China Mieville really is one of the most interesting novelists around. From his compelling crime novel The City and The City, to his young adult work with Un Lun Dun and Railsea, he never fails to combine high concept genre fiction with intelligence and ambition. Even his lesser works, such as Kraken, have more going for them than the average sci-fi or fantasy novel.
Three Moments of an Explosion is Mieville’s second collection of short fiction after Looking for Jake which, to be honest, was a very short collection bolstered by the inclusion of a novella at the end (including the masterful ‘Ball Room’, which gives this reviewer shivers to this day). Three Moments is not like that at all. Comprising a massive twenty-eight stories, some just two or three pages long, this is a huge collection and as such, it’s a mixed bag. This is not least due to the fact that a great many stories have been previously published (we’ve got stories from Granta, Tor, and even McSweeney’s on display here), and as such, the book never quite gels. A handful of stories try to tease out a thread – several stories are presented as scripts for movie trailers (though these are confusing, and a little trite) linking various groupings of stories together – but it isn’t enough. Often, it feels as though many of these stories are included to simply pad out space in the book.
However, when Mieville gets it right, he gets it so very right. Stories like ‘Polynia’, ‘The Dowager of Bees’, ‘After the Festival’ and ‘The Rope is the World’ are nigh on perfect, and interestingly enough, all interrogate that favourite theme of Mieville, the weird disturbing the banal. In ‘Polynia’, an iceberg floats above London and a group of urban explorers become obsessed with climbing to the top. ‘After the Festival’ explores a man who, post carnival, finds himself with a strange addiction to animal heads, and ‘The Rope is the World’ is the most hardened sci-fi story Mieville has written since Embassytown, but still manages to remain grounded and human.
In the end, it’s two stories that really stick with you. ‘Covehithe’, in which a father and daughter sneak to the coast to witness an oil rig hauling itself out of the ocean to walk across the land, is a wonderful story, far sweeter than anything Mieville has previously written, and incredibly inventive. Mieville’s interest in ecology, and climate change gives the story weight, but never overrides the narrative. Then there’s ‘Sacken’. If there was ever a story to stop you in your tracks and give you endless sleepless nights, it’s ‘Sacken’. Two women head to a German lakeside, where one of them falls foul of local folklore. It’s utterly terrifying, and incredibly disturbing. It might just be one of the finest things Mieville has written in his career to date.
So Three Moments of an Explosion can, at times, feel like a slog to get through. It will infuriate occasionally, bemuse frequently and astound quite often. It’s an odd, clumsy collection, but nevertheless is still evidence of Mieville’s solid standing as a master of genre fiction.
Any Cop?: Despite a great many pieces of filler, this is still a good book. There are enough stories to make this a memorable read, although this reviewer would have been just as happy with a collection half the length.