Three Mo­ments of An Ex­plo­sion

A 28- piece set of China

SFX - - Rated / Books - Jonathan Wright

Re­lease Date: 30 July

430 pages | Hard­back/ ebook Au­thor: China Miéville Pub­lisher: Macmil­lan The open­ing sTory in China Miéville’s sec­ond vol­ume of short fic­tion acts as a state­ment of in­tent. Just two pages long, the tale that gives the col­lec­tion its name deals with drug- fu­elled “ex­treme squat­ting ” in a build­ing that’s be­ing de­mol­ished, with a bang. Here, hav­ing taken them­selves tem­po­rar­ily out­side chronol­ogy, ur­ban ex­plor­ers “have hours – sub­jec­tively speak­ing – to ex­plore the in­nards of the col­laps­ing ed­i­fice”.

The pace of the col­lec­tion barely lets up there­after. There’s no an­chor­ing novella to slow things down. In­stead, body- hor­ror vi­gnettes, eerie me­ta­mor­phoses and re­flec­tions on rev­o­lu­tions fol­low with the rat- a- tat in­sis­tence of a speed­ing train. In con­text, it’s tempt­ing to see Miéville’s open­ing story also as a de­lib­er­ate fore­shad­ow­ing: we read­ers have hours to tackle what fol­lows ( drugs op­tional), but things aren’t go­ing to end pret­tily – ex­cept pos­si­bly in a post- ruin porn kind of way.

So what’s Miéville try­ing to achieve here? First up, we have no idea what the ( any­way un­re­li­able) au­tho­rial in­ten­tion might be be­cause he’s do­ing lit­tle pro­mo­tion for the book. In­stead, we have the 28 texts them­selves, some pub­lished be­fore in ear­lier ver­sions, which we’re in­vited to con­sider to­gether.

Taken as such, these sto­ries ap­pear to her­ald a new phase in Miéville’s writ­ing. To un­pack that a lit­tle: you don’t have to wholly agree with Christo­pher Priest’s 2012 warn­ing to Miéville, part of a tirade against that year’s Clarke Award list, that “he is re­strict­ing his art by depend­ing too heav­ily on genre com­mon­places” to think there was at least some­thing in this no­tion. Miéville is a writer so steeped in genre – one rea­son his work so res­onates with fandom – that his nov­els at times seem hemmed in by pulp fic­tion con­ven­tions, even as he know­ingly sub­verts these.

In con­trast, while there are sto­ries here based on ideas that wouldn’t be out of place in the cheap­est fic­tion – the ther­a­pist who com­mits mur­der to “help” her pa­tients in “Dreaded Out­come” springs im­me­di­ately to mind; “Säcken” is a Ham­mer hor­ror in note form – Miéville seems some­how freer work­ing within short fic­tion.

The re­sult is a vol­ume that sug­gests Miéville is not merely look­ing for tech­niques to take back to his longer- form fic­tion, but do­ing some­thing al­to­gether more am­bi­tious: ex­plor­ing the un­set­tling pos­si­bil­i­ties of short fic­tion to de­scribe our un­set­tled lives, rather as JG Bal­lard did in the last cen­tury. Read “The Con­di­tion Of New Death”, which is si­mul­ta­ne­ously packed with grotesque flour­ishes yet seems tan­gen­tially, and some­how rather in­ap­pro­pri­ately, to deal with our early 21st- cen­tury ob­ses­sion with sym­me­try, for proof.

And if Miéville’s short sto­ries don’t have Bal­lard’s con­sis­tency of tone, that may turn out to be a strength. That’s be­cause af­ter read­ing Three Mo­ments, you’re left with no clear idea of what the au­thor will do next, but a burn­ing, if fear­ful, de­sire to find out.

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