China Mieville, Perdido Street Station (Pan Macmillan 2000)
Kim Stanley Robinson (you know who he is, right?) is quoted in a recent Guardian, in the context of a spray about the insularity of the Booker Prize judges, that ‘the best British literature of our time’ is science fiction. I can’t say I share his disparagement of historical novels, still enjoying the afterglow of Wolf Hall as I am, but he has a point. Certainly I feel more nourished by Perdido Street Station, a full-on chaotic, phantasmagorical, dystopian, steampunk boy’s-own-adventure-with-interspecies-sex-and-reanimated-cadavers than by any number of sensitive and self-important explorations of guilt, memory and adultery.
It’s very long, and there was a bit towards the end where I wished he would just get on with it, but it sustained me very well through a very long plane trip and subsequent jet lag. I do feel when I read a genre work like this that I’m something of an outsider and can’t tell what’s original to it and what is a common trope. (I recognise echoes of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, for instance, but have no idea whether they are actual references or simply drawing on the same meme pool.) But when it’s done as well as this, that becomes an academic question.
If you’re looking for a long, light, engaging read, I doubt you could find better.