Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories – China Mieville

I’m not actually a huge fan of short stories, though you wouldn’t think it (I’ve already reviewed three other collections of short stories since this blog began back in February).  But any new work by China Mieville is always worth looking out for, and I was lucky enough to get a review copy from Pan Macmillan via NetGalley.

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories is a collection stuffed full of typical Mieville fare.  While some stories stay longer than others in the memory, traditional Mieville themes and motifs abound.  There is body horror, weird goings on (I particularly liked the sentient oil rigs) and some interesting examples of how speculative fiction can be used to explore story-telling.  Each story rewards attention, and deserves to have its dense, tightly-written prose lingered over, and I am sure they will also reward rereading.  But there are some stand-out stories in the collection.

For me, the best piece is The Dusty Hat.  It takes Mieville’s trademark socialism, and recasts divisions in the left in the context of massive tectonic changes in the history of the world.  Contemporary ideological conflicts are merely the latest front in battles that have been going on for millenia.

The other high point is Keep.  Mieville physically manifests our increasing distance from one another, albeit in the context of a global community that is shrinking  Our isolation from one another has disastrous effects, ultimately destroying our civilisation.

The very brief Four Final Orpheuses posits four motivations for Orpheus turning as he leaves Hades with Eurydice following him.  Each is plausible and adds a new layer of richness to the original myth.

The Dowager of Bees gives us a tense and stylish take on a high-stakes poker game.  The appearance of magical cards from a meta-deck that come with its own esoteric rules enables admission to an elite group of players.  But the temptations of cheating remain present, sketching out beautifully the relationship between two players.

The Crawl, Escapee and Listen The Birds play with the short story format.  We’re used to the cinematic shorthand of the movie trailer, and Mieville appropriates that to illustrate the beats of stories in an extremely compressed way.

The Rope is the World shows us the evolution of entire communities as isolated entities.  The past is forgotten and conflicts rage as people’s perspectives becomes ever more limited.

The Buzzard’s Egg examines at the micro level the fruits of conflict.  Bitterness and revenge are nurtured over time by a slave forced to tend the captured gods of a nation’s enemies.  But when the time of potential liberation comes, he chooses destruction over liberation.

Dreaded Outcome gives us a witty sideways look on the role of the therapist in dealing with mental health problems.  Sometimes more direct action – up to and including assassination – is necessary to help a patient by removing the cause of their problems.

There is a lot of horror in the collection.  Sacken and The Rabbet reminded me of the creepiest Japanese horror films.  Each features a relentless threat bent on the destruction of characters in the story.  After the Festival gives us a dose of body-shock horror with lingering images of individuals corrupted and dehumanised.

Overall, this is a strong collection of short fiction, and definitely worth a look.

Goodreads rating: 4*

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