Perdido Street Station—the 20th anniversary of China Miéville’s critically acclaimed novel
Where Fiction gets Weird
Celebrating its twentieth anniversary, China Miéville’s award winning Weird/urban fantasy novel, Perdido Street Station (2000, Macmillan), is the opening salvo of his fictional world of Bas-Lag, a strange slurry of magic, steampunk, and post-modern enigmas. The second novel in the trilogy, The Scar, was published in 2002, and the final book, Iron Council (2004), completes the New Crobuzon trilogy.
China Miéville has received multiple awards for his works: the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times), the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award (twice), the Hugo Award, the Locus Award (four times), the Kitschies, the BSFA Award and multiple nominations for various literary awards, including the prestigious Nebula Awards. His most notable works are: Perdido Street Station, The City & The City (2009), and Embassytown (2011), winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2012. The City & The City, particularly relevant to our current political and social chaos, was adapted for a BBC television series in 2018.
So who is the illusive China Miéville? Besides being a fantasy fiction writer, he’s political activist, and an academic. Miéville was born in Norwich, England in 1972 and spent most of his early years in northwest London. His first name, China, springs from his parents’ desire for a beautiful first name, perusing a dictionary until they found the word China. His father left after his birth and he was raised by his American mother, Claudia, a writer, translator, and teacher. He credits playing Dungeons & Dragons as a youth for influencing the fantastical premise of his novels.
Miéville attended Oakham School in Rutland, England, and after graduation, taught English in Egypt for a year, developing an interest in Middle Eastern culture and politics. He received an undergraduate degree in social anthropology at Clare College in 1994, then a masters and PhD in international relations from the London School of Economics in 2001. During his graduate studies, he became disillusioned with materialistic aspects of capitalism and became a Marxist. His political bones become subtle threads within his novels, highlighting the abuse of power, bigotry, and the stratification of economic classes within society.
Perdido Street Station launched Miéville onto the sci-fi fantasy stage with creatures so detailed in their descriptions that you can almost feel the drool on the page. Miéville pings the end of the spectrum of ‘exotic’ in his sculpting of creatures, adding a dimension with his Remades, a cast of surgically altered beings. Beneath the rustle of feathers and the skin prickling insect-humanoids, are there metaphorical intentions of his creatures? Though Miéville distances himself from overt political content, eddies of social commentary lie beneath the surface. Miéville explores the human condition as his main character, Isaac, faces racism in his relationship with Lin, an exo-skeletal humanoid, while corruption oozes through the city of New Crobuzon. In Perdido Street Station, the Construct Council, a sentient machine comprising myriads of small appliances (a corporate entity?), manipulates subtle control within the city, but ultimately helps in the fight against a monstrous species of deadly slakemoths.
Miéville sites multiple authors as influences in his writing, most notably, M. John Harrison, Mervyn Peake, Michael de Larrabeiti, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Miéville’s debut novel was King Rat (1998), an urban fantasy novel set in London during the end of the twentieth century, and nominated for both the Bram Stoker Award and the International Horror Guild Award in their First Novel category. Within the spectrum of fantasy writings, Miéville is firmly on the urban surrealism end as opposed to the Tolkien end of the genre. He is a prolific writer, not afraid to cross genres, and terms his novels simply as “Weird Fiction.”
The enduring success of Miéville’s works underscores a deep hunger for Weird fiction, a genre rooted in the works of Edgar Allan Poe. In the angst of the 1990s, Weird fiction met urban fantasy, and in 2002, in the introduction to China Miéville's novella, The Tain, M. John Harrison is credited with creating the term "New Weird." Rose O'Keefe of Eraserhead Press claims that "People buy New Weird because they want cutting edge speculative fiction with a literary slant. Authors Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, define the New Weird genre in their introduction to the anthology, The New Weird, as "a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping-off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy."
Miéville takes Weird fiction to its illogical and glorious end, taking our breaths away with his incredible worlds of urban fantasy. Perdido Street Station released twenty years ago? It seems like yesterday…