Bas-Lag Reading Project Part Four: Perdido Street Station
This is the fourth part of the Bas-Lag Reading Project. The fourth part of Perdido Street Station is entitled “A Plague of Nightmares.” This part brings the conflict to the surface with the Slake Moths beginning their predations of New Crobuzon, the Weaver is introduced, Rudgutter makes a move against Isaac, and Mr. Motley makes an ass of himself. I am not entirely happy with how I have approached the Bas-Lag Reading Project so far, and I am aiming to correct a few things. In this post, I’m going to do a bit of Bas-Lag potpourri. In this post, I will discuss the Slake Moths, the Weaver, and some thoughts on the Government- Motley alliance.
The Slake Moths are the monstrous primary antagonists of the novel. Abominations that would make Lovecraft proud, the Slake Moths are giant, multidimensional vampiric moths who consume dreams and destroy sentience. The later chapters of this section describe what the Slake Moths are and how they act. Likely from the Fractured Land, these creatures were picked up as eggs in a place called the Shards. Very interesting names. Perhaps the Fractured Land is a place, like the Cacotopic Stain and Suroch, that is heavily influenced by the Torque? Or, if I remember correctly, a theory was posited in The Scar that the Fractured Land was created by the arrival of the Ghosthead Empire (whatever that is). All that is known for sure is that the Slake Moths are powerful, cunning, and utterly without natural predators.
This status as apex predators is, in my mind curious. The Slake Moths are, clearly, abominations created by some process of thaumaturgic or torque generated mutation. This mutation would lead to a change in their niche and ecosystem. But I am curious about natural predators. Do the Slake Moths lack any? Would they be like many other predators of apexes and target the young? Or could they take on a fully adult Slake Moth with all of its multidimensional aspects? Is Vermishank right and whatever natural predators Slake Moths have would be of greater threat to New Crobuzon than the Moths themselves? All interesting questions. But another question comes to mind that was not answered. If the specimens come from a location with some form of habitation, what are the native inhabitants’ technique for avoiding the monsters?
In many ways, Perdido Street Station is a classical example of a mad scientist/ escaped monster genre. This, I think hones in on the fact that the Moths have targeted specific people. One of them goes for a guard, another for Barbile, and the Runt targets Isaac. This usually substitute parent trope is subverted here as the Moths explicitly want to hunt them down as a sort of trophy meal.
Vermishank’s lecture on the nature of Slake Moths also brings up the issue of breeding. The creatures are initially hermaphroditic and only assume gender when it is time to breed. This occurs in later chapters, but I like the idea that the strongest individual is the designated female while the others become male. And that it is more desirable to be female than male. This is a really interesting concept, but a pity that it is by default alien.
The Weaver is by far my favorite character in novel (followed by Blueday). The Weaver is, like the Slake Moths, a product of uncertain evolution. Is the textorologist correct in assuming that the Weaver evolved from mundane spiders due to Torque inspired mutation? Or is there other possible explanations? What I do know about the Weaver is that it takes a skilled hand to write its dialogue. The Weaver speaks in a sort of prose free verse that resembles a continuous monologue. The Weaver is “insane” for human comprehension although there is a bit of childlike curiosity with it.
The thing about the Weaver, though, is that it sees the world in a completely alien way to humans and most other sentients. What we view as a concrete, knowable reality, the Weaver sees as aesthetics. They view the world as a great web, and their culture, their existence is predicated on the maintenance of the web (called the World Web) as a work of aesthetic beauty.
This reinforces, I think, the meta-narrative argument I posted last time. It is clear, in some ways, that while Mieville wants to be taken as seriously writing about a monster or a mad god, he is also writing in many ways as sort of text of fantastic literary theory. On surface reading, the Weaver comes off as a cool and confusing monster, but on closer reading, the Weaver is a statement on art and poetics. Very cool double duty, in my opinion.
Finally, I wanted to discuss perhaps the most annoying part of Perdido Street Station. I’m talking about the alliance between the government of Rudgutter and Motley. Admittedly, in many ways, New Crobuzon is a reflection, a statement, of Mieville’s attitudes and feelings towards London. On one level, New Crobuzon is cool and amazing, the natural strangeness of the city taken to the extreme of speculative fancy. But at the same time, much like other works of punk literature, the world is one in which government is either incompetent, sinister, antagonistic, etc. New Crobuzon confirms many of these stereotypes. For one, the government is corrupt (but doubtfully anymore corrupt that a real state’s government) and it shares the contemporary marriage of government and corporate or plutocratic interests.
So, it is not surprising that the New Crobuzon government is in bed either with plutocrats or with gangsters. It is a common theme of government of any type. I’ve read a pretty good political history exploring the darker side of electoral politics in late nineteenth century America. This par for the course.
What I find problematic is the seemingly forced merger of the Lin-Motley plot with the main Slake Moth plot. It is easy to recognize that Lin’s dealings with Motley alone are not enough to create a strong subplot. So, to justify Lin becoming a sort of damsel in distress is for her to be captured by Motley. Of course, Motley also looks incredibly dumb in these scenes. But then again, Motley seems to be a fantastic gangster. A gangster of fantasy rather than reality. To a degree, I think that Motley is the weakest part of the narrative.
Anyway, we’ll discuss this later as the Slake Moth hunt continues.