Bas-Lag Reading Project Part Five: Perdido Street Station
Today, in this fifth installment of Perdido Street Station, I am going to focus solely on the Construct Council . Limiting this to just the Construct Council is appropriate, in my opinion, because the Council forms the primary subplot of this part. I’ll touch a few things about the Council. One, I’ll talk about the steam-punk AI (or CI in this world). Two, I’ll touch on the religious aspect of the Council. Three, I’ll discuss the Council’s aid against the Slake Moths. And four, I’ll deal a little bit with the Council’s future.
One thing I find fascinating about Bas-Lag and New Crobuzon is the wide array of technological, cultural, and political variations. Politically, the world seems to be reminiscent of the city states of Mesopotamia and other such time periods, but with the seeming strength and power of nation states and empire states. Now, there are city based empires, but do these really last that long? Technologically, New Crobuzon is a steam-punk equivalent of modern if not a little more advanced in some ways.
But for now, lets talk about CI- constructed intelligence. According to the Council, CI develops based upon a virus. But the virus depicted is not one that readers from Earth are familiar with. Earth computer viruses are spread through programming and spread (typically) through the internet. There is no internet in New Crobuzon. Nor is there programming that younger readers would be familiar with (I know that cards used to be used to insert programs). Instead “viruses” seem to emerge more from a malfunction. Clock work gears in the computational center stick and form infinite loops. The construct becomes obsessed with a function. Over time, the Council itself “mutated” and formed full sentience. After merging with another, it began to spread by altering the programming of malfunctioning constructs.
The owners or discoverers of the first two fully sentient constructs formed the basis of the CI religion. Given the presence of the Godmech religion (I’m guessing that this religion is based on the Deistic idea of God the Clock Maker). What the worshipers worship is the self organizing aspect of constructed intelligence. The Council becomes a self made entity, a self made god. The question is, does the Council commit the same follies that other so called “gods” do?
Here, I’m not wanting to spoil things. But I kind of have to. In the Council’s first interactions with Isaac’s group, it claims that it is helping them to ensure that its human worshipers do not die. If they die, then it will not be able to spread itself into other constructs. Now, there is some credence to this. The Slake Moths are widely believed to threaten the entirety of New Crobuzon. But in reality, it is revealed in a Mievillean twist (he does this a lot) that the Council really wants the crisis engine. If it can manage to figure out how to make one on its own, then it could become unstoppable.
Why can’t the Council build its own crisis engine? Because, like most of its constructed or artificial kin, it lacks the imagination. That is why it is paired with the Weaver. The Slake Moths cannot “eat” either the Council or the Weaver because they do not form a whole mind. The Council is pure logic. The Weaver is pure dreams, pure imagination. Keep reading to find out what happens when they are combined.
The Council is also doomed. In the early parts of Iron Council, one of the protagonists remembers watching as a child the militia bombarding a dump in Griss Twist. And there are no constructs. Instead, golems have replaced constructs as non sentient labor. From what I can tell, the Council is either discovered or makes a move against New Crobuzon. And it is destroyed. Of course, some pieces of it could have survived. But we never know.
This is it for the Construct Council. Next post, I’ll do a little bit about the Cactacae.