I read recently that distopias are much more common than utopias in futuristic fiction. That makes sense, since there can’t be much suspense, danger, or other plot engine in paradise. There’s plenty of both in the city of New Crobuzon described in China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, published in 2000, but on consideration, it may not be any more of a distopia than some big cities of today. The political leadership is presiding over a police state with only a half- hearted pretense of democracy, but that’s been seen before. There’s a lot of pollution and crumbling infrastructure, but that’s nothing new either. Much of the distopian atmosphere is created by Miéville’s way with words, the endless inventiveness of his descriptions of dirt and decay and the (negatively) evocative names he gives to people and places (there’s a pub called “The Dying Child”!).
Miéville doesn’t explain where this city is, but I could guess that it’s on a planet colonized by humans from Earth in the distant past, on which they have encountered and learned to live beside a number of other intelligent and bizarre species.The two main characters who are introduced at the beginning are a bird man who needs a new set of wings and a human scientist to whom he applies for help. The scientist hopes to solve the wingless bird man’s problem with unified field theory, but not the version Einstein was working on. In a civilization in which computer technology is less advanced than the ability to harness magic, scientist Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin seems to succeed eventually in constructing a sort of quantum computer from junkyard finds. That’s lucky, because he and his friends need every possible weapon to fight some extremely dangerous enemies.