Three Moments of an Explosion, by China Miéville - book review: Nuggets of dark genius

Macmillan - £18.99

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The Independent Culture

China Miéville is something of an enigmatic anachronism in the modern age: a writer who doesn’t do Twitter, or Reddit “Ask Me Anythings”, and gives interviews only rarely. We are left, in a somewhat delightful pre-Internet fashion, with only his writing on which to judge him.

And on the basis of this collection of short stories, China Miéville is not found wanting – far from it. This is, for the most part, a gathering of dark nuggets of genius.

Miéville bestrides the unholy trinity of genre writing – fantasy, horror, occasional forays into science fiction – like a literary Colossus, impossible to satisfactorily pigeon-hole into one or another. Those who insist on sticking labels on things went so far as to invent a fresh genre – the New Weird – to describe Miéville’s work.

This collection has moments of horror, of humour (though the darkest shades of black), of fantasy, of surrealism, of political and ecological allegory. Miéville experiments with a variety of different styles. There are the traditional narrative short stories, of course, which are the most satisfying, and stories such as “Polynia”, in which giant icebergs mysteriously appear floating in the air over London (along with other ghosts of mankind’s environmental mismanagement – coral reef in Brussels and rainforests growing in factories in Japan). This story, and “The Condition of New Death” which follows it, and is about dead people suddenly and inexplicably appearing, are written in almost a faux- reportage style, like gonzo dispatches from the edge of a really weird tomorrow.

Other pieces such as “The Rope of the World” feel like showcases for Miéville’s imagination rather than fully rounded stories. It’s fascinating but feels more like a pitch for a novel, albeit one that you’d really want to read.

Fortunately, Miéville doesn’t skimp with this collection – there are 28 stories in all, many of them with a satisfying narrative heft. “The Dowager of Bees” is about “hidden” suits in packs of cards, and what gamblers must do when they occasionally come into play. “Säcken” is a slow-burning supernatural horror-cum-Nordic Noir. “After the Festival” is a blackly almost-funny piece about a disgusting Notting Hill-style gala affair, and how quickly mankind can embrace savagery.

Miéville is one of our most important writers, and this collection demonstrates his versatility and powerful imagination to stunning effect.