Three Moments of an Explosion
China Miéville has established himself as a significant writer of weird fiction, to the extent that academic works about his stories have started to appear. However, when thinking about writing this review for his latest collection of short stories, it strikes me that he had not written many books recently. Chicking his bibliography online, I notice that the wonderful trilogy of Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council came out between 2000-4, while there was only Un Lun Dun until The City and the City (2009). The terrible Kraken came the following year and then there was Embassytown (2011) and Railsea (2012). It is now 2016 and still no new novel. I note that two novellas are scheduled to appear this year and there are some other works listed. Well, he is entitled to work at his own pace, of course, and I am aware of his other interests, including his political engagement with Left Unity and other organizations. His commitment to the representation of the working classes in literature and in life remains evident.
I mention all of this because of a faint sense of disappointment with Three Moments of an Explosion which prompted the thought that perhaps the novel was the form that saw his best work. That is not to say the book is no good – there are many stories of staggering vivacity and depth – yet overall it is not clear what themes have been expected. There is not the same cohesion of thought that was notable in Looking for Jake, which was a smaller but more powerful collection first published in 2005. The title, presumably, punningly refers to both time and space. The explosion is viewed at three distinct periods of time and, also, in its tendency to cause rotation around an axis. This is evident from The Condition of New Death, in which a global phenomenon sees all dead people (new death people, that is) become rigid, prone, with their feet always pointing toward the observer. Miéville’s understanding of the role of politics in everyday living is clear here: “Now, with the last verified Old Death having occurred six years ago, and the upgrading of all human death seemingly complete, we are inured enough to the scenes of countless New Dead left by drone strike, terrorist attack, landslide and pandemic that it can be hard to recall the shock occasioned by that first spectacle (p.25).” New Death is simultaneously objective and subjective in nature and this ‘epochal thanatological revolution’ has brought about profound epistemological changes in society, which are hinted at in the conclusion to a short but striking piece. The Rope Is the World is one of several stories that consider the notions of isolation and alienation in a degraded environment and their impact on people’s lives. Capitalism and its pathologies underlie the action but are rarely directly investigated, just as good fiction should follow the show don’t tell dictum. In another story, people at festivals are given the opportunity to wear animal heads and lead parades. Subsequently, some of the successful ones form an addictive attitude to the heads and leave society to live a kind of feral existence – it is difficult to be completely feral in contemporary Britain. Many of the stories are firmly rooted in Britain, mostly in England, as the characters travel from Thanet to Tooting to Maida Vale. At the centre, figuratively if not always geographically, is London, the great and ancient metropolis that has regularly appeared in Miéville’s fiction.
This is a very rewarding and enjoyable collection that repays careful reading and consideration. The characters struggle against difficult environments on the edge of total collapse and live their lives accordingly. Often, we the readers know why what has gone wrong has done so but the characters do not, which again returns to the politics of everyday living. Having now reflected on the collection, I could now return to the beginning and recast the review to focus on this politics as the central theme or, at least, one thematic approach within a diverse compendium.