Friday, January 21, 2011

A Storm Front In New Crobuzon

Perdido Street Station is unfamiliar. Storm Front not at all and I like both for those reasons.

Storm Front flaunts its influences on its first chapter, even in its first paragraph. The first paragraph is about how the mailman usually announces himself. See also: The Postman Always Rings Twice. Within the first chapter, we learn working wizard Harry Dresden is a) behind on rent and b) received an evasive female caller that wants to meet him about a missing persons case. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because it's basically the beginning of every noir story ever.

You get introduced to, next, a no bullshit police lieutenant, who needs Dresden to investigate a fresh crime scene. Surprisingly enough, she's a woman, Karrin Murphy. By the second page of the second chapter, Dresden's opened the door for the woman and called himself old school.

By the third chapter, he's been told by the Mafia to keep his nose out of the case, that the mob will “double” whatever the city is paying him to take a vacation for a couple weeks. He says no. (Of course.) There's a sour pub owner that Dresden is on a first name basis with and a voluptuous woman that wants something from him that lets Dresden peek down her shirt in attempt to get information out of him. (After a quick glance, and only that, he reiterates how old-fashioned he is.) He has to meet a vampire, cross basically all of the people who trust him in an attempt to solve the case.

Would you be surprised to find out that the police lieutenant is having her unseen bosses (Commander Fairweather, in case you were wondering) breathe down her neck or that one of the women is playing Dresden? No. No you wouldn't, because it's all shit you've been before.

It's not like the magic is much more astonishing. Maybe you'll surprised to hear that he brews a love potion and doing so blows up in his face? Mostly, magic accounts for the high octane fights and hijinx. Look, a talking skull and an absent-minded fairy to trap!

And yet, I blitzed through Butcher's paperback in two evenings and I'm stoked for the second, third and fourth books. (I suspect by book five or six he's going to be repeating ideas out the ass.) I mean, yes, I'm a total sucker for the genre and this one gets me right in the sweet spot. There's enough hijinks to keep things moving and there's enough twists (not that they're telegraphed, but it wants to be a noir so bad and I know what to look for) that it keeps me happy.


Within the first chapter of Perdido Street Station, we see the city from outside in the first person, from a character that's not named or described, on the run from something, and headed toward a brief hope that it might be whole again. You arrive in the city from the first chapter, as you approach it, from the perspective of an outside on a boat coming into the city, hearing only rumors from the nebulous narrator. The first two sentences: Veldt to scrub to fields to farms to these first tumbling houses that rise from the earth. It has been night for a long time. Right there, you get a clear sense of coming closer to a city center and that the narrators been traveling for a long time, whether hours, days or weeks, who knows.

In the next chapter, we meet an adorable couple, a female artist (Lin) and a youngish sorcerer (Issac), waking up with each other in their apartment. They wake up together and make breakfast. Issac, the dude, is predictably sleepy and wants to go back to bed. Familiar enough, right? That's when you see, slowly, that Lin has red skin, four pairs of insectoid legs and can't speak, so instead signs. That's before she opens up her head and reveals mandibles, not to mention, tiny delicate wings and that's before she and Issac start having sex, the anatomical possibilities of which Mieville leaves up to our imagination.

Lin, then leaves, because she has to go to work. Again, not really surprising, until you find out that she's going to meet a mysterious buyer that she's certain Issac won't approve of. It's a lucrative commission to do portrait of the lord of organized crime in the city. Yes. The woman gets in trouble and chooses it and, for the record, stays on top of it, until Issac fucks it up. (Not that Issac would know, which I suspect is another theme.) Other main characters are an underworld go-between, a Hutt-esque bartender that the regulars are familiar enough with that they cheerfully order from him.

Let me repeat the comparison: In Storm Front there's a femme fatale that appears in front of the wizened world-weary male narrator and there's hedging. It's probably on the level and it's probably nothing. (Of course it's not, but anyone who likes noir is not everyone who might read the story.) In Perdido, a young female decides she's going to take the chance of working with a crime lord because it will set her up for life and she'll be able to make whatever she wants post-faco and there's no hedging: This shit is dangerous. For Dresden it's enough to get by, for Lin, it's about getting free.

And...after reading Perdido, I wasn't psyched to read the next book in the series. When I finished Storm Front, I was, and this will not surprise you, psyched to read the next one, which, of course, I don't have. And it wasn't because Storm Front had a happy ending and Perdido ended with more movement and running, either. Perdido was exhausting, whereas Storm Front was invigorating. I knew, from the first paragraph of Storm Front, what I was getting into. Perdido, less so. I couldn't go on autopilot for the book or use my knowledge of the genre as a crutch to catch the little references. It surprised me and terrified me in equal measure, and pretty often to boot, so I know I'll be going back to Mieville eventually.

But Butcher? Like popcorn, I want more and I can handle it, right now.

Today's is the Out_Circuit's Across The Light. It has little or nothing to do with the thing, except that it's what I listen to when I need to chill out at night and I just want to be a little ambient. Crossed with Paul Duffield's Signal, I'm de-stressed and ready for sleep.

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