One of the joys of being a reader is discovering authors or books that have been around awhile yet are new to you. When this happens it is like discovering a whole new shelf of books that you want to read, without having to wait for the author to produce something new. We at Rocket Pajamas are, in point of fact, small-time and not on the lists of any publishers for advance reviews of new books. And so, here begins our first of many book reviews of long-completed novels and other works. With luck, you will discover new authors and books. At the least, you will be able to revisit some cherished reads.
Science Fiction and Fantasy produce quite a few trilogies, a happy fact that allows stories and worlds to achieve a depth and richness that is much more difficult in a stand alone novel. Some trilogies follow a linear path, merely telling a very long story divided into three discrete books, while others present widely disparate stories that connect to a central theme or realized world.
Of course there exist SF series that extend far beyond a mere trilogy, but in my opinion the books tend to become formulaic and repetitive. Few ideas are so fantastic or exciting as to stay fresh through five or ten full-length novels. The classic example of this problem is found in the seemingly endless Dune novels. While I have certainly worked my way through the occasional extended series, I am usually losing interest long before the end.
In this first installment of what will be a series of discussions of SF trilogies, I will talk about China Miéville’s brutal, breathtaking and dark Bas-Lag Series. This is one of those speculative fiction works that straddles the indefinable line between science fiction and fantasy, presenting a Victorian-era industrialized world in which magic is a science in itself. Given that much of our current technology would be seen as pure magic by a 19th century scientist, one is left wondering how much of the magic in the novels is in fact technology warped to fit the culture and norms of the society of Bas-Lag.
Perdido Street Station is the first novel, which introduces us to Bas-Lag and it’s grimy, dark and turbulent city of New Crobuzon. This is a brilliant novel that hits you like a kick in the teeth, full of class conflict, urban tension, twisted science and alchemical intrigue. It is impossible to get the city out of your head once you have read it.
The class tension and paranoia is palpable in every page of the novel. The streets are seedy, dangerous, diverse and rife with tension. The main characters find themselves hunted by the secret police while themselves trying to destroy a monstrous group of moths that feed on the dreams of sentients.
The novel asks far more questions than it answers and serves as an intoxicating introduction to the world of Bas-Lag. It is hard not to appreciate the mind that presents us the horrors of the ReMade, people who have been mutilated into steampunk cyborgs as punishment for crimes minor and major. It is also easy to see New Crobuzon as a distorted reflection of our own world’s class and racial tensions. Truly a brilliant novel.
The Scar was my first Miéville novel, and I had no idea what I was in for when I began. Any avid reader can appreciate the happy feeling when you read a book that you really enjoy, then discover that the writer has a decent back catalogue for you to explore while you wait for a new novel. This was my experience with The Scar. The protagonist is only incidentally related to the characters in Perdido Street Station, but such is the repression in the aftermath of the first novel that she must flee the city and ends up captured by a floating pirate city. Brilliant, thrilling and full of wholly unexpected twists in the story.
Iron Council is a dark and angry class battle with parallel stories between a near mythical rebel train construction gang whose uprising inspires class tensions in New Crobuzon, and an open class war in the city. The steampunkish theme gives the conflict and tension a gritty, urgent feel where one can’t help but root for the rebels.
China Miéville has written a number of other excellent books, notably The City & The City, but the Bas Lag trilogy was my introduction and I recommend it highly to anyone who has never had the pleasure of his writing.