PrintE-mail Written by Christian Jones

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by Hugo Award winner and critically acclaimed author China Mieville is, as the title suggests, a collection of twenty eight short stories. And what an eclectic mix they are. There’s horror, science-fiction, scripts for film trailers and other assorted weirdness from the self-confessed purveyor of “weird fiction.”

Highly regarded for his high concept novels such as The City and the City, Embassytown and Railsea, Mieville writes with such literary dexterity that his style could easily be compared to Ray Bradbury’s style of poetic prose. Bradbury was a master in the art of creating the short story. As too were many of his pulp era contemporaries; Philip K. Dick, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Robert Bloch et al., who honed their craft with each story that they produced. So how does Mieville’s collection compare to the past masters?

There’s no doubt that there’s a talented cleverness at work within this collection. The Condition of the New Death is a playful tale in which when people die they die in the manner of computer game characters. The Dowager of Bees reads like an urban myth that only those in the world of professional gambling will have heard… or witnessed. And then there’s the aforementioned trailer scripts, the best being The Crawl. What a zombie-apocalypse movie that would make!

However, for all Mieville’s inventiveness and literary dexterity his stories feel coldly clinical. Worse yet, they just stop! It doesn’t matter they are three pages long or twenty, they just suddenly come to a grinding halt. This makes the shorter pieces feel like they are notes for ideas that have yet to be fully formed. The longer works aren’t truly explored and so aren’t given the room to breathe. This is particularly true of Polynia, in which icebergs suddenly appear over London. Teams are sent to investigate this bizarre phenomena, they disappear and that’s about it. What did they find? Where did they disappear too? What happened to them? Unfortunately this is par-for-the course with the majority of the stories in this volume. Ambiguous and unexpected endings are a staple of the short story form and they work best when the reader has at least acquired some information with which to form a conclusion, be it correct or not. The result is that although there is much to admire from a practical angle, there is nothing to grasp emotionally leaving an unsatisfying emptiness.

Fans of Mieville will no doubt revel in this collection of interestingly strange ideas wrapped in exquisite prose. New and casual acquaintances, however, will likely become frustrated by the impenetrable levels of ambiguity and the continual abrupt halt in narrative, leaving them to ponder “so was that about shipwrecks, or was it an analogy of the writing process, or did I just eat too much cheese before going to bed?”



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