I’ve read a number of ‘city scape’ books lately, so I was at first wary of this. It’s hard to compare anything to Shriek: An Afterword after all, with autochthonous landscapes, mystery, and horror.

Perdido St Station is the story of a… “fringe” scientist in a steampunk/fantasy Earth-like cityscape. Actually, if anyone has the actual word for “cityscape” novel, I’d love to hear it. Anyhow, Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is approached by a character who commissions him to perform a near-miracle and restore to him something taken as a punishment. And then we’re off into New Corbuzon, with it’s mutilayered society of xenomorphs, cyborgs, weird natives, urban poor, criminals, and a million other ‘critters’.

Where Mieville’s style differs from other cityscape writers is it’s apparent lack of analogy. What I took from Shriek, and Trial of Flowers, was strong analogies of modern cities, with the “under-city” existing without apparent knowledge of the “normal” people couched in the cityscape. In Shriek the Greycaps have an entire universe unapparent to the humans upon which they feed, and in Trial of Flowers a series of unknowable and terrible Gods are kept at bay by the systematic mistreatment of an underclass of dwarves. In PSS though, the underclass or ‘other’ is essentially on the same level as normal humanity, with the potential tension inherent in difference unexploited by the author. Instead, an alien element is introduced, and it is this that acts as antagonist.

Personally? I prefer the undercity element to drive the tension in the story. There is something about this analogy that I find compelling. Modern cities are very much divided into mainstream and other, and the characterisation and exploitation of this difference in scifi serves the genre well. Since we can’t focus on the Commies anymore, the concept of the terrible and violent unknown within our midst is a powerful motif. It can be as simple as counter-culture and “drop-outs” not participating and agitating against status quo, or as sopisticated as a network of exploitation of the majority for nefarious ends. The possibilities are endless, and highly relevant to a well-established urban population.

This small criticism aside, PSS is a fun read, and recommended.

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