Bas-Lag and Perdido Street Station

I recently finished reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station after reading several reviews about it and seeing the Dungeons & Dragons conversion rules in Dragon Magazine issue 352. I think the book is a bit over-hyped in reviews I have read; however, I think it is still a very good book.

The novel takes place in the fantasy world of Bas-Lag where humans are the main protagonist race. Technology levels are similar to Victorian era Britain with the addition of magic. A wealth of exotic races populate Bas-Lag, and they vary greatly from the fantasy staple elves, dwarves, and gnomes. Instead, Bas-Lag treats you to beetle-headed khepri, frog-like vodyanoi, bird-like garuda, animated cactus-men, and impish flying wyrmen. Even more exotic creatures stalk the land, such as the hideous Remade, creatures who have been punished for crimes by being flesh-sculpted into new forms and crossed with animal or mechanical body parts.

The titular Perdido Street Station is the main railway hub and seat of government for the sprawling, industrial, sleazy city of New Crobuzon. This is where Mieville particularly shines, in his ability to paint a vivid picture of the filth, corruption, and horror that is daily life in the great city. Before long, you are immersed in a world of corrupt government, an oppressive police force, bizarre science based on steam power and chymical-thaumaturgy, rebellion, poverty, perversion, and violence. The author draws out the experience, dragging you down into the pit of New Crobuzon long before you are introduced to the real plot of the novel. At some point, you realize the book is sprawling, languid, and grimy—the perfect portrayal of New Crobuzon itself. I think within this lies the true genius of China Mieville.

The story eventually unfolds as a “man” against terrible organic threat. Although the creatures involved are unique, the story is tried and true. Underlying is a tale of love, a tale of tragedy, and a tale of struggle against oppression. Many plot elements find a conclusion, but just as many are left unfinished and waiting. For readers who need closure in novels, this one will certainly disappoint.

In the end, I found Bas-Lag a fascinating new realm of fantasy. I think the potential here is tremendous and recommend the book to anyone seeking something going off the standard fantasy path. Be warned that book is intended for a mature audience, being filled with language, sexual content, and concepts that would offend many. If your fortitude will stand up to such, venture on into Bas-Lag, but don’t say you were not warned. When I set the book down after the last page, I felt intrigued and yet grimy. I believe this is the author’s intent.

China Mieville is a former player of role-playing games, and he includes several characters and lines in the book for the gaming crowd. It should not be surprising that such a richly detailed world is eagerly used by some as a new location for role-playing game sessions. As mentioned earlier, Dragon Magazine issue 352 presented a wealth of information for playing Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition in Bas-Lag. It includes race write-ups, monsters, weapons and equipment, and a very good summary of the wards and districts of New Crobuzon. It has plenty of material within to begin playing in Bas-Lag with very little effort. Also, in February 2008, Adamant Entertainment announced an upcoming Tales of New Crobuzon role-playing game.

Additional Information

Bas-Lag Novels

Wikipedia Entries

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