China Miéville is a British writer of Fantasy and SF, or 'Weird Fiction' as he sees it, as well as a comic author and academic, living, nah, being at home, in London. Amongst many other books he's the author of the 'New Crobuzon' series (Perdido Street Station et al), of the novel 'The City & the City', and of the YA adventure story Un Lun Dun, set in a parallel London, which is waiting for me to find time to pick it out of my reading pile. Er. Sorry...
Three Moments of an Explosion is his second collection of short stories, containing a total of 28 stories of varying length, 16 of which have been previously published in a number of publications and settings. His approach to story telling in the short form, as evidenced in this volume, has a clear 'typical' structure or Modus Operandi: start with a real-world, or 'standard' lightly fantastical setting, and, once the reader is settled in it, show that this is but a shell, that things are much stranger, queerer, and more fantastical below the obvious surface. And, in many cases, leave the reader, at the end, hanging with the mystery, the 'why', and the 'how'. Bastard...
If you like stories of the fantastic, the weird, intruding into daily life, then this is a must-read book. Below I'm going through the individual stories, and provide an idea of the topic, and a potted comment on what I thought of them. If you're one of the readers who are bothered by this (and it has a tendency to be spoiler-ish, by its very nature) then stop here, accept my summary that this is a greatly entertaining book which you should read, and move on.
Schrödinger’s Gun is the story of a Detective, investigating a murder in the mob scene, in a prohibition-era Chicago. So far so default as a setting - but here, the Detective is female (unusual for the time, and even more so for the genre), and has a 'Heisen Implant' in her head, which allows here to see different probabilities, and choose to collapse the quantum waveform if she chooses to - a trick which can greatly help with her work, but which has also torn apart her family. And yes, this places the story deep in SF territory, of course.
My favourite quote was "The cat must know" (yes, this is reference to the cat from Schrödinger's thought experiment). Which, AFAIK, is not true - the cat does not know if the observer is alive or dead, which means he is both?
Either way, this is very much worth reading, in my opinion. Illustration on the right by Richie Pope.
Firstly, and foremostly, to introduce Brian Aldiss. Er. Brian has been at the forefront of Science Fiction for longer than most of us can remember (let's just say he's been writing for my entire life time, and I'm no spring chicken) – he has turned 90 in August (but is still writing, even if he announced this book to be his final SF novel), he's been a Science Fiction Grand Master since 1999 (yup, last Millennium), and has won about everything that is to be won along the way. No, I'm not going to count the books, he's written tons, both SF and other, he's published loads of short stories, he's been involved in endless collections... reading through his entire oeuvre would be a daunting task!
Finches of Mars, then – the book was originally published in 2013, and is now re-published, presumably in honour of his 90th birthday, by OpenRoad Media. He had announced this to be his final SF story, but I understand there are question marks around this, given that he's still actively writing... but either way, here are my thoughts on that book.
The setting uses a classic golden-age SF trope: the settlement of Mars. What we find in the book is a human colony, in 6 separate towers, located on the Tharsis shield (locally known as 'The Prospect'), where Curiosity and its follow-up expeditions had identified water under the surface. The 6 towers are called Chinese, West, Russ-East, Singa-Thai, Scand, and Sud-Am; this should give you an idea of the geographical spread of the endeavor. This is run, and supported (the settlement is by no means self-sustaining) by the UU, the United Universities, a multi-national organisation created and run by a fascinating individual called Herbert Amin Saud Mangalian. The book does not really explain how these Universities manage to afford such an expedition, and its upkeep – there must have been an enormous amount of money materialising in the funding of those in comparison to today.
All the colonists are carefully chosen, for their knowledge, abilities, psychological suitability, and their dedication to the cause, as a trip to Mars is one-way only. The environment on Mars is strictly controlled, with strict ID and health (it is never explained why) checks upon entering a tower, and there is much mistrust and animosity between the towers. There is statutory exercise people have to take, there are no drugs, no pets, definitely totally absolutely no religion, and everybody is given a new, computer-generated name when they join. And still, Aldiss compares, nah, contrasts this with police states, which are only stable due to the control exerted. I marveled.
Some day in the late 1960s David Rodinsky, an orthodox Jewish scholar of Eastern European descent, vanished from his room in the attic above a disused synagogue in Princelet St, Spitalfields, the former Jewish quarter in East London. What became of him no one knew, and no had cared about. The room, where he lived as a near-hermit, was forgotten, and was left as if frozen in time, until it was (re)discovered in 1980, in the state he left it behind - complete with porridge on the stove and the imprint of his head still on the pillow. The room became a mystery, a time capsule, a touchstone for speculation, and something of a cause celebre amongst those who listen and dig for such things, for the hidden corners, and the remains of history below the every-day surface.
Rachel Lichtenstein, a young Jewish Artist, was staggered and stopped in her path when she learned and encountered the building, the room, and the mystery of its former occupant. She started researching David Rodinsky’s origins, life, and disappearance; which turned into a trip into her own history. Her background (Polish-Jewish) and drive to art suffuse her part of the story; as her approach to finding Rodinsky, her own connection to 19 Princelet St lead to her stint as Artist in Residence, courtesy of the Spitalfields Heritage Centre. But her focus to finding Rodinsky stopped, at least for a while, her own artistic work whilst she explores Rodinsky's legacy. She was put in contact with the author Iain Sinclair, a savant of London’s hidden East End if there ever was one, and together they document the area, its history, the synagogue, David Rodinsky - but especially Rachel’s search for herself in Rodinsky’s mirror.
“One day a man, who lived alone in a dead building, in a forgotten part of the town, walked out, disappeared. But it was not a true disappearance, because nobody noticed it. It was a trick without an audience. A retrospective vanishing.” (IS)
You might have gathered that this year's Hugo Awards have, to put it mildly, a bit of a problem. If not:
Two related groups, calling themselves Sad/Rabid Puppies, respectively, created nomination slates of what they felt should be on the final shortlist (predominantly right-wing, white, male et al) and animated a good number of people to stuff the nomination ballots with these slates. With the results that a good amount of the shortlist now indeed comprises of these artificially elevated entries.
The hubbub surrounding this is not edifying - go read about it at your own peril, regardless what your thinking is in regards to what should be considered 'Good Science Fiction' (it's a question of taste, I suspect).
But here is The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvelt - the only entry in the Novelette category which was NOT nominated by slate voting - and, given the backlash against said tactics this might well mean that the awards will equate 'only' with 'best' and will thus award Heuvelt a Hugo Award for it.
I would suggest you have a read yourself, and make up your own mind if this story, published in Lightspeed Magazine in April 2014, can be considered the best short story of the year (that one is a question of taste, too!).
Ian Whates is the owner and chief editor at NewCon Press - The Gift of Joy is the first book of his own writing he published. And, as much as this might smack of ‘vanity effort’ I can assure you that it is not - firstly he has published a good number of other writers and collections/anthologies (see also the reviews of some of those on this site), and secondly his own writing can very well stand on its own. Plus, most of the stories collected here have been published previously, by different publications, between 1986 and 2008.
There are 18 short stories here, 5 of which are new, ie first publications. Each story comes with a short postscript, explaining some of the history, inspiration, and other morsels of meta-information concerning the story. There also is an Author’s Biography at the rear, for those who are interested in learning more about the author of these stories, which cover a huge range of styles, topics, and approaches to storytelling. The variety is actually such that it made me wonder if this should be considered flexibility, or if this is a sign of an author still searching for his niche, his ‘thing’?
Either way, these stories are fun, entertaining, occasionally thought-provoking, and as a collection highly recommended.
Below is a run-through of the stories, and some capsule reviews (or at least thoughts) on them - if you’re considering buying the book (and I can recommend that you do so) and this kind of thing spoils your enjoyment then stop now.