Top Shelf in August: THREE MOMENTS OF AN EXPLOSION by China Miéville

This month’s Top Shelf Pick (and the following review) came from Joe T., Assistant Buyer and Devout Miévillian.

“I’m an urban guerilla
I make bombs in my cellar”

                                           – Hawkwind
                                            “Urban Guerilla”

Corporate-sponsored demolition forms logos from the explosions and debris. Icebergs suddenly appear, floating over London, creating microclimates that can take you from a normal August afternoon to a freezing January as you walk from one city block to the next. New Death, the condition where the feet of a corpse are always facing the observer, sweeps across the planet forever changing our cultural mores. Secret hands in poker that are only known to the initiated cause all sorts of curses and blessings.

All these and more are the concepts within China Miéville’s Three Moments Of An Explosion, his second collection of short stories and the first in ten years. Originally published in a broad variety of publications such as McSweeny’s, The Guardian, Granta, and more, these stories solidify Miéville’s place as the poet laureate of urban fantasy.

Taking his cues from a wide variety of influences, from William S. Burroughs to Mervyn Peake, from J. G. Ballard to H. P. Lovecraft, China Miéville was one of the inaugural members and leading lights of the “New Weird” movement that sought to blur the lines between horror, fantasy, science fiction, and literary fiction. Though the movement is considered a commercial failure, it spawned not just Miéville but it’s “founder” Jeff VanderMeer, who won acclaim for hist 2014  Southern Reach Trilogy.

Amalgamating these influences into a voice that is wholly his own, Miéville’s work is always concerned with The City in all of its permutations. From the grimy London clubs in his 1998 debut novel King Rat, where a modern day Pied Piper uses the then-popular music “Jungle” to entice wayward youths, through his industrial age fantasy novel Perdido Street Station, onto his city-within-a city novel aptly titled The City & the City, the urban environment is Miéville’s muse.

But this obsession with The City is not just window dressing for fantasy’s sake. A PhD graduate of The London School of Economics, Miéville is an avowed socialist and Marxist who incorporates his beliefs into his stories (especially, and amusingly so, in the inside baseball story “The Dusty Hat” included in this volume). But, before all you non-socialists out there (myself included) get indignant, know that though he comes at his work “…with a political perspective… I never let them get in the way of the monsters.”

And speaking of monsters, my favorite story in this book is a mere six pages long.  A minute by minute breakdown of an imaginary movie trailer for an imaginary film, “The Crawl” sells you on on the ultimate zombie movie. Bordering on over-the-top parody yet always staying within the lines of AWESOME, it is a movie I want to pay money to see right now.

China Miéville has been one of my favorite authors for over ten years. Through his essay on the novel The Course of the Heart, I discovered one of my favorite novelists in the sublime M. John Harrison. He is constantly challenging us, as readers, to demand more from our various genres, be they literary or fantastic, and I am never happier than when I can look at you and ask, “Have you read the new collection of short stories by China Miéville? No? Then what are you waiting for?”

4 thoughts on “Top Shelf in August: THREE MOMENTS OF AN EXPLOSION by China Miéville

  1. Funny, we just read Vandermeer’s Annihilation, with no idea he was linked to Mieville at all. I really admire the vernacular that Mieville creates and commits to in his novels- including his (sometimes frustrating) gumption in refusing to define any of the made up slang for you!

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