Three Moments of An Explosion
A 28- piece set of China
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.