Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
by China Miéville
Cover Artist: David G. Stevenson
Review by Benjamin Wald
Del Rey Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781101884782
Date: 07 June 2016 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
[Editor's Note: This review originally appeared in our August 2015 issue when we reviewed the hardcover edition.]
Three Moments of an Explosion is the second collection of short stories by China Mieville. His first collection came out ten years ago, so it has been a long wait for fans of Mieville's short fiction. Even better, many of the stories are original to this collection, so even those who have hunted down his published short fiction will have plenty of new treats.
Mieville takes the opportunity provided by the short length of the stories to experiment. This collection contains a story in the form of a college syllabus, and several stories that appear to be descriptions of movie trailers. These experiments are interesting, but suffer a bit from the hyper condensed nature of the chosen formats. Indeed, many of the shorter pieces feel like sketches for full stories, lacking the development to have a real emotional punch. While still entertaining, it is the longer pieces in the collection that have the greater impact.
A notable theme in these stories is our relation to the world we live in. In several stories, Mieville explores the consequences of surreal and inexplicable alterations to the natural world or our relation to it. In "Polynia", for instance, previously melted icebergs appear mysteriously hovering over London, and circling overhead in a constant reminder of the global warming that destroyed them. In "Covehithe", sunken oil rigs return to the surface as bizarre living creatures, seeking to lay their eggs on the shore. In "Keep", a plague causes trenches to form in a circle around its victims, undermining buildings and destroying vehicles in the path of the spontaneously generated trench. In each case, large scale and largely inexplicable events dramatize some feature of our everyday lives. Of these, "Keep" is the most successful, with its central conceit serving both as a metaphor for our isolation from one another while also being treated perfectly literally throughout the narrative.
Mieville also displays his talent for horror. "Sacken" is both a highly effective horror story, and a subversion of the typical logic of horror stories. "The Rabbet" is another case where Mieville takes familiar horror tropes and breathes new life, and new terror, into them. These were two of my favorite stories in the collection.
My one complaint about this collection is that the feel of some of the stories started to feel a bit familiar after a while. While there are a variety of styles and ideas on display, Mieville obviously keeps coming back to certain ideas and modes, and not always in ways that are fresh enough not to feel a touch repetitious. Of course, reading this collection a few stories at a time would prevent this from posing a problem.
Mieville is an exceptionally talented author, and seeing him experiment at shorter lengths is a pleasure. This is a strong collection, with a host of interesting stories and a double handful of outstanding stories. I highly recommend it, especially to Mieville fans.