China Miéville has ten fiction books currently in print (by his main publishers in the UK and US), as well as two paperback collections of the complete run of Dial H comics. Aside from these though, there are quite a few lesser known Miéville works floating around, waiting to be sought out by his devoted fans. Some of these works are relatively easy to come by in one anthology or another, while other pieces are much rarer. I’ll be writing a series of posts about the uncollected works of Miéville — small review-like pieces detailing the content of these short works, where they can be found, and whether they’re worth tracking down.
First up is The Apology Chapbook, a small and slim paperback released to attendees of the World Fantasy Convention in 2013, where Miéville was scheduled to appear as MC, but had to pull out. This chapbook is his apology and consolation gift for his absence. I didn’t personally attend the convention, but Jared from the geek blog Pornokitsch very kindly contacted me on Twitter and offered to send me a copy. I’m very grateful to Jared for this!
The chapbook contains a quick note of acknowledgements from Miéville, a short story, seven pieces of microfiction, and two illustrations. Read on for info about all of this content!
Short story: “The 9th Technique”
This story, just over 13 pages, is a great piece of dark fantasy featuring a wannabe-witch dabbling in some nasty arts. In that way, it’s a bit reminiscent of Miéville’s earlier story “Familiar” (found in the collection Looking For Jake). This story also has a rather timely element as well, in that it involves the US government’s use of torture in recent years.
We meet the protagonist, a woman named Koning, as she transacts a purchase in a Rhode Island magic black market. Her contact is an ex-soldier who served at Guantanamo Bay, and who has a curious object in his possession: the chrysalis of an insect used in a torture technique against the prisoner Abu Zubaydah. This technique is the 9th technique of the story’s title, one of a list of ten torture tactics authorised by the CIA for use against Zubaydah. The extreme fear generated by the act of torture has infused this still-living insect with powerful magic, which Koning intends to tap into.
Her plan, and why it requires this particular artefact, is an extremely clever aspect of the story that I won’t reveal. It’s very likely that this story will be collected in the upcoming Miéville short story collection, so you can find out more then. Anyway, things don’t exactly go well for her once she has the chrysalis in her possession, and there’s an ambiguous ending from which you can infer the worst.
It’s a wonderful story, short and creepy, the tone consistent with Miéville’s earlier short work — his most horrific ideas have always appeared in his short stories rather than his novels. It will make an excellent addition to the new collection, but it’s nice to have it early in this chapbook as well.
Next up are seven untitled pieces of microfiction, each about a page to a page and a half in length. It’s less likely (but still possible) that these works will feature in the new short story collection. I’ll describe them the best I can, in any case.
- The first piece describes a brother and sister climbing a tree, and the tone is at first light and carefree, despite the mention of some deaths in their village (that go unexplained). However the tone soon shifts, as it becomes apparent that the brother intends for both himself and his sister to both fall and die, by breaking all the branches off as he climbs up below her. His motive isn’t explained, leaving this story rather strange and unnerving. This work is unusual for Miéville in that it contains no apparent supernatural elements. Perhaps it’s an excerpt from a work that hasn’t yet been completed, and we’ll understand more later.
- The second piece is mainly a dialogue between two people who are observing a hand-sized beetle with a strangely-coloured carapace. It’s very short, and at the end it’s implied that one can see the future in the shimmering colours of the carapace. Unlike the first piece, this one feels like a complete work of microfiction with no more story to be expanded upon. It’s simply a nice fiction experiment.
- The third piece is a bizarre vignette. A couple argues at a restaurant table, surrounded by other diners. On the table is a smashed up, near-dead pigeon, from which the woman fills a fountain pen with blood. That’s all. I don’t think I get it.
- The fourth is another small vignette about a man dumping powders and liquids into a river estuary, which at low tide reveal words written in the silt of the river’s banks. The meaning of the words (which are seemingly random) and the reason for his work are never revealed.
- The fifth piece is about a woman in a rural village who seems, to the town folk, to be diminishing in size and substance. This is revealed in a number of disconnected sentences and bits of description, like pieces of traded gossip. There’s also the hint that other people are also shrinking and fading, like her. It’s interesting, but like all the other pieces so far, it demands to be digested by itself, with no broader explanation or context.
- The sixth piece is absolutely the best, a self-contained short story mocking the Transformers franchise. It concerns a meeting of other transforming robots, who — unlike the brash, grandstanding bots who take the form of vehicles — choose subtler forms, such as an abandoned house or a vase of dying flowers. These “alterers” are doing the real work of their war, the more covert and insidious missions, while the “big metal boxing matches” of the well-known robots are simply distractions. It’s a funny piece, going hand-in-hand with Miéville’s Iron-Man-mocking microstory, “Rejected Pitch”.
- The final piece is about windows being broken in such a way to leave the areas of missing glass in the shapes of animals. Most such artworks are done by careful stressing of the glass, but the narrator meets a man who claims to have produced a perfect badger in a stained-glass window with one well-thrown stone. Miéville likes to riff upon strange graffiti and art styles (for instance, the slow-sculpture art style in Bas-Lag, as described in Iron Council), and this is a wonderful little story about one hypothetical style.
The two illustrations in this chapbook are lineart pieces by Miéville in his usual style (see Un Lun Dun and Railsea). The first is titled “Skulltopus for Daniel”, and is self-explanatory (although I don’t know who Daniel is). You can see it in the image I posted above. The second is right at the end, and has the caption “Give me a minute”. The illustration is of a weird-looking alien creature with an elongated head an bulbous eyes. I have no idea what it’s supposed to be, or what the caption means, but it’s always nice to see Miéville’s drawings. It’s a fun way to close the chapbook.
The Apology Chapbook is a very short book, and depending on the level of your obsession with China Miéville’s writing, you may or may not want to go looking for a copy. I’ve noticed a few floating around on eBay in the past, although I’m not sure if any are still available. You could also try getting a free copy from a WFC2013 attendee, but you’ll have to be very nice! I definitely don’t advocate anyone going and bugging strangers for free stuff.
The microstories are cool but very short, and the story “The 9th Technique” is excellent but it’s probably going to be published at the end of this year in Miéville’s new collection. So buy a copy of The Apology Chapbook if you absolutely have to have it for your collection… but my advice is to wait on the new book.
Stay tuned for posts on more rarities such as the short story “Highway 61 Revisited”, the Hellboy short story “A Room of One’s Own”, the issue of the comic Hellblazer that Miéville contributed to, and more!