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08 May 2005
Perdido Street Station - China Mieville - Pan 2000
* * *
When I was a child growing up in deepest Surrey, going to London was a treat. We would take the train to South Kensington and visit the Science Museum. I can still remember the fun of the children's hands-on section in the basement and the excitement of seeing, for the first time, a traffic light that turned green as you approached it (something they never seem to do nowadays). Afterwards we would go for tea in the cafe, passing through the nearly unpopulated halls housing the ship propellors and steam engines with the spitfires hanging overhead, and have cream cakes which invariably made me ill. Later, when I was a teenager, Oxford Street and the Charing Cross Road became the new treat, visiting the Games Centre to buy the latest roleplaying supplement, Forbidden Planet for comics and Foyles for those books that you could never find anywhere else. Even now, going to see a play or a musical at the National Theatre or Drury Lane still gives me a buzz.

But nothing on earth would persuade me to live there. In fact it would be a good working definition of hell. The sheer stress of getting around on the delapidated and inefficient public transport system, the overwhelming press of people living in a metropolis designed for one tenth the number, the graffiti and the grime, the traffic, the pollution, the noise... China Mieville, however, clearly loves it, for the dynamics of his fantasy city of New Crobuzon are essentially those of modern London, complete with railways, different ethnic communities living side by side (though his ethnicities are people with insects for heads, bird-people and human/toad hybrids), a government which rules from a building called the Parliament, slums and well-to-do areas jammed side by side, a polluted river running through. The similarities with modern London may partly explain why I didn't especially enjoy my visit to New Crobuzon, although there are other problems as well.
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