Perdido Street Station China Miéville

There was lots of hype around this book when it was launched. Numerous people spoke extremely highly of it, claiming it to be a miraculous work from a higher plane. Furthermore, these were people who should know, people with experience of work from both ends of the quality scale. Perdido Street Station was also at that time nominated for the BSFA and Arthur C Clarke awards (both of which is subsequently won). Yet, stubbornly, I refused to be impressed, remained skeptical of the claims made regarding its greatness, would not be seduced by the swooning impressions of others. Then I went to the 2001 Eastercon in Hinckley, and saw Miéville, swanning around in his leather jacket, multiple earrings glinting spectacularly in the lights. Enigmatic, undeniably a star, it made me want to read his book even less. Jealousy is an ugly, twisting demon.

But upon my return I read even more words of wonder about Perdido Street Station from even more people I respect. I came to realise that I had to read it, just in case it turned out to be the best thing I’d read since that last best thing I’d read.

And it did. Perdido Street Station has its faults, yes; but you’d have to be picky to cite them as weaknesses, if indeed you were courageous enough to cite them at all. Some scenes or references seem to have been wedged in having been written earlier, either as part of another project or simply as ideas. Some of the imagery is very familiar, such as the vodyanoi’s parting-of-the-red-sea method of enforcing the dock strike, or the huge arachnid Weaver (from Dr Who with John Pertwee even down to the voice). But the simple fact is that none of this matters. Perdido Street Station is quite simply brilliant. It is supremely stylish, and even the combined minor faults multiplied 10-fold could not offset the supremacy of this novel, or deny the obvious potential of its still-young author.

This is a book you need to buy and read. Pick Perdido up and open it at almost any page and read almost any paragraph, and gasp at Miéville’s skill in use of language, the glorious pictures he paints of shit and muck, glistening mechanical engines, rotting zombies, grotesque human-insect love. He likes the word “pugnacious” among others, it’s true, and uses them too often; but the imagery is overwhelming, breathtaking, inspirational, while at the same time remaining a believable and marvelously rich setting for what is a truly gripping story. Miéville's latest novel — The Scar — is out now in hardcover; I'm not one for buying hardcovers, but this is one I will buy, because even if it's only half as good as Perdido Street Station then it'll be twice as good as most other books I've read in the last few years. The only way this could be worse is if, should I ever meet Miéville, he turns out to be a really nice guy. And I'm sure I will. And I'm sure he is.

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Pashazade — Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Pashazade is a great, atmospheric, evocative, extremely cool novel that has a very relaxed pace despite the level of tension involved, as well as great entertainment value. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to escape to another, vividly drawn alternate world.

Still not convinced? See the spectacular "webvert" for this and the sequel — Effendi — by clicking here. (Note: this may take a while to download on a 56K modem or slower, but is well worth the wait. Ensure your speakers are turned on and do not click the "jcg main page" link that may well appear first.)

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The Prestige — Christopher Priest

The story is both a tragedy, and an emotionally engaging and tragic chronicle of one man’s discovery of his origins, self and substance. The bulk of the story is set around the turn of the 20th century, focusing on two magicians — Alfred Borden and Rupert Angier — who, due to youthful naivety, tragic coincidences, misunderstandings and mutual pride, begin a feud early on in their careers, which then continues for the rest of their lives. They become obsessed with each other, and the desire of each to outdo the other consumes them both.

The Prestige is one of the subtlest, most satisfying novels published in a very long time. Priest has written with supreme skill and restraint, creating a backdrop which remains exactly that whilst enhancing the story line, and beautifully illustrating the social rituals of the period setting. We feel saddened to lose the characters in his story at the turn of the last page, and genuinely moved by the ultimate conclusion.

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let me out!                     Here we go round the mulberry bush...