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.
Ok, for those who want to know more...
Three Moment of an Explosion -
A demolition sponsored by a Burger company. Users of a time-stopping variant of MDMA, exploring the building in mid-collapse... “extreme squatting” they call it. A trip of a story...
There are no more icebergs in the sea. Except that there are now icebergs floating over London, in the air. And life goes on... except... a fascinating fragment, asking for more!
The Condition of New Death -
Death has changed. Not the way we die, but the way we present ourselves to the world thereafter – always with our feet to the observer. Like in the old computer games. What it means no-one is sure, but the implications are staggering...
The Dowager of Bees -
A story about high stakes gambling, about hidden suits/cards only visible to the inducted, and on what playing these means, and does to the player. Magnificent story, an early highlight in the book!
In the Slopes -
A story of two archaeological digs, on a remote island. This might sound mundane and boring, but add in personal and professional rivalries, the SF-nal nature of what is being un-earthed, and you end up with something intense, and deeply absorbing.
The Crawl -
Written as an outline for a trailer, a format that keeps popping up a few times in the book. This one is for a Zombie Apocalypse film, with a twist (hah, not going to tell you!). It's amazing how the whole film plays in your head – and the setting has more than a whiff of a Peter Watts story...
Watching God -
A dreamlike sequence, set in an enclosed community, trapped on a spit of land, where ships come and go, but don't land. Spaced, slightly unreal, rudderless at its core.
The 9th Technique -
A solipsistic tale of an artefact (magical? Time-bending properties?), shaped through torture techniques in Guantanamo. Not entirely sure what to think of it.
The Rope is the World -
Humanity has built Space Elevators. Space Elevators degrade, evolve (as does the top and bottom end, never mind the 1M2 floors inbetween) as generations pass. World-building, mostly; a sketch, with echoes of every so many SF stories – the strongest reference for me (or maybe just the most recent?) was Iain M. Bank's Shellworlds.
The Buzzard's Egg -
A monologue by a captured slave, looking after the captured/god-napped icons of conquered people, as he descends into polytheistic madness.
Horror, quite refined, based on the rather gruesome Roman punishment for Parricide. Not entirely sure about its internal logic, but it's compelling.
Exactly what it says. A course syllabus, for/from a disorienting reality like an unconventional 3D cut through a Mandelbrot/Julia fractal. Great.
Dreaded Outcome -
Introspections of a Psychoanalyst, about her training, her approach, her clients, full of the usual psychobabble. So far to tedious. Until, halfway through, it takes a sharp, unexpected lurch into the leftfield. Hugely entertaining, in summary.
After the Festival -
A strange, parallel time, with a festival where selected people wear the heads of freshly slaughtered animals and dance in the streets. And if that's not strange enough then the story takes this as a jump-off point for something even stranger and less understood. One that keeps you yearning for more – fascinating, and ever so slightly gross.
The Dusty Hat -
A story of the left – of schisms, fractions, paradigms, and infighting. So far to tedious and Ken McLeod, but again, it turns into something else – weird, unexpected, and wonderful.
Another trailer. A factory, creating/containing people with hooked poles coming out of their backs - ?? This one didn't catch me at all, despite its flashes of Portal.
The Bastard Prompt -
The narrator's girlfriend trains as a Standardised Patient (actors, presenting specific symptoms, used to train doctors), and is really really good at it. Until she starts going off-script, and presenting illnesses which don't exist, yet. Fascinating, and leaves more questions than answers.
The rules of a game – played by children, played by a group of older players, played by a society, played in time.
A story about surreal happenings on an estate, the city/sink kind. It feels insufficient, partial. Reminiscent of some Anime, I guess?
A story of the apocalypse, or at least the end of civilisation as we know it. And illness, mysterious in origin, transmission and immunity, a well as in what being sick actually means beyond the initial symptoms (which are developing a moat around yourself if you stand still long enough. yes. indeed). Fascinating, engrossing, even if -no, that would be telling.
A Second Slice Manifesto -
A manifesto, a raison d'etre, for a new art movement, depicting new slices, new cross-cuts through the 3D (or 4D?) scenes depicted by known works of art. Fascinating, both in conception and in what it hints at...
A Godzilla scenario, but with sunken Oil rigs instead of prehistoric beasts. Fascinating and strangely heart-rending, even if it feels light-weight, without the consequences fully drawn out.
The Junket -
The investigation of a journalist into the murder of the Director of the movie “Anne Frank: Vampire” - there are traces of Moore's Gull Hunt here in the maze of associations, supects, possible direct and indirect motivations; but also an unsatisfactory ending marring a rather marvellous effort, IMHO.
Four Final Orpheuses -
A fragment, exploring Orpheus' motivations to fail
The Rabbet -
Another horror story, about an artist and the picture frame which allows him to create (horror) art. Unsettling, but yet again feeling only like a partial story, a fragment, and slightly unsatisfactory
Listen the Birds -
Yet another trailer, this one is about making field recordings of birds, fighting over territory. And if you think that's all there is... let's just say I'd like to see the film, ok?
A Mount -
Ruminations on a small horse made of china. Or on the nature of carousels. Or on the increasing number of people staring a china animals through other people's windows.
The Design -
A longer story, novelette? - about a Medicine Student who, during surgery training, finds that the bones of the cadaver he is working on/in bear designs traced into them. Strong stuff, told in a wonderfully old-fashioned voice. Key Reference: Moorcock's London Bone.
And that's all folks – mainly good to very strong stuff here, even if a lot feels cut off early for my taste, and a bit too much 'slice of life', but I very much appreciate the underlying approach of taking 'normal' situations and underpinning them with wonder. Or horror (but that's a more 'normal' approach for that genre).
Good stuff, recommended reading!
More China Miéville
Title: Three Moments of an Explosion
Author: China Miéville
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.panmacmillan.com
Publication Date: 2015
Review Date: 150914
Topic: Short Stories
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.