Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville — My thoughts on every story (Part 2)

threemoments_storybystory2And now here’s the second part of my story-by-story thoughts on Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories! If you haven’t yet, read part one first.

For this post I’m tackling the next 9 stories of the book, which will just leave 9 more for the final part of this series. I hope people are getting some enjoyment out of reading my thoughts while they wait for the official release of this book! Or, perhaps people are coming here after they’ve read the book themselves, to see what other people thought.

Read on for short descriptions and thoughts about each individual story. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil any endings. (NB: page counts are for the UK hardback edition)

“Säcken”

(31 pages) Jesus christ. A terrifying horror story, up there with the creepiest work by Laird Barron, with notes of Koji Suzuki’s Ring as well. Two women go on a retreat to a lake-house in rural Germany, where a piece of local history comes back to haunt one of the women. It’s shit-your-pants scary! I still feel uneasy just thinking about it. This story is probably the most horrific thing Miéville has ever written — the slow build-up of dread, the imagery, everything is crafted to make sure you don’t sleep after you read it.

“Syllabus”

(3 pages) A much needed bit of humour following the last story, this is an absurdist work which takes the form of the outline for a three-week university course. There’s no real point beyond a playful poke at academia and a bunch of jokes strung together, including some funny riffs on time travel, alien visitation, and government privatisation.

“Dreaded Outcome”

(17 pages) Miéville employs some dark humour in this story about a therapist who only wants to do the best for her clients. I definitely saw the surprises coming, but the story was nonetheless fun. Impressively, Miéville really did his research about psychology and therapeutical methods. Some people might think the story is full of jargon, but I appreciated the extra attention to detail. Plus, the clinical jargon juxtaposes later with the character’s outlandish actions, making the humour all the more absurd.

“After the Festival”

(30 pages) This weird tale starts with the premise of a bacchanalia-like festival where people cavort around London wearing the heads of recently butchered animals. Then, it takes a bit of a gross body-horror turn. Sadly, it’s lacking a bit in the ending. Somebody more literary-minded than me could probably explain it all as a metaphor or parable for some aspect of modern society. For me though, it was just a gross and bewildering plot with too abrupt an ending.

“The Dusty Hat”

(25 pages) The narrator of this story notices a man with a dust-covered hat while attending a socialist meeting, and ends up being recruited into a war much older than what humankind knows. This is a surreal, often obtusely written story, and it took me more than half of its length to warm up to it, but I appreciate what Miéville was aiming to achieve. I think fans of Kraken‘s moments of political playfulness will enjoy this story — there are some clever and complex wordplays and jokes buried in here.

“Escapee”

(5 pages) A second fake movie trailer, this one is about a man with a giant hook coming out of his spine. It’s even harder to comprehend than “The Crawl” was. I don’t get the joke.

“The Bastard Prompt”

(28 pages) A very chilling story about a young actress finding work as a standardised patient, who begins to channel symptoms of weird and unearthly diseases. I really enjoyed the hinted-at conspiracies and SF elements of this story, all complemented by the plot’s slow unwinding. It’s like an excellent and creative episode of Fringe, or The X-Files. By the way, the story’s title (a theatre term) has nearly nothing to do with the plot.

“Rules”

(3 pages) A flash fiction experiment involving the rules for some abstruse children’s game, interspersed and subtly linked with a narrative about children mimicking aeroplanes. The piece is rather poetically written, even if the meaning is a bit esoteric even by Miéville’s standards.

“Estate”

(10 pages) A flaming stag runs through a London council estate — an occurrence that first seems like a bizarre dream, then takes on reality as a sick kind of… what, terrorist attack? Act of vandalism? It’s hard to say. But it’s the first of a number of similar acts involving animals released into urban areas. As with many of the stories in this book, there’s no clear explanation or ending. I didn’t particularly understand the relevance of the narrator’s childhood friend returning to London, either. Nonetheless the unsettling imagery was enough to make me enjoy this fragment-like story.

And that leaves 9 stories left! Check back in a few more days for my thoughts on the final third of the collection, as well as my overall review.

EDIT: Part 3

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3 comments

  1. I really liked The Dusty Hat, but I did like the political winks in Kraken, and I just just generally enjoy when Mieville reveals his experience with the internal politics of Socialist groups.

  2. Hi! Could you please please explain to me what the ending of after the festival was all about? I have no idea what happened at the end. I feel very frustrated because it is a great story that suddenly ends in confusion. I hope you can help me!

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