Ever read a book set in a slum? How about a book set in a slum with multiple, sometimes quite alien, races? Or, even further, a story set in a steampunk slum featuring multiple magic-using alien races? China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station is a fantastic mélange of many genres, driven by research gone horribly wrong.
As a somewhat disgraced scientist, Isaac lives with Lin, his artist girlfriend in the slums of New Crobuzon. When she’s offered a commission by a shady underworld figure, he is at loose ends until he gets a project of his own – restore flight to a once-winged member of a flying species.
In his research on flight, he gathers all manner of flying creatures as research material. Straining his resourcefulness as a scientist and researcher, gathering these creatures is his biggest challenge, until he finds an odd giant caterpillar with a diet that he discovers is a hallucinogenic drug.
The decay of the city and its corruption and venality serve as an intoxicating backdrop for the plot, which intertwines city history, its dark underworld, and both mysterious patrons as he unwittingly unleashes a psychic menace on the city.
It is difficult to describe the setting except to say there is nothing like it in any book you have ever read. Mieville’s imagination and story-telling prowess propel you into a mass of non-humanity in a grubby backdrop that is at once seedy and fantastic. The characters are likable and fascinating, each having their own “humanity” within their alien-ness. Mieville has a talent for both physical and emotional description which illuminates the world in which his characters abide.