The development of multiple science fiction branches opens a new perspective for further study of M. Bakhtin’s theory of the correlation between the time-space organization (chronotope) and the genre peculiarities of a literary work. At the center of hid concern is the aesthetic visualizing of a human being in relation to their temporal and spatial worId [Bakhtin 1975].
Steampunk as a new subgenre of science fiction appeared at the turn of XX century. Steampunk (derived from “steam”) is an art trend describing the humankind at the age of steam machines. Steampunk life is stylized to Victorian England. In such archaic environment we find first motorcars, dirigibles, telephones, watchworks, locomotives and robots. Magic is also used in such worlds. The term was suggested in 1987 by Kevin Jeter, who tried to find the name for his own novels. His works did not fit into the common fantasy conceptual foundation. So, Jeter suggested connecting the genre name with the leading technology in the world of the artistic work. Thus, steam machines gave the name to the subgenre. According to K. Jeter, the first appropriate example of such naming was ‘cyberpunk’ (cybernetics plus punk). Steampunk may also be characterized by the squalid and seductive life of characters. The boundaries of the historic period in which the author lived and created are blurred. This is one of the actualization methods in contemporary literature: the denial of facts for the sake of space extension.
The central image of the novel is that of a city. The semiotics of the city was investigated by Yu. Lotman who divided all cities into two types — concentric and eccentric. According to him, a concentric city is connected to the image of a city upon a hill. Such a city becomes a mediator between heaven and earth, and gathers genetic myths around itself (this city is usually created by gods). The city has the beginning and no end, so to say, eternal city. An eccentric city, on the other hand, is created against nature and is situated at the end of space — on a shore or in a mouth of a river. The opposition actualized is not ‘sky vs. earth’, but ‘natural vs. artificial’. ‘This opposition also gives an opportunity to expound the concept “city”, on the one hand, as a triumph of mind over nature and, on the other hand, as warping the course of nature. Eschatological myths, wreck predictions and the idea of fatality will be concentrated around the name of the city and integrated into its urban legends’ [Lotman 1984: 32--44].
For many reasons, New Crobuzon, the city from the novel Perdido Street Station by C.T. Mieville, is an eccentric city. Geographically, it is situated not far from the forest, in the mouth of the river named Tar. The opposition “natural vs. artificial” is also actualized through architectural details (militia towers, which ‘punctured the earth like a concrete thorn in the heart of the city’) [Mieville 2003: 22] (We are quoting further from this edition of the novel; the numbers of pages are given in buckets)and ecology. In Brock Marsh, a scientific district, the dwellers dump the slop from failed experiments, factories, laboratories and alchemists’ towers. In Brock Marsh the water has unpredictable qualities. ‘An imprudent traveler could step into water or mud and start speaking a dead language, or fade slowly and disappear’ . Moreover, one of the districts is called The Ribs and it is actually built in an enormous ribcage. Nobody knows what creature has fallen there millennia ago and all the research and attempts of building something inside The Ribs have lead to a series of deaths and strange disappearances.
Eschatological catastrophe is not late in arriving. The city was attacked by stake moths who feasted on people’s dreams. After being attacked by the moths, a living sapience creature does not die, but completely loses its mind and becomes absolutely helpless like a baby. Monsters take up residence in Perdido Street Station and they can equally easily walk the earth, fly and even travel to other dimensions. They seem invincible.
The New Crobuzon space is strictly divided into three levels. The first “ground” level includes streets, houses and other components of an industrial centre, and this level is obvious and accessible to everyone. The second “underground” level is the shady part of the city where criminal bargains are coming off and a proletarian revolution is being prepared. It includes cellars, city abattoir, where cryptos are working under masks of brutal butchers; and rivers where the Vodyanoi live. And the third level is sky, which is never empty, too. Birds and fancy beasts scurry up there, pompous dirigibles hover among the clouds and militia cars dash along the rails high above the highest buildings. Besides, many houses and militia towers are so high that they could compete with sky scrapers. But apart from this hierarchy (sky-ground-underground), there are other, parallel worlds. Strange and dangerous creatures live there: daemons, summoned by city mayor with the help of machines and magic, and The Weaver, a monstrous spider, who weaves the web of life and who comes to the world at his own will.
One way or the other, all the levels are connected by one spot where all the ways coincide. There the railways meet, fates ingather and criminal deals are being set up. And that place was also chosen by the slake-moths. All this is said about Perdido Street Station. That’s what the main character, a great scientist whose research cannot fit into any particular sphere, says about the Station:
I think of myself as the main station for all the schools of thought. Like Perdido Street Station. …Unavoidable, ain’t it? . . . massive great thing.’ Isaac patted his belly, maintaining the analogy. Everything has to pass through it. That’s like me. That’s my job. That’s the kind of scientist I am... .
In the text of the novel it is frequently said that New Crobuzon is an old and disheveled city. Walls and gates are shabby and beaten by acid rains. Being an industrial and scientific centre, New Crobuzon hardly remembers its history. This is amazing while many races of New Crobuzon live for more than a hundred years. Few of the citizens are interested in the distant past.
Time in the novel is very slow: the first part describes only four days during which a reader can get acquainted with the key characters. With their eyes the reader observes vast city areas: fair, market, thief quarters, scientific district and the lodge of sapience and civilized scarabs. New Crobuzon world has its own calendar, two spring months are known — Chet and Melluary, and some days of the week — Fishday (Friday), Skullday (Saturday), Shunday (Sunday), Dustday (Monday). Some characters of the novel consider that time is unsteady and relative, because a month ago everyone liked concrete music (play on words — concrete as a quality and as a material), and a year ago people were crazy about snort art.
The beginning of the events is very detailed and it occupies approximately three-quarter of the novel. After this the reader is told that the slake-moths has been torturing the citizens for six months, but nobody can still fight them. The catastrophe didn’t leave out the characters either. A sapience scarab-sculptor, the main character’s lover, has been attacked by the moths. She loses her mind and is unable to create and enjoy her life anymore. The scientist is deeply depressed and stops his research. Another character, a garuda (eagle human), who lost his wings as a punishment for felony, hates being wingless. He asks the scientist to help him, but at the end has to give up the idea of flying — the scientist is unable to work anymore. As a ritual, the birdman tears off his feathers and goes into the city like a usual man. The monster city becomes his home and the flightless bird becomes a human. This transformation is reflected in the strong position of the text.
I turn away from him and step into the vastness of New Crobuzon, this towering edifice of architecture and history, this complexitude of money and slum, this profane steam-powered god. I turn and walk into the city my home, not bird or garuda, not miserable crossbreed.
I turn and walk into my home, the city, a man .
The Dutch scientist, Paul Smethrust, in his fundamental work The Postmodern Chronotope. Reading Space and Time in Contemporary Fiction [Smethrust 2000] describes the chronotope in literary works of postmodernism. P. Smethrust says about the orientation shift from time to space and geographical position. Total loss of historicity in many aspects of postmodernism is connected with disorientation in space. This disorientation contains traces of historical events which have formed that space. Consequently, the novel chronotope and chronotope in art in general should be separated from common material reflection of postmodernism which easily fit into the cultural chronotope. In present time, the space and time aesthetics bears the traces of poststructuralism impact on itself. In such a chronotope space does not comply with the time, but has its own poetics which appears more in toponymy and geography than in historicity.
Due to the urbanistic specificity of steampunk subgenre, topos is especially accented in the chronotope of the novel Perdido Street Station because it constitutes the nucleus of the novel concept sphere. The nuclear concept ‘city’ is one of the basic and most ancient concepts of the English linguoculture and it bears the traces of different interpretations. Nearly all the meanings given in dictionaries are related to the type of settlement, its administration and dwellers.
Despite the above mentioned peculiarities, the fictitious interpretation of the concept in the given novel endows the city with the traits of a living creature, an ancient, even primordial one. And this creature is that enormous that it becomes the world itself. In this world the action is taking place.
In the novel under analysis, the concept ‘city’ obtains new interpretation connected with the urbanistic writer’s point of view. The city is one of the nucleus components of the novel’s chronotope. The movement of plot and time and the key moments are inextricably connected with the scene, that is New Crobuzon.
1. Bakhtin M.M. Voprosy literatury i estetiki. Issledovaniia raznyh let [Bakhtin M.M. The Issues of Literature and Aesthetics. Research of various years] M.:, Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, 1975.
2. Lotman Yu. M. Simvolika Peterburga i problemy semiotiki goroda. [Lotman Yu.M. The symbolism of St. Peterburgh and the Problems of the Semiotics of a City]. Trudy po znakovym systemam. [The works on Sign Systems]. Tartu. Tartu University Publ., 1984. Vol. 18. P.32--44.
3. Smethurst P. Postmodern Chronotope. Reading Space and Time in Contemporary Fiction / P. Smethurst. — Amsterdam: Atlanta, GA, 2000.
4. Mieville China. Perdido Street Station / C.T. Mieville. — New York: Del Rey, 2003