Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Book I Want (and Already Have)

Among other things, I read John Scalzi's blog on a regular basis. He has a feature called The Big Idea where he lets authors plug their books, and he posts pictures of the stacks and stacks of advances he receives by mail. I love finding new reading material this way, and I trust his opinion of all things scifi (or bacon).

I first heard about Perdido Street Station in this blog post, where Scalzi talks about why his book isn't necessarily the best of the decade, and why he thinks China MiĆ©ville’s book is. Some high praise coming from a guy who knows the ins and outs of scifi and fantasy - plus, he mentioned world-building, one of my favorite elements of any book. So I grabbed a copy.

Months later, I've finally started reading. This book is amazing.

Lin, to her mortal horror, was running late.

It did not help that she was not an aficionado of Bonetown. The cross-bred architecture of that outlandish quarter confused her: a syncresis of industrialism and the gaudy domestic ostentation of the slightly rich, the peeling concrete of forgotten docklands and the stretched skins of shantytown tents. The different forms segued into each other seemingly at random in this low, flat zone, full of urban scrubland and wasteground where wild flowers and thick-stemmed plants pushed through plains of concrete and tar.

The use of language throughout is incredible. I'm at a loss with many of the words he uses, but I can tell they're the right ones. It reads like lyrical poetry at an open mic night - the kind that leaves you feeling small and totally mesmerized, not the 'bad teen poetry' kind. I love the attention he gives to each individual paragraph, each sentence, each word. This book is a feast of epic proportions.

The story so far: the society Isaac lives in is broken in several ways: as punishment for crimes, people (human and otherwise) are Remade. Extra limbs are attached to them in odd places, bodies replaced with mechanical parts, every grotesque, inhumane thing you can imagine. His girlfriend Lin (who has the head of a scarab) encounters a drug lord who is Remade so many times he is positively terrifying - but he Remade himself, on purpose.

Isaac is a backwater scientist, experimenting with this, that, and the other thing as whimsy takes him. A creature called a garuda comes to Isaac, begging him to take the job he offers. Garuda culture is different, but not by much: they still mete out lifelong torture for criminals. Intrigued and amazed, Isaac takes the offer, and sets a dangerous chain of events into motion.

One of the book's features so far is ignorant cruelty: judges who deliver Remaking sentences don't seem to realize the pain they're delivering. As Isaac begins his new research, there's a lengthy section about all the birds and insects who die (unbeknownst to him) for the sake of his new project. A circus full of Remade and other odd creatures are all tortured within, some by their own choice.

But there's also a latent beauty in all of this, mostly coming from Lin. She strikes me as a more graceful, charming character than the others. I'm only on page 94, and she strikes me as a puzzle piece that can only go one place, but still doesn't quite fit. Her delicateness is out of place, but a perfect touch at the same time.

I'm seeing so many parallels between Perdido Street Station and The Windup Girl that I can't help but imagine the latter was a strong influence for Paolo Bacigalupi's book. Ideas, certain characters, and the setting all seem so connected, that must be the case. I couldn't find any interviews to back me up on the notion.

This is the book I want to write. The world-building is immense, the characters twisted but meaningful, the themes an intense commentary on modern society, the language divine. Yet another one to go on my list of favorites - we'll see how I feel when I reach the end.

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