Saturday, May 28, 2016

Review of Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville

China Mieville’s first collection Looking for Jake: Stories is an uneven selection of shorts. For as much quality writing is present, there is also mediocre, overwrought material. “Reports of Certain Events in London,” “The Tain,” and the title story remain some of Mieville’s best published short work. But the likes of “The Ball Room,” “Details,” “Go Between”, “An End to Hunger,” and “Tis the Season” are conventional at best, and as such, forgettable. (And dare I mention the “drunken dictionary” of “Familiar”??) Fast forward a decade to Mieville’s second collection, Three Moments of an Explosion (2015). A whole new facet of Mieville in short form is revealed.

Two pages long (and available here), the title story “Three Moments of an Explosion” sets the tone for the collection. Perspectives to a building demolition, they include the blackly sarcastic corporate view, the “urban melancholics” view who hide in its dingy shadows using ecstasy, and the view of the ghost who lives inside. Mieville seeming to indicate ‘hang on for the ride,” the twenty-seven stories which follow cover a wide, wide gamut of scenes and times, moods and modes, lengths and depths. From icebergs floating over London (and the exploration thereof) to the New Dead (corpses oriented like in video games), paranormal decks of playing cards (a great love story) to crystallized aliens in lava (a more mature rendering of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, in fact), zombie movie trailers to mysterious sunken fleets, decrepit space elevators to monologues with stolen idols, a classic (albeit slightly grotesque) ghost story to a bizarre yet weirdly interesting take on animal butchery, animate oil rigs to cross sections of art, china horses to scrimshawed bones in cadavers—no story seems to cover the same ground twice, a fact underlined by the careful, precise flow of language.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Three Moments is that roughly one-third to one-half the stories are previously unpublished. For most writers this means cutting room material resurrected in an attempt to put the words “New Stories!” on the cover. With Mieville, however, and his extra-curricular activities in everything from art to politics, one has to hold their breath. And the patience would be worth it. Though most of the unpublished stories are clumped together at the center of Three Moments, one has to look at the story credits to know this. Blending in perfectly, their quality is not a deterrent. While twenty-eight stories is perhaps too much for a single-author collection, the previously unpublished material is not another reason dragging it down.

In the end, Three Moments of an Explosion presents a China Mieville significantly developed in short form from his first collection, Looking for Jake: Stories. The prose is considerably tighter, the atmospheres of the stories are less forced yet still unique, and the overall focus is more subtly esoteric and generally something more of Mievielle’s own. The influences synergized, the likes of Ballard, Borges, Moorcock, Hodgson, Lovecraft, and many others hide in the shadows, but it is Mieville’s mature voice standing in the light. I imagine, however, readers who prefer Mieville’s more overt monster stories will find the subtlety of Three Moments off-putting; it’s amazing how quickly the bandwagon riders jump off when the going gets equivocal…

(For another good view of the collection, see Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, and Creased’s take here.)

The following are the twenty-eight stories in Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories:

Three Moments of an Explosion
The Condition of New Death
The Dowager of Bees
In the Slopes • novelette by China Miéville
The Crawl - A Trailer
Watching God
The 9th Technique
The Rope Is the World
The Buzzard's Egg
Dreaded Outcome
After the Festival
The Dusty Hat
Escapee - A Trailer
The Bastard Prompt
A Second Slice Manifesto
The Junket
Four Final Orpheuses
The Rabbet
Listen the Birds - A Trailer
A Mount
The Design

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