I don’t know when I first read Perdido Street Station by China Miéville. I started to properly record every single book I have read since December 2003, so the best I can say is that it was before then. Or, more likely, as I remember (vaguely) listening to Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief while I read the book, it was some time between June 2003 and November 2003.
At any rate, I came to the novel in my early twenties, when I was falling away from the fantasy genre. I was tired of dragons, and elves, and magic, and prophecies, and ridiculous author-stand-in characters. I was tired of the lack of subtlety and sophistication. I was tired of the clumsiness of characterisation and sentence structure. More positively, I was becoming increasingly enamoured with what I suppose would best be termed ‘serious literature’, if you can forgive the pretentious phrasing. Serious literature meant, for me, foreign literature, it meant Nobel Prize winning literature, it meant classics-that-weren’t-boring (a very fuzzily defined category created entirely by me based on sloppy and loose criteria). I read widely, rapidly, and not deeply. But I read.
And I read Perdido Street Station during this time. I enjoyed the novel, and I think, if I came to it a month or two earlier, then I might have stayed with the fantasy genre. Perdido Street Station showed me that there were other options, that perhaps fantasy was not at fault, but the books that I read were. Perhaps I was at fault for not attempting to read more broadly. But it was too late. I enjoyed the book, I finished the book, then I moved away from fantasy for a very long time.
Never entirely. Every couple of years I would read a fantasy book again. Almost always it would be something from my teenage years. An attempt to recapture nostalgia. I never really explored further. I read David Gemmell, Robin Hobb, George R R Martin, Robert Jordan – the books I read when I was 14 – 18. They never convinced me to return to fantasy.
And then, this year, for whatever reason, I picked up Perdido Street Station again. My job was intense, my home life was full. I wanted to relax into a book every now and again, and not just tax my intellect all of the time. Serious literature is a lot of things, but it is very often challenging, and that’s not always what I wanted when I came home. So, I went back to the well, and reread some of the junky fantasy I used to like. I was not satisfied with these, but then I remembered Perdido Street Station. I emailed a friend of mine, and he remembered the novel fondly as well.
I read it.
And I liked it.
This was July 2016. I read it in about a week. It went down very easily, and the qualities I remembered admiring all of those years ago were still there. I am a better ready now, or I would like to think that I am, and so I was able to see flaws of pacing and plotting, but I enjoyed the sheer breadth of imagination on show.
And, perhaps most importantly, it reminded me – fantasy can be good! It does have its positive qualities. I don’t know enough to say which writers are writing these high quality books, but I’d like to find out. I thought perhaps that writing a loose Let’s Read-style series of posts might help to engage with a community of people who would be able to share with me ideas of what kinds of fantasy writing is out there that is actually worth reading.
I thought also that a Let’s Read would help me better understand why I am attracted to Perdido Street Station but no longer have any patience for, say, Eddings or Gemmell or Jordan. On Martin I remain uncertain – I am (July 2016) in the throes of rereading his unfinished series, and I think that its appeal rests almost primarily on his skill at plotting and quips, as the rest is mostly ordinary and sometimes dreadful.
Out of interest, I have the following books waiting to be read which I believe will be worthwhile:
- Tim Powers – The Anubis Gates
- Gene Wolfe – The Book of the New Sun
- John Crowley – Aegypt
And that’s it! I fully admit my ignorance of what is out there. I want to learn.
Please, if you enjoy this Let’s Read series, suggest something to me which might show me the way toward excellent fantasy. I know it’s out there. I don’t know what it is.
My intention at the moment is to read and discuss one chapter each Monday. Please provide feedback and suggestions – I’m excited to learn more. I’d like to throw in another Let’s Read for Fridays, but until that happens I’ll likely do one chapter of Perdido Street Station on Monday and one on Friday.
I am not coming to this Let’s Read blind. I read the book years ago, and again in July 2016. I am not opposed to a blind read of something, and would welcome suggestions.
Please take a look at my Let’s Reads page for other chapters from this book, and works.as they are added.