Three Moments Of An Explosion by China Miéville (book review).

‘Three Moments Of An Explosion’ by China Miéville is an anthology of his 28 short Science Fiction, fantasy and horror stories.

China Miéville is considered a main author of the New Weird genre. Although there is no single definition, there is some agreement about its facets. One is that it tends to break down barriers between Science Fiction, fantasy and supernatural horror. Another is its fictions subvert clichés of the fantastic in order to put them to discomforting, rather consoling ends. This is certainly what Miéville does in his stories.

I would view a lot of his stories another way. He takes the ordinary of everyday life and exaggerates it so much that he slips over into fantastical or supernatural with it. For instance, in his story ‘Polynia’, he takes the cold air masses over London and turns them into floating icebergs. The fantastical does not stop there. He gets people to explore the icebergs. Of course, they find the obvious things any iceberg would have. They keep on finding things, until eventually some people disappear to explore the nine-tenths of the iceberg that is out of sight.

Another tendency in his stories is to give the reader options of what might happen. Then the reader can pick the one he or she most in tune with. The obvious way is to set out the options. In ‘Four Final Orpheuses’, that gives four different reasons why Orpheus looks back at Eurydice, thereby condemning her to return to Hades. More often, he leaves the reader to interpret what the ending signifies. For instance, at the end of ‘In The Slopes’, we are left to wonder if Sophia’s shape has truly been distorted by rounded security mirror or whether a reincarnated alien has taken over her body.

Miéville’s writing is concise and conveys its messages well. He uses literary techniques with panache. A good example is in ‘The Mount’. There is a boy who cannot stop crying. Miéville cleverly uses phrases that sound like individual sobs.

Like any anthology, some stories stand out better than others. Some readers may prefer other stories to their friends. For me, three stand out in particular. ‘The Dowager Of Bees’ is the only story in this collection that made me laughs. It takes card playing to beyond extremes with shall we say interesting consequences. ‘The Design’ is a story that can be interpreted many ways, which is a good way of engaging the reader’s interest. Perhaps my favourite is ‘Three Moments Of An Explosion’, which has lent its title to the anthology. In two pages, Miéville uses real-life writing, fantasy, Science Fiction and the supernatural genres and yet somehow comes across as totally believable.

From about the middle of the book onwards I was getting good at guessing where the stories were going to end up. They were following the same kind of development path but based on different starting points. It took the fun of exploring the new out of them. For people who do this kind of thing, it would be better to read this anthology sporadically.

This anthology is a tour de force of the New Weird genre. It can only be fully appreciated by readers who have an interest in fantasy, Science Fiction and the supernatural. This is perhaps the anthology’s greatest weakness. If the reader likes only some of these genres, she or he will be left dissatisfied at times.

Rosie Oliver

May 2021

(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2015. 381 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US), $35.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-101-88472-0

(pub: Pan Macmillan. 431 page hardback, 2015. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-230-77017-1

(pub: Del Rey/Random House, 2016. 382 page small enlarged back. Price: $16.00 (UK), $22.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-101-88478-2)

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