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Book Review: Three Moments of an Explosion

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville 2

The fiction of multiple award–winning author China Miéville is powered by intelligence and imagination. Like George Saunders, Karen Russell, and David Mitchell, he pulls from a variety of genres with equal facility, employing the fantastic not to escape from reality but instead to interrogate it in provocative, unexpected ways.

London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure but violent purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse’s bones—designs clearly present from birth, bearing mute testimony to . . . what?

Of such concepts and unforgettable images are made the twenty-eight stories in this collection—many published here for the first time. By turns speculative, satirical, and heart-wrenching, fresh in form and language, and featuring a cast of damaged yet hopeful seekers who come face-to-face with the deep weirdness of the world—and at times the deeper weirdness of themselves—Three Moments of an Explosion is a fitting showcase for one of literature’s most original voices.

My first encounter with China Miéville’s fiction was Kraken, his seventh novel. It’s about a squid cult and the end of the world. Marine eschatology. Sort of. It’s packed to the gills with weird ideas, baroquely complex characters, and literary archaeology. In an interview promoting that book, he commented, “Part of the appeal of the fantastic is taking ridiculous ideas very seriously and pretending they’re not absurd.”

Three Moments of an Explosion is an exploration of the quotidian colliding with the fantastic. What would otherwise normal people do in such extraordinary circumstances? What does it mean to be human in an abnormal context?

The stories in the collection range from two to thirty nine pages, from flash fiction to novelette. but the quality remains the same regardless of length. Three of the pieces are descriptions of movie trailers, short works in the style of Blade Runner (a movie). These scripts provoke a struggle to comprehend what’s depicted, to connect the images and create meaning. Yet they’re evasive. Urban legends. Shared images. Semantic feedback.

Like his novels, the stories often contain a phrase that very well could have been the seed for the story. A trick of grammar that extrapolated outward into a few pages or a few dozen, however far he wanted to take it, or however far it took him. Sometimes it’s in the title, as with “The Crawl.” Other times it’s almost invisible, like the polysemic ‘Collaborator Culture’ of “In the Slopes.”

At turns terrifying, amazing, amusing, and sublime, these stories showcase Miéville’s inventive language and exceptional creativity. “The Condition of the New Death” interpellates an obscure gaming convention into reality. “The 9th Technique” problematizes the Bush administrations infamous torture memo. “Säcken” might cost you some sleep. “The Dowager of Bees” suggests that even Go Fish could unexpectedly transform your life.

Reviews are bound to focus on some persistent environmental themes,a concern with hierarchical power structures, and corporate commodification. But, honestly, that’s where our mysteries lie. China Miéville is simply our best prepared semiological adventurer reporting back from the expedition.

Recommended for fans of Zero History, “Mysteries of the Unexplained,” and Exterminator!


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Our Most Anticipated Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2015

Well, mine anyway. But since I read more of it, I figure it’s technically ours. Anyway, 2014 saw the release of some wonderful science fiction and fantasy. And while we won’t be seeing The Winds of Winter or The Doors of Stone this year, 2015 is full of exciting titles. So, in chronological order, here’s what The Dinglehopper is looking forward to talking about.


Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie (February 17th)



Half the World is the second book in Abercrombie’s YA Shattered Sea Trilogy. The third appears later in the list and I reviewed the first last year. Half a King was a marvel of plotting and structure with a single point of view character. Two near characters provide the perspectives for this sequel.

Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War.

Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.


Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (May 19th)



I’m one of the few people who didn’t like Snow Crash but kept reading Stephenson anyway. I loved his last two novels, Anathem and REAMDE. The concept seems sort of similar to Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix only further into the future and perhaps more complex. I’m excited to find out.

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.


The Philospher Kings by Jo Walton

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton (June 30th)



The first half of this duology came out in January and we’ll be reviewing it soon. Maybe the most succinct thing I can say about it is that it left me wanting more. As soon as possible. Thankfully, I only have to wait a few months.

Twenty years have elapsed since the events of The Just City. The City, founded by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, organized on the principles espoused in Plato’s Republic and populated by people from all eras of human history, has now split into five cities, and low-level armed conflict between them is not unheard-of.


The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen (July 7th)



This is another sequel, the second part of a trilogy by Chinese superstar Cixin Liu. What can I say? There were some exciting first books last year. We reviewed the weird, wonderful, stunningly imaginative The Three-Body Problem back in October.

With the scope of Dune and the rousing action of Independence Day, this near-future trilogy is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple-award-winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author.


Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie (July 28th)



This is the final book in The Shattered Sea Trilogy. After the just the first chapter of Half the World, I knew I was on board for the rest of the ride. This one will add another point of view character.

Yarvi is the unlikely heir to the throne—a clever, thoughtful boy with a crippled hand who feels out of place in a violent, Viking-like society. Thorn is a young girl, determined to follow in the footsteps of her dead father and become a famous warrior, whatever it takes. Now Yarvi has avenged the murder of his father, and sets out on an epic journey with Thorn that will embroil his kingdom in all-out war.


Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville (August 4th)



China Mieville is my jam.

In these stories, glistening icebergs float above urban horizons; a burning stag runs wild through the city; the ruins of industry emerge unsteadily from the sea; and the abandoned generations in a decayed space-elevator look not up at the stars but down at the Earth. Ranging from portraits of childhood to chilling ghost stories, from dystopian visions to poignant evocations of uncanny love, with beautiful prose and melancholy wit, this breath-taking collection poses searching questions of what it is to be human in an unquiet world.


Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb (August 11th)



I spent my tween years reading fantasy, but sort of drifted away from it on my way through junior high, meaning I missed a lot. For example, the dozen or so novels Robin Hobb set in The Realm of the Elderlings. The first book of her new Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, Fool’s Assassin, was one of my favorite books of last year. And no, I didn’t bother to catch up.

After a devastating confrontation, FitzChivalry Farseer is out for blood—and who better to wreak havoc than a highly trained former royal assassin?


The Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley (October 6th)



I haven’t been this excited about a book since The Wise Man’s Fear. And there was so much more waiting involved with that one. I raved about The Mirror Empire in September. The Empire Ascendant continues Hurley’s Worldbreaker Saga, about the interdimensional invasion of one world by its parallel(s) and the people caught up in it. But that barely scratches the surface of what’s going on in this incredible series that takes nothing for granted.

As the foreign Empire spreads across the world like a disease, one of their former allies takes up her own Empress’s sword again to unseat them, and two enslaved scholars begin a treacherous journey home with what they hope is the key to the Empire’s undoing.
But when the enemy you must overcome shares your own face, who can be trusted?

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett (November 11th)



This one’s as surprising as it is exciting. I enjoyed City of Stairs, a post-colonial epic spy fantasy, but I was under the impression that the author didn’t do sequels. That he switched genres with every novel. So revisiting this imaginative world wasn’t on my radar at all. But I’m glad it’s coming.

The city of Voortyashtan was once the domain of the goddess of death, war, and destruction, but now it’s little more than a ruin. General Turyin Mulaghesh is called out of retirement and sent to this hellish place to try to find a Saypuri secret agent who’s gone missing in the middle of a mission, but the city of war offers countless threats: not only have the ghosts of her own past battles followed her here, but she soon finds herself wondering what happened to all the souls that were trapped in the afterlife when the Divinities vanished. Do the dead sleep soundly in the land of death? Or do they have plans of their own?