ljgoldstein (ljgoldstein) wrote in theinferior4,

Three Moments of an Explosion, China Miéville

The first three stories of Three Moments of an Explosion left me feeling disgruntled.  I wasn't sure what the point was, and that made me wonder if I'd just missed the point, and that, in turn, made me grumpy.  I wasn't even sure if they were stories at all, and that made me think I might be too narrow in my definition of stories, and that really made me grumpy.  (I hate it when someone tells me my thinking is too narrow.  It might be true, but I still hate it.)

Then I hit the fourth story, "The Dowager of Bees," and I loved the hell out of it.  It's about a newbie at a poker game where one of the players turns out to have a "Full Hive": one black Jack, three number cards totaling a prime number, and the Dowager of Bees.  The newbie is inducted into this way of playing poker and goes on to experience similar games, even getting one of these rare cards himself.

Almost all these stories are like this, in one way or another.  You can't really call them weird ideas; they're ideas that no one else would come up with, ever, so off-the-wall they're in a completely different house, one that probably exists outside of Euclidean geometry.  Drowned oil rigs that return to land, in "Covehithe."  A socialist theory of geology, in "The Dusty Hat."  Bones engraved with artwork, in "The Design."

That makes the book especially hard to review, because so many of the stories turn on a central conceit, and it's hard to avoid giving that away.  (I may have already said too much…)  There's a theory of psychology that I really liked, and a completely outrageous (but, I have to admit, somewhat intriguing) idea for a movie, but I can't discuss the stories these appear in ("The Dreaded Outcome" and "The Junket," respectively).  All I can say is that I think they'll repay your interest.

The ideas here are a problem in other ways.  So much depends on them, and Miéville has a tendency to keep them hidden for no reason, deploying them at the end instead of a climax.  And sometimes the characters don't completely fit within their story: they seem to have very little to do with the particular concept or image Miéville's working with at that moment.  But however strange, even absurd, the idea is, he has the ability to really sell it.   (I realize this is a peculiar metaphor to use about a socialist, but I can't think of another one that's as appropriate.)  You absolutely believe it, if only for duration of the story.

I also liked "In the Slopes," about a group of archeologists excavating a site similar to Pompeii, but one where the lava trapped a culture living in cooperation with aliens; and "The 9th Technique," about an underground trade in objects associated with torture, which turn out to carry a magic charge: "Lists make magic, the rhythm of itemized words: you do not list ten techniques, numbered and chantable, in austere prose appropriate for some early-millennium rebooted Book of Thoth, and not know that you have written an incantation."  I disliked others -- and I'm sure other readers would say the same thing, but would be talking about completely different stories.  But even the ones I bounced off of have that core of wonderful weirdness.  They exist in a world where, as Miéville says in "The Design," "beautiful, elegantly wrought secrets lie hidden less than an inch from sight."

I may be reading the copyright page wrong, but it looks like most of these stories are appearing for the first time here in this collection.  This is an incredible gift for readers, from an author who could place his stories almost anywhere.  I hope the people who put together best-of lists, and the people who vote for awards, are paying attention.
Tags: china miéville, three moments of an explosion
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