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Books reviewed in this month's LOCUS MAGAZINE


Book Selections for June 2000

Perdido Street Station, China Miéville
(UK: Macmillan 0-333-78172-4, £16.99, 710pp, hc, March 2000, cover by Edward Miller)

Katastrophe, Randall Boyll
(HarperCollins 0-06-019236-4, $25, 9+543pp, hc, May 2000)

China Miéville’s second novel, after King Rat, is a mix of SF and dark fantasy whose influences include M. John Harrison, Mervyn Peake, and Philip K. Dick, observes Faren Miller in her review in the July Locus. It’s set in the city of New Crobuzon...

a vast domain of metal, darkness, rivets, and pollution -- a nightmare metamorphosis of London, run by industrial magics... [T]he Station at the city’s heart (designed by an architect who subsequently went mad), [is] an ‘‘industrial castle, bristling with random parapets,’’ its ‘‘five enormous brick mouths’’ open to the trainlines which extend along the arches ‘‘like huge tongues,’’ its belly filled with ‘‘shops and torture chambers and workshops and offices....’’ Occasionally the similes become obtrusive, the writing a bit too highly wrought even while it remains down-and-dirty. But more often, it reads like a steam- punk version of Dante’s Inferno.

The city is inhabited by humans and by sentient ‘xenian’ species, including the bird-human garuda, the insect-human khepri, and more. The story concerns a garuda Stranger from the far deserts who arrives in the city in search of someone who can restore his power of flight, and rogue scientist Isaac, who’s obsessed with developing a Moving Unified Field Theory (MUFTI) to link thaumaturgy, physics, and other disciplines...

Unfortunately for Isaac, and New Crobuzon as a whole, his researches accidentally unleash a quite different force which can feast upon most of the city’s dreamers, sucking out memory and spirit until only the dumb flesh remains. Can the new, relatively high-tech development of sentient clockwork constructs -- or their remarkable metamorphosed leader -- help Isaac find a way to save humans and xenians alike? It won’t be an easy task, or a clean one, in this city as filled with nastiness and brutality as it is with imaginative wonders, and some of the main characters have to get past moral qualms in order to do what must be done.

Miéville has produced a Dantesque fable for the Industrial Ages, from that of Dickens to our own with its cybernetics, astrophysics, and big business. (In this book, even demons are bureaucrats.) And the nature of sentience and sanity, for any of New Crobuzon’s inhabitants, turns out to be as vital to the outcome as the bizarre product of Isaac’s MUFTI. Perdido Street Station runs the gamut with its moments of joy and tragedy, intellectual marvels, explorations of justice and self-judgement, and much, much more. Powerful stuff indeed.


If there’s any writer I’d like to see elevated to superstardom and financial success (well, other than Howard Waldrop), it’d have to be Randall Boyll.

So says Edward Bryant in the July issue of Locus. Bryant recalls following Boyll’s career from debut novel After Sundown through various movie novelization paperbacks. Now comes the author’s first hardback.

The publisher’s publicity would have you believe the novel’s a contemporary thriller in the tradition of that highly readable alternate history, Fatherland by Robert Harris. Well, okay, though it’s equally in the tradition, though possessed of a totally different set of tonal qualities, of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. In other words, a highly idiosyncratic example of Slipstream City. If one thinks of, say, Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil as something of the baseline for paranoid, speculative treatments of the Nazi heritage in contemporary times, then Katastrophe launches off that well-beaten track like a series of star-shells leaving fiery trails across a midnight Midwestern sky.

The story? A Midwestern academic, Hank Thorwald, is hypnotized at a faculty party...

[T]he hypnotist tries a little past-life regression on Hank and the result would seem to indicate that Hank’s the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, Der Fuhrer himself. Weird, right? Ridiculous, say his friends. But in a modern America where the Internet and the tabloids disseminate the most specious information possible, it takes little time for Hank to achieve a dubious stardom.

Is he really the avatar of Germany’s dead leader?

The book combines telling details of rural American life with violence that’s nasty -- yet hilarious.

It’s a difficult skill that through centuries of western literature has been much admired when mastered by the perverse few. ... The darkness in Randall Boyll’s work is always right there, roiling just below the surface. Katastrophe is strong, disquieting stuff. No one writes weirdness quite like this man, and that’s good reason to read him right there.

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These pages excerpt Locus Magazine's reviews to profile two books each month, selected as first-choice recommendations for keeping up on the best of current SF, fantasy, and horror.

© 2000 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.