so loved. He had hung his head in shame and


In another twist to the myth, his Head of Department, the ageless and

loathsome Vermishank, was not a plodding epigone but an exceptional

bio-thaumaturge, who had nixed Isaacs research less because it was

unorthodox than because it was going nowhere. Isaac could be brilliant,

but he was undisciplined. Vermishank had played him like a fish, making

him beg for work as a freelance researcher on terrible pay, but with

limited access to the university laboratories.

And it was this, his work, which kept Isaac circumspect about his lover.

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