I had read a couple of books by China Miéville and remember not
particularly liking The City and the City and
enjoying Embassytown pretty well. I read Perdido
Street Station because John Scalzi said it was the best SF book of the current century.
I finished it yesterday, and I think he may be right.
In terms of plot, it’s the normal fantasy plot with a giant
monster (in this case a moth of enormous strength whose wings have
changing patterns that mesmerize potential victims so that their
brains can be sucked dry) who goes around killing everyone until
it’s the end of the book and something works so that it gets
But the world-building and characters are both superb. The
world is inhabited by a number of intelligent species, which over
most of the world coexist by having their own territories, but in
New Crebuzon, the city where the action takes place, most of the
races are represented. Most of the main characters are humans as
we know them, but one is a hybrid beetle/human, who communicates
by sign language
with her own species, and with humans, such as her lover, who have
learned the signs. But she can communicate, although slowly, by
writing on a pad. And she’s a sculptor. In the climactic scene, she reenacts the
Orpheus/Euridice myth, with Eurydice’s motivations much
better explained than I’ve seen them in any other work of art
based on the story.
Another is a bird/human hybrid, who has been
punished for a crime by having his wings sawed off. There is also
a large population of the “remade”, who have been altered as
punishment, either just to punish them, or to make them useful for
some industrial process.
The main character, Isaac, is a scientist who makes a number of
morally dubious choices in the course of saving the city from the
moths, but is forced at the end to realize that all the choices he
could possibly make for using his invention to save his friend the
wing-deprived bird hybrid are wrong.
So if you want to know what the state of the art in Science
Fiction/Fantasy is, read this book. There are two others set in
the same world, and I have the next one on hold at the library.