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[Reading Group] November 2014: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Philip Overby, Oct 23, 2014.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Our choice for November is Perdido Street Station by China Mieville.

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    The mass market book is a little over 600 pages, so it's a little long. I'm a slow reader, but I'm already 100 pages or so into the book since I've had it for years now. Since it's a heavily descriptive book, it might be worth focusing our discussion on some of these elements.

    I'd say if we read about 150 or so pages a week that should complete it. I'll break down the chapters later.

    One thing I like about Mieville's style is that it changes a lot from novel to novel, but maintains a quality that is distinctive to him. It's hard to explain. People who have read a lot of his work (I believe Ophiucha would fall into this group) could pinpoint it better.

    Tor.com has a glowing overview of his work that might nudge you along (it certainly got me excited about diving back into the book)

    A Category Unto Himself: The Works of China Miéville | Tor.com
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2014
  2. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Anyone started this yet? I suspect the readership will be down because of NaNoWriMo, but this is a rather unique book in many regards. I'm about 250 pages in and I can't say I've read another book like it. It's very weird, both from a world-building stand-point (which pretty much bucks all preconcieved notions of a fantasy book) and from a narrative stand-point (getting POVs of things I wouldn't expect).

    For those reading along, some initial questions:

    1. Why were you interested in this book?

    2. How do you find it so far?

    3. What do you think of Isaac and Lin's relationship?

    4. What do you think of the world-building?

    5. Do you find the style readable or too dense?
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2014
  3. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Well, I've read the first chapter and I can tell this book is going to be an uphill climb for me. Not because of difficulty, but mostly because of lack of interest. Nothing, not one single thing, in the first chapter interested me. I'm not usually one of those "there has to be action immediately!!!" people, but I wanted to throw the book across the room (the one real downside to ebooks) and scream "get on with the story already!" If I wanted to read books where the characters spend an entire chapter thinking about each other and having sex I'd read romance novels.

    Anyway...

    1. The sole reason I wanted to read this was because it's so highly praised by so many critics and readers. It is an influential book and so I wanted to experience it for myself.

    2. Ugh. I'll try not to complain too much while reading it.

    3. It wasn't too bad until I had to read about Isaac pleasuring Lin's insect parts.

    4. Well, I'm only at chapter 2 so I can't comment much on this but I do find the Khepri a little too much for my suspension of disbelief. It's just so highly implausible that an insectoid lifeform would develop just the biological features to be sexually compatible with humans and yet still have a beetle head. I just can't even picture it and I don't want to.

    5. The style has yet to emerge.
     
  4. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I can't say I remember the insect-like sex all that much, but I read those chapters a long time ago. I was worried some that doing this book after Gene Wolfe might not be a good idea, simply because it's another unconventional book. The plot is there, but yeah, it doesn't emerge until a little later. This is considered by many to be Mieville's best work, but from what I read of Railsea, I actually prefer that one.

    To me, I feel like this is the kind of fantasy book that throws a lot of the conventions out the window, so it may be a slough to read for some. I personally feel like it's on par with Gene Wolfe's work in being one of those "love it" or "hate it" kind of deals. I personally think Mieville's style is really intriguing, but I can see how others wouldn't. I've also had this book since 2009 and have tried to push through it several times, so that may say something as far as it being a quick, easy ready. It isn't.
     
  5. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    My dislike of the book so far has absolutely nothing to do with its so called unconventionality. After all, I've only read slightly beyond the first chapter and the only unconventional thing there, possibly, is the chick with the beetle head. But that's not even so much unconventional as ridiculous, in my opinion. I've spent the last few years reading really unconventional books, by which I mean fantasy books that were written long before the fantasy genre was even an established thing let alone possessed conventions. Unconventional books don't daunt me. Uninteresting books do though. I'm hoping this one will become more interesting soon, or it's really going to be annoying to read.
     
  6. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    It may not be relevent, but I like to reference other books we've read for the Reading Group when analayzing others books. Maybe that's strange, but bear with me.

    Perdido Street Station is interesting to me for some reason I can't really explain. I don't find the story really wows me, but the characters have different motivations than I find in most fantasy books, so maybe that's what keeps me reading. It's weird when sometimes an attribute of a book just "works" for me. Even if it's well-written, sometimes I can't get into it for whatever reason.

    I didn't find The Elfin Ship that interesting myself. It was funny at parts, but I don't know, something didn't click for me. In theory it sounded like a book I'd like and maybe Perdido Street Station is the same for others. They read about what's in the book and expect this insane roller coaster ride, but it's actually a rather quiet book at the beginning. Readers are going to find different things they latch onto with books. Sometimes I find language more interesting in a book than the story (Gene Wolfe) and sometimes the story carries me through an otherwise straightforward book (Prince of Thorns). I find the Bas Lag world fascinating, but again, I can see how some people wouldn't like it.

    To me, if I'm reading a fantasy book, if there are people with beetle heads, I just accept it. If I don't like that idea or find it implausible, then I may put the book down. Usually I just accept something weird even if it doesn't make sense. Of course people get into the whole "dragons couldn't really fly" thing. I don't tend to overthink it. I'm just wired differently, I suppose.

    One thing I kept swearing to myself is that I'm going to finish books I start. However, I read something by Chuck Wendig today that may have changed my mind about that. He basically said life is too short to trudge through books that you don't enjoy. I kept vowing to go back and finish some of the books I abandoned in other months, but I don't know, I've turned off movies or stopped watching TV series when they lost my interest. I don't see why I should try to make it through a book I don't enjoy whatsoever, unless I have to write a book report on it. :)

    I'd say give it a little more time. It's not really one of those books you can read for one chapter and see what makes it appealing to people. If it still bugs you (no pun intended) then maybe it's better to check out something else.
     
  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I'm definitely in the "life is too short to read books you don't like" club... EXCEPT that I have set myself the challenge of reading a list I made of the most popular and influential fantasy (and sometimes quasi-fantasy) books of the last 150 years. This is for the benefit of myself as a writer to learn more about the genre I love and grow as a fantasy writer. Perdido Street Station is on the list. (So were The Elfin Ship and The Book of the New Sun. I've mostly been voting for books on the list.) So I will finish the book, for the learning experience. It's important to learn from the books I don't like as well as the ones I like.

    I've read the first 4 chapters now, and it's definitely not a book I'm going to like. But it gets a lot of praise so I want to try to understand what it is about it that other people like. I find it interesting in a meta sense that Mieville completely ignores the "common wisdom" that one shouldn't crowd the beginning of the book almost solely with worldbuilding details before getting to the actual story and yet is highly praised for it. That much about it is fascinating. It's just the story that, in my opinion, isn't yet.
     
  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I think it's a good idea to stick with it then if you're doing so for the learning experience and to complete your list. I'm not going to lie and say I completely love it because I think I struggle with some of the same things that you had at the beginning. Even now where I'm at, Isaac's POV has lots of scientific talk in it, stuff I sometimes have problems with when reading. In some ways, this book reminds me of Neuromancer. I really liked that book, but I wasn't sure why because half the time I didn't know what was happening. It's interesting to me that some writers can get away without being clear and others can't. It really depends on the writer I suppose.

    I do agree that there tends to be a lot of world-building at the beginning at the expense of the story. However, it fades to the background later on and focuses more on the characters.
     
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Still chugging along with this one, trying to do NaNoWriMo, and reading Joe Hill's book (that was longer than I expected.) I've found that around the 250 page mark, it's gotten progressively weirder and almost seems like a different novel. I don't know if that's by design. In any case, this is one of those "experience" books. I find it entertaining in parts, but it feels like one of those books that tests you as a reader like James Joyce's work does. Like I feel like there are things I'm missing. Maybe I just don't read in-depth, one reason I'm still having trouble with Gene Wolfe (who I'm picking up still every couple of days.)
     
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I've gotten to about 10%. This is just going to be one of those books that I can only take in short bursts with longs breaks in between. I need sometime to cleanse my palate after reading this thing. My primary impression at this point is that this is a book that revels in painting a world that is ugly and grotesque and vulgar. I don't know if there will be any redeeming qualities later on, but right now I feel like every time I read it I'm trudging through mud. This is the very antithesis of fantasy to me. I'm going to finish it, for my education, but probably not for many months and I'll almost certainly never touch anything written by China Mieville again.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I haven't been following along with the re-read. I did finish Among Others, which was excellent.
     
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    We've only really had a couple of posts about this one, which sadly I kind of expected when it was voted on. It's not a book that's easy to discuss really, so I probably shouldn't have even nominated it. I'm still going along with it, but it's another one of those I'm jumping back and forth on reading.
     
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