China Mieville is a virtuoso maverick writer who is impossible to label. He is too strange for the fantasy genre (which tells you something about the strict expectations within fantasy) and too fantastical for the horror and science fiction genres. He is usually seen as a writer of so-called New Weird fiction. Mieville’s central modus operandi is, as far as I understand it, to take an outrageous idea, and to treat it as seriously as possible. Nothing goes too far. If you go full strange, you don’t fit in anywhere, but the sheer force of his imagination bowls you over.
Three Moments of an Explosion is a short story collection of stuff that he wrote off and on during the past few years. Lots of these short stories have this outrageous-idea setup. He plays games of imagine. Imagine that… giant icebergs were suddenly floating above London… now let’s see, if we take that idea completely seriously, let’s see where that takes us. Like that. A nice thing with Mieville is that he is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. A bad thing is that sometimes… an idea takes us nowhere.
The stories aren’t all of uniform quality. Generally speaking, the longer the stories, the stronger the impact. Some of his shorter work has an experimental twist to it and is hit or miss, or simply feels unfinished. Since it is quite a big collection of stories (28 stories), the overall quality would have gone up by skimming away some of the short work.
- Three Moments of an Explosion **
- Polynia ****
- The Condition of New Death ***
- The Dowager of Bees ****
- In the Slopes *****
- The Crawl **
- Watching God ****
- The 9th Technique *** (too confusing. Could have been great)
- The Rope is the World ****
- The Buzzard’s Egg **** (again, the ending is too confusing)
- Säcken ****
- Syllabus **
- Dreaded Outcome *****
There is something I am pissed about. Some stories end so abruptly and confusingly that it completely ruins the story. One story, and I won’t spoil anything, is a 5-star story, ‘After the Festival’. It is amazing, and then it suddenly ends. And I have no idea what just happened, because it was too confusing. And I am disappointed because I was really invested and drawn into the story, and then it suddenly ends. And I am rereading the lines three or four times to make sense of what happens and I just don’t get it. It’s a story without a third act, and I am left without a sense of resolution or anything. This is no way to treat readers who are invested in your stories, right. Seriously let down.
- After the Festival ***** (goes down to 1 star in the final page)
- Dusty Hat ****
- Escapee **
- The Bastard Prompt ****
- Rules **
- Estate ***
- Keep ***** (Good, but lacks an ending)
- A Second Slice Manifesto ***
- Covehithe *****
- The Junket ***
- Four Final Orpheuses **
- The Rabbet ***
- Listen the Birds **
- A Mount ***
- The Design ****
The 2 and 3 stars are mostly short ones that could have been left out.
There are golden nuggets of ideas that span the entire breath of history and style. From pastoral settings on islands, to the urban jungle of London, to futuristic space, Mieville feels at home everywhere to write down a nice portrait of humanity and weirdness. He morphs into the minds of teenagers most often. Still, the stories are too fragmentary. Nice setups of stories that suggest whole books are undermined after a dozen pages in quick endings.
The collection stimulates the imagination, and has all the reasons why people keep returning to his work, but in the end it is unsatisfactory. Sometimes, I simply didn’t understand a story. It was too experimental or truncated or fragmented. Or maybe I am not smart enough.