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Literature / Perdido Street Station

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...this great wen, this dusty city dreamed up in bone and brick, a conspiracy of industry and violence, steeped in history and battened-down power, this badland beyond my ken.
New Crobuzon.

In the world of Bas Lag, on the western coast of the continent of Rohagi, is the city-state of New Crobuzon, a sprawling but thoroughly corrupt and dilapidated metropolis. Rogue scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin is commissioned by a wingless bird-man to return his ability to fly. Isaac's artist girlfriend Lin, who has a beetle for a head, is commissioned by a crime lord to create a very special sculpture. Naturally, it all goes to hell.

China Miéville's sprawling monster-hunt begins his Bas-Lag Cycle, which includes the related works The Scar and Iron Council. These books gave a name to the New Weird movement with their bizarre but well-realized setting and the multitude of strange creatures and concepts within it. Further setting it apart from most fantasy is its experimentation in tone, structure and content — often, its wandering point of view, wealth of detail in even the most seemingly irrelevant places, arcane prose, central conflict that seems to gradually accumulate from unrelated events and uncompromisingly bleak tone can make it feel more like a fantastic variation upon the Gothic epics of writers such as Victor Hugo or Mervyn Peake than a traditional fantasy novel, but Mieville insists that it is merely his take on the time-honored tradition of pulp fiction.


Compare Kraken, by the same author.

This book provides examples of:

  • Acid-Trip Dimension: The Worldweave as glimpsed by the Weaver's passengers.
  • AI Is A Crap Shoot: Isaac realizes that the Construct Council has an intelligence based solely on logic and the objective. As a result, it is incapable of emotion, most importantly compassion and mercy, and therefore cannot be trusted as an ally because its alliance will end the moment it sees breaking faith as the objectively superior outcome.
  • Alien Sky: It's mentioned that the moon has two "daughters" orbiting it.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The khepri males and home-grubs. Isaac mentions the infeasibility of acquiring giant insect wings for Yagharek from an assassin beetle ("Get our arses kicked").
  • Bizarre Alien Psychology: The Weaver's weird mindset is represented by its non-stop, stream-of-consciousness Word Salad monologue. Its psychology becomes a key plot point, as it's perhaps the only living sentient in New Crobuzon whose consciousness the slake-moths can't consume.
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  • Bizarre Alien Senses: The eyeless slake-moths can smell and taste the psychic energies of sentient creatures' dreams.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The khepri. Males are non-sentient, two-foot-long, vaguely scarab-like beetles. The females, by contrast, have human-level intelligence and look like someone took a female version of the male and grafted it to an attractive female humanoid body in place of a head.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • Most notably the Weavers, who don't have a sense of morality so much as they have a (very, very alien, to humans) sense of beauty.
    • Deconstructed in regards to Yagharek's crime, which is danced around for most of the book until it's revealed in the epilogue. The action's context can't be translated between cultures at all, and ultimately Isaac is unable to pass judgement except through his own lens and frame it as what the crime is to a human. The narration touches on the dilemma this imposes on him.
      "Isaac is congenitally incapable of dealing with the dilemma — its criteria are unthinkable to him — and I don’t have the right answer. His decision is largely a refusal to make a decision; this appears to take sides against Yagharek, but that’s more or less by default."
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Isaac, overlapping with Genius Bruiser.
  • Break the Comedian: Minor character Teafortwo is usually an eminently silly figure, serving as a whimsical contrast to the dark and cynical goings-on throughout the city. However, when the mysterious cocoon that Isaac's been tending to finally hatches, Lublumai and Teafortwo end up being cornered by the monster that emerges from it; Teafortwo manages to escape alive, but not before the Slake Moth eats Lublumai's psyche. When questioned on what happened, Teafortwo promptly suffers a complete meltdown, sobbing like a child.
  • Broken Angel: Yagharek, whose quest to fly again kickstarts the main plot. The ending breaks him even further.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu:
  • Category Traitor: The dockworker strikes in the middle of the novel develops along racial lines, with humans who side with the vodyanoi being labeled as "race traitors."
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Jack Half-a-Prayer.
  • Clockpunk: The constructs, Isaac's calculating engines, and khepri "metaclockwork" devices like the stingbox.
  • Collector of the Strange: The Weaver collects scissors, and had previously collected chess sets. Isaac's vast collection of flying animals also qualifies.
  • Confusion Fu: The Weaver's fighting style is lighting quick, transdimensional, and most dangerous of all, given the Weavers erratic personality, 'utterly' unpredictable.
  • Crisis Point Hospital: The Veruline Hospital is this at the best of times. Originally a mental hospital for the rich, it went through a dozen different owners and purposes before finally being reopened as a charity hospital by the Veruline Order... but with no actual doctors on hand except when conscience allows it, no money to pay for drugs, and only a staff of untrained monks and nuns on hand, it's not even equipped to provide the most basic forms of treatment. Consequently, the Veruline Hospital is universally known as the place where the poor go to die - and yet another shining example of the quality of life in New Crobuzon. Derkhan goes here in the climax of the story to search for a terminally-ill patient that Isaac can use as The Bait to lure out the Slake-Moths.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Even the New Crobuzon government — y'know, those ever-so-responsible folks who brought slake-moths to the city in the first place and then sold them to a drug lord — doesn't dare risk mucking around with Torque.
  • Deal with the Devil: Averted — when New Crobuzon tries to make a deal with Hell to get ride of the slake moths, the devils refuse.
  • Death World The Cacotopic Stain. Though death is honestly not that big of a deal compared to what else the place can do to you. Gone into more detail in Iron Council.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The breakdown is roughly one-third character development, two-thirds soul-eating horrors on the rampage. Not all of the characters are doomed, but enough are that it's probably best not to get attached.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Isaac & Lin.
  • Disability Superpower: Subverted with Lin at the end. She becomes essentially mentally disabled, lobotomized from the slake-moth half-draining her of her mind. At one point, she spits out some of the material that she secretes to make her art, leading the reader to assume she may have kept her advanced artistic capabilities and thus a small portion of her mind... but the material splats on the ground in a mess, and Lin doesn't seem to be aware of what she's done or why she did it.
  • Downer Ending: The few characters who don't die trying to save the city/world suffer terrible personal loss. The worst thing is that a fairly happy ending could easily have occurred if a few crucial moments had played out differently. They just didn't.
  • Down the Drain: The sewers of New Crobuzon are plagued by biological monstrosities (byproducts of waste materials from research facilities), gang members, and the odd multi-planar Giant Spider, making them uniquely dangerous in a city filled with danger already. Isaac etc. are appropriately intimidated when they find themselves in the sewer system, and must rely on Lemuel to avoid most certain danger.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Extremely common in the setting.
    • Most notably the slake-moths, which literally feed on people's consciousness, leaving them as utterly mindless shells. Even looking at them will destroy your consciousness. These creatures are so terrifying that when the government of New Crobuzon attempted to make a Deal with the Devil to deal with them, hell refused to get involved. It's at least implied that there's something even more powerful that eats slake-moths in their native habitat, that keeps their numbers down.
    • There's also the Weaver, the creature the government turns to when the demons turn them down. It is a gigantic spider that exists between dimensions and is capable of traversing realities as we would walk down the street. Its normal speech sounds like free word association with no grammar, but it uses many methods to communicate (such as making a random newspaper article with its answer find its way to Isaac). Part of the Mayor's trouble with communicating with the Weaver is figuring out what concept or object it currently finds aesthetically pleasing. At one point it was obsessed with scissors and cutting peoples' ears off (except one guy in the room who it thought had pretty ears, so it reattached them). It seems to be purely driven by the subjective "beauty" of the tapestry of reality.
    • Whatever left behind the bones that became the Ribs in Bonetown is more or less outright stated to be this — even the slake-moths find being around the Ribs unsettling.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Motley automatically assumes Issac is studying the moths to start his own dreamshit enterprise.
  • Faceless Goons: The Militia, who vaciliate between Elite and Regular Mooks, depending on the needs of the scene.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: Benjamin Flex encourages his abattoir coworkers to think he and Derkhan are having midday trysts, rather than publishing a dissident newspaper.
  • Fantastic Racism: Seen at multiple times throughout the novel.
    • New Crobuzon has a catchall term, "Xenians," for all non-human sentient species. Note all three of the city's most important officials are humans. Even if Rescue is just a host for a Handlinger.
    • The Khepri have it coming from every angle. The novel opens with Lin specifically stating that her grocer treats her well because he doesn't know she's a "bug." Furthermore, there is definitely a clash of cultures within the Khepri community; Lin even muses that she silently roots for Francine against Motley because she's Khepri, but not "good Khepri."
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • New Crobuzon is basically London, although the author has stated that other cities were also influences, notably Cairo.
    • Shankell, the few times when it's described, has a sort of Middle Eastern feel to it.
  • Fantastic Nuke: "Colour bombs" are stated to have this effect, though exactly how they work and when they are used isn't revealed in this book (although we do learn more in Iron Council.)
  • Freakiness Shame:
    • Grimnebulin is totally hot for his girlfriend, who has a scarab for a head. He reflects at length about how his revulsion turns him on.
    • There are also bordellos that cater to people who want to have sex with Remade, who have had Body Horror alterations done to them. These are also technically illegal and sometimes used by the New Crobuzon government to entrap and blackmail citizens into becoming spies.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: The Slake-moths are first seen as an inconspicuous parcel crossing a Parliamentary Clark's desk. Isaac hangs onto the runt for most of the early novel, where it is seen as little more than a curiosity until it hatches and eats Lublumai's mind.
  • Genius Bruiser: Isaac, in spite of being a scientist, is a mountain of a man who holds his own against the city's militia with some well-lobbed chemicals, not to mention taking on monsters that Hell itself was too scared to fight.
  • Heroic BSoD: Isaac's response to finding Lin's head-wings enclosed with her ransom note. In the ending, most of the surviving protagonists are deeply shaken (Isaac, Derkhan) or broken entirely (Yagharek, Lin).
  • Horrifying the Horror: Even demons are afraid to confront the slake-moths.
  • Hypnosis-Proof Dogs: Sincerity the badger doesn't seem to be affected by the slake-moth's hypnotic wings. Justified because the moths feed exclusively on sentient victims, so would never need to hypnotize animals.
  • Interspecies Romance: Isaac is a human while Lin is a Khepri. Despite the bizarre biological asymmetry of him having a head for a head while she has a beetle for a head, it's mainly treated as a language barrier they have to overcome.
  • Introduced Species Calamity: Slake Moths are a near-invincible mind-devouring predator species with the ability to mesmerize prey with their wings, but are normally kept in check by the many of hazards their native environment - a Death World heavily polluted by the Torque. However, five larvae are brought to the city of New Crobuzon and put to use in producing Dreamshit for a crime syndicate... and when they get loose, the same traits that allow the Moths to merely survive their native environment make them damn near unstoppable in the city. With no competitors to stop them and no chance for the heroes to bring in competitors from their homeland without causing an even bigger disaster, the Moths are free to feast at will; worse still, they're smart enough to pick locks in pursuit of their prey. After seeing the bodies of their victims piling up over the next few days, both the heroes and the government are forced to take insane risks just to kill or capture the Slake-Moths before they can reproduce.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Happens, in a small way, to Mr. Motley. One of the slake-moths he purchased from the government lobotomised Lin and facilitated her escape. Even if he found her again, his statue can never be finished. The epilogue describes him ranting at the incomplete statue.
  • Late to the Punchline: Finding out what "Prayer" in Jack Half-a-Prayer really means. One of his arms has been replaced with the claw of a giant PRAYING mantis.
  • Lightning Bruiser:
    • The Slake-moths are so terrifying because they are fast, intelligent, capable of flight, incredibly resilient, and have a vast array of natural weapons, most importantly their hypnotic wings.
    • Also applies heavily to the Weaver. as he can literally shift through time and space to deliver crushing attacks. He's more than capable of fighting multiple Slake Moths at once. Something even the minions of hell refused to try
  • Logic Bomb: Isaac uses one of these as a power source for his moth-baiting crisis engine.
  • Machine Worship: The Godmech Cogs. The trope is played for comedy at first when Isaac frightens off a Godmech Cog, and played straight when the Construct Council shows up.
  • Mainlining the Monster: The slake-moths are a source for the highly addictive drug called dreamshit, and were being milked of this substance before their escape.
  • Meaningful Name: Turns out to be the case with Jack Half-A-Prayer, who was Remade with a giant praying mantis claw in place of one hand.
  • Mermaid Problem: Neatly tied up when it comes to the female Khepri. Weird bug head, sexy lady body. For some reason.
  • Mistaken for Disease: When people across New Crobuzon start turning up as brain-dead Empty Shells, people initially believe that this is the result of some kind of new epidemic. However, observers soon report glimpses of shadowy figures attacking the victims just before the bodies are discovered, and though the exact cause remains unknown to all but a select few, the epidemic is no longer accepted as an explanation - especially once a vampire is also found catatonic. It's actually the result of five Slake Moths being accidentally released from containment and going on a feeding frenzy across the city.
  • Moth Menace: The slake-moths of are horrifically deadly Animalistic Abominations: they feed on the minds of sapient beings via Orifice Invasion, leaving them Empty Shells; their hypnotic wings sedate anyone who looks at them; and they have Nigh-Invulnerability due to their bodies extending across multiple planes of existence. The Mayor of New Crobuzon tries to make a Deal with the Devil when five of them hatch in his city. Hell is too afraid of them to accept.
  • Mushroom Samba: Lucky Gazid hides some dreamshit in Isaac's sandwich. Isaac doesn't realise until things start going weird(er).
  • Never Trust a Title: The titular station is pretty tangential to the story, with only two conversations and the final battle taking place there, and even then only in passing. Near the end of the book's 600-odd pages a character dramatically announces, "We have to go to Perdido Street Station," bringing the station to the forefront again, but he later reveals he only said it to trick another character and that they don't really need to go there after all. The title actually fits the book very well on a metaphorical level and correlates to the underlying theme of mixture, heterogenity, mutation and transition — Perdido Street is the central station that connects the city to other parts of the world.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Of all the specimens that Isaac releases when declaring his research into flight having dead-ended, the single one that he elected to keep sets the plot in motion.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: How else to describe Isaac Grimnebulin? He's in love with a woman whose head is a giant beetle, a bird-person turning up on his doorstep asking for a new set of wings all but causes him to squee, and he is cheerfully enchanted with one particularly weird grub netted by his black-market attempts to find flight specimens. Until that grub grows up. You know when Isaac is freaked out, shit got real. He can hold a conversation, an intelligible and productive conversation, with The Weaver.
  • Noble Savage: Yagharek is a subversion. Played straight with the rest of his race though.
  • No Mouth: Joshua, a minor Remade character, had his mouth sealed for refusing to name his burglary accomplices. He cut himself a new one, but didn't do a good job.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Despite the havoc they wreak on the city, the Slake-Moths can't exactly be described as "evil" - they're just hungry insects acting on their instincts to feed and reproduce.
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: A female garuda is specifically stated to have "ornamental" breasts incapable of lactating. Yagharek sees a female Cactacae nursing at one point, implying that her species sports these despite being sentient plants. Averted with the vodyanoi, whose gender can be fully concealed with a loincloth.
  • No-Sell: The slake-moths' most terrifying ability is their hypnotic wings, but the Construct Council isn't even slightly affected by them.
  • Oh, Crap!: The city rulers, on realising that the devils are scared of their problem.
  • One-Gender Race: The Khepri, effectively, due to the males being mindless beetles. Unusually for the trope, they are not at all pretty.
  • Parasites Are Evil: The Handlingers; on top of being cold-hearted Puppeteer Parasites that create their own shadow communities among other sentient races, they're also supporters of Mayor Rudgutter's corrupt regime, serving as elite spies and operatives across the city.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Yagharek, though a more articulate and melancholy version of the trope.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: Isaac's slake-moth trap causes hundreds of these in various thaumaturgists and sensitives around the city. Two of these actually prove fatal.
  • Pupating Peril: Early in the story, Isaac obtains a mysterious grub along with all the other test subjects he requested; once he works out that it only eats Dreamshit, the grub begins growing at an impressive rate and eventually spins a large cocoon for itself. While Isaac continues his more optimistic experiments, the narrative segments focussed on the pupa quickly take a turn for the unsettling as it gets closer and closer to hatching. What emerges from the cocoon is a slake moth, an Animalistic Abomination with a hunger for living minds; Isaac isn't in his lab when it hatches, but one of his friends is — and quickly ends up becoming its first victim. From here on, the slake moths are the main villains of the story.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Isaac has saved New Crobuzon, defeated the Slake Moths, proved his crisis engine will work (and more importantly, kept it out of the hands of the corrupt government & the Mecha-Mooks), and hardest of all, survived. On the other hand, Lin is lobotomized, Yagharek is revealed as a rapist, Isaac refuses to help Yagharek, and the Constructs are headed for destruction. Not to mention Isaac and Derkhan have to flee New Crobuzon with the lobotomized Lin in tow, as the government is understandably not interested in giving them credit for having saved the city and has left them at the top of the Most Wanted list.
  • Quizzical Tilt: Yagharek does this once and it looks so avian that this simple motion actually shocks Isaac.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil:
    • Deconstructed. When another Garuda attempts to explain Yagharek's crime to Isaac, "rape" is the only human word she has available to describe it to him. Isaac, because of this trope, immediately leaps to all manner of (human) emotional responses and conclusions about the crime that are completely wrong from her point of view: The Garuda have no concept of 'rape' like humans do. To them, Yagharek's crime was removing someone's choice and failing to respect her as a concrete individual instead of an abstract ("choice-theft in the second degree with utter disrespect" in their own words); the sexuality angle is completely absent. Word of God states Isaac is literally incapable of understanding her point of view.
    • When Derkhan is searching for human moth-bait in the hospital's terminal ward, her musings about who might be evil enough to be selected list "rapist" second, after "militia informer" (her personal nemeses) and before "child-killer" or "torturer".
  • Reality Warper: The Weaver, possibly. We're never told the full extent of its powers, but one person that takes a trip with it finds, on the other side, that his gun has been turned to glass.
  • Renaissance Man: Isaac dabbles in virtually every science under the sun, often exploring new, underresearched areas just due to his obsession of the month. (And he manages simultaneously to not be an Omnidisciplinary Scientist; he doesn't know everything, so when someone comes to him with a new problem he has to spend weeks researching it and sometimes consults with experts in the fields he's not so good at.)
  • Scary Black Man: Isaac is described as having skin the color of smouldering wood, he's very fat (meaning he possesses Stout Strength, which is described below) and knows how to use his not inconsiderable bulk to intimidate (see an amusing scene where he drives off a Godmech Cog and uses his bulk for this purpose.) and has a couple disturbing interests.
  • Schmuck Bait: The Torque, at least to scientist-dabblers. Isaac spends some time explaining, with graphic illustrations (mostly left to the reader's imagination), exactly why messing with it is a really bad idea.
  • Scienceville: Brock Marsh is widely known as New Crobuzon's "science district." Though it features the same pubs, pollution and urban decay as the rest of the city, it's become famous as a residence and workplace for some of the brightest minds outside the University of New Crobuzon, to the point that the local water is so tainted with magical runoff that mudlarks scavenging on the riverbanks have been known to randomly vanish into nothingness. Isaac works here, along with his friends Lublumai and David.
  • Sexy Dimorphism: Male khepri are giant, non-sapient beetles. Female khepri are sexy women with beetles for heads.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The rampage of the five Rorschach-winged dream-eaters is referred to variously as the Dream Curse, the Midsummer Nightmare, and Nocturne Syndrome, all references to The Sandman.
    • The professional adventurers are described as "grave-robbers" and only in it for "gold and experience."
    • The slake-moths also clearly owe a debt to the D&D gloomwings.
      • And the Weaver is somewhat reminiscent of D&D's phase spiders as well.
    • The amphibious character Sil may be named in homage to the 1980s Doctor Who villain of similar biology.
  • Starfish Language: The khepri (humanoid people with giant scarab beetles for heads) communicate with each other by emitting scents. To communicate with humans, they have to use sign language. Even more strangely, the mute Puppeteer Parasite handlingers' language consists entirely of touch. Ten of the creatures, which look like disembodied hands with snakes' tails, crawl all over one another when they confer.
  • Stout Strength: Isaac vomits after enough rooftop-hopping and gets winded after climbing up a flight of stairs, but he is very capable of punching Lucky Gazid across a room.
  • Straight Gay: To a certain extent Derkhan, although it may be a case of Hide Your Lesbians. She has a 'good' reason: New Crobuzon is not, to put it mildly, rainbow-friendly.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Lin's fate. Although played with in that it happens at the end of the story when almost everything is resolved, and it doesn't galvanize the main character so much as completely break him.
  • Super Toughness: As if the slake-moths weren't dangerous enough already, they also partially exist on multiple planes of existence, meaning that one must either attack them on multiple planes (which the Weaver is capable of doing, but unfortunately it's too heavily outnumbered to take advantage of) or deal an extraordinary amount of damage on this one.
  • Swapped Roles: By the end of the book Yagharek, Isaac, Derkhan and what's left of Lin have an interesting one. Isaac and company are now nomads, while Yagharek has found a home.
  • Take That!: The book includes a good-natured jab at the typical role-playing-game adventuring party, who are looked upon by the thoroughly urban protagonists as a bunch of psychotic tomb-robbers.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Various people come up with plans to deal with the slake-moths, which for the most part fail miserably. Isaac's plan to merge the Construct Council's and Weaver's "thoughts" and channel them through Andrej is not revealed until it is well underway, and it works.
  • Voice of the Resistance: Runagate Rampant. Although it also has competitors/comrades in the form of other underground papers "The Forge" and "Shout".
  • Walking the Earth: Essentially what Yagharek spends much of his time doing, since he was banished from his original home. Also the fate of Isaac, Derkhan and (what's left of) Lin by the end of the book.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After David Serachin is revealed to be a traitor, he just disappears from the book and never mentioned again.
  • Whip It Good: Yagharek's weapon of choice, with which he saves part of Lin during the final battle.
  • Wild Card: The Weaver (and how).
  • Word Salad: The Weaver. Also, Isaac's experience while under the influence of dreamshit.
  • The Worf Effect:
    • Lemuel's bodyguard, Mr. X, is presented as an intimidating badass through and through. Not only does a slake-moth kill him virtually instantly, but it does so simply to have something to throw at its intended target.
    • The populace at large, already spooked by the nightmares and the mind-drained citizens turning up every morning, become still more alarmed by the magnitude of the threat when a vampire is found in an identically-drained state.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Isaac, by the end of the book. And he's playing against four different opponents simultaneously.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: For Isaac, and Derkhan to a lesser extent: After being thought dead, Lin is revealed to be mutilated but alive! Then a slake-moth starts eating her. But wait, Yagharek rescued her in time and she's still conscious! Except Lin's still suffered permanent damage to the point where she can't even feed herself.


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