Mundy Reimer

Book Review - Perdido Street Station

05 November 2020

Updated: 2020-11-05
Topics: Philosophy, Cognitive Science
Confidence: N/A
Status: Complete

TL;DR - 5/5, New Weird, Bio+Steampunk, Lovecraftian Horror

Cross-posted from my Goodreads reviews found here.

So the other weekend I was looking for a book to read as an All Hallow’s Eve treat 🎃 and then remembered this one recommended to me a year ago when I randomly met this guy who handed me a business card with his wacky but interesting religion he created 😅 Although horror wasn’t a genre that I’m usually drawn towards, I did mention that I really like stories with fantastic world-building and especially wacky biologies and I’m glad that regardless of its presentation to me that I took this recommendation seriously.

Anyways, it’s really difficult to pin down one specific subgenre for this book, but it’s somewhere between New Weird (like Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy), Bio+Steampunk, and Lovecraftian Horror. It basically gave me the same kind of fascinatingly disgusting creeps as teasing pulsating maggots out of one’s festering skin to then be struck with eldritch paralysis when finding out that even more seem to be incubating in fractal-fashion further within you 😱🐛🤮 And frak does this book get scary at times! It might even be worse for those of us cursed with a wide-ranging imaginative repertoire of potential biological forms. Miéville not only draws inspiration from various mythologies but also seems to have a naturalist bent to him in that he enriches his world with scary biological traits that normally would come intuitive for someone like an entomologist or marine biologist (of which the latter, like Peter Watts for example, seem to possess the most biologically horrific of imaginations). And for those who are reading this basilisk-text and whose mental hygienic operating systems are already crashing in an ever downwards Gödelian spiral of disgust, Miéville seems to take great joy in having you also witness perversions that I myself haven’t experienced since reading let’s say Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West 🐞🍑😉

While we are on those notes of disgust that Miéville seems to write with such a natural-born aesthetic touch, I’d also like to forewarn any potential readers of the author’s not-so-subtle rape imagery throughout the novel. Themes of personal transgression and violation feature quite heavily in this book. Not only is it obviously reminiscent of something like the Alien franchise, but Miéville also does an excellent job of capturing the philosophical and moral nuances involved in these themes of disgust, transgression, and violation. I highly enjoyed the drawn-out explanation of the moral “matrix-nature” of this certain tribe of seemingly highly individualistic nomadic beings and the traditions they use to govern themselves that we slowly get introduced to. I especially loved the particular bits about the differences between calling someone a “Concrete Individual” versus an “Abstract Individual”. Not only did I find this conveyed in such a subtly smart manner with its opaque introduction purposefully designed to initially obscure, but I also began to slowly appreciate Miéville’s background in political theory here. These politically subversive flavors are sprinkled in a few choice places, and I really appreciate it when I get to witness the author’s intellectual passions through these brief windows between their words.

To build upon these light brushstrokes on the nature of individuality and existentialism, we are also treated to a really neat metaphysical and ontological system of mathematics/physics/magic that Miéville paints for us. Nicknamed “Crisis Theory” by one of the main characters who happen to be one of those passionately anti-disciplinary heterodox scientist types that I seem to find great affinity towards, its similar to something like a mashup between our real world’s Chaos theory / non-linear dynamical systems, thermodynamics, and some weird panpsychist interpretation of the philosophical notion of Agency. Tying together concepts like degrees of freedom of objects being interdependent upon the relationships of all other surrounding objects such that there are tipping points that can occur due to the interwoven causal potential of an object’s future intention towards another object, Miéville creates a really cool pseudo-(meta)physics that underpins the key parts of this story. I don’t know if I am reading too much into it, but I think that here too we can again see Miéville’s political background as it seems that he repurposed the political version of the theory of Crisis and combined it with this pseudophysics one he creates. Part of me wishes that he would also tie this “crisis” concept in with his moral matrix of abstract versus concrete individuals, but that might just be my inner apophenic tendencies surfacing.

Speaking of causality, I just briefly want to mention how awesome of a character the Weaver is! I don’t want to spoil it too much for people, but I really found this character quite charming and cleverly written. You can really see Miéville’s D&D background coming out as the passages containing the Weaver were quite stylistically brilliant, especially during the introduction of this character via echoes of scissors returning as melodious and melancholic whispers of the Weaver. The lilting, poetic, and stream-of-consciousness voice that characterizes the Weaver’s oneiric/dream-speak is an imaginative one that I think I’m going to steal as fodder for my personal dream stories, and the whole causal world web and aesthetic-maximizer thing was a delicious cherry on top. Other notable world-building features include Qabalah-like thaumaturgy and mysticism. Oh, and I’m well aware that I might be prone towards casually sprinkling in weird terms whenever I speak, but gosh am I impressed with Miéville (which could also be construed as a disclaimer for those that don’t want to always have Google handy whenever they read). Rare is the pleasure of deeming my vocabulary inadequate! Seems that reading Miéville is akin to being gifted with a poetic glimpse of a horrifying lexical grimoire 🌙🕯📖🧙‍♂️

Anyways, I give this book a 5/5! 👏 (rare for a piece of fiction if you are familiar with me) I am more than glad I randomly got recommended this and gave it a shot, and even moreso to just find out that this book is not alone in taking place within this universe. I’m definitely treating myself to more servings of Miéville in the near future :)