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Sunday Read: China Mieville is Back with a New Book, and a Nod From Ursula K Le Guin

 

Remember all the way back in January when we promised you a new book by China Miéville to look forward to?

Well now, at long last, the wait is over. Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories is a collection of short stories (yes, we know, we also wanted another Bas-lag novel but what can you do?) by the author of King Rat, Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council, Embassytown and The City and the City.

Three Moments of an Explosion: StoriesEmbassytownKing RatThe Scar
Iron CouncilThe City and the CityPerdido Street Station

 

Ursula K Le Guin herself has given his stories a read, and writes in her review for The Guardian: “You can’t talk about Miéville without using the word ‘brilliant’.”

Le Guin is not someone who throws adjectives of praise around lightly. She’s the author of numerous fantasy novels, the most influential perhaps being the The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) which received a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award. John Wray wrote in The Paris Review that “no single work did more to upend the genre’s conventions than The Left Hand of Darkness”.

So when Le Guin thinks your works is good, she means it. In the review, Le Guin comments on Miéville’s deft intellectualism, his strict adherence to Marxist principles of social equality, his ability to write a 500-page novel in five pages and his skill and mastery of the English language. In short, she calls it, “science fiction to the nth degree”.

Read Le Guin’s review of Three Moments of an Explosion:

Brilliance often lies in concision. As I read “The Rope Is the World”, I kept imagining the 500-page science-fiction novel that it could so easily have been: crammed full of detailed scientific and technological arcana, with a complex plot involving the machinations of the powerful and the fate of cosmic enterprises or empires, all routinely punctuated by descriptions of sexual activities. But Miéville didn’t take the easy route. He wrote it all in five pages.

The offhand density is superb:

Initial outlays were clearly gigavast, but lifting one ton of cargo out beyond everyday gravity to orbit by elevator was this or that many times cheaper – some absurd margin – than doing so by rocket, by shuttle, by alien indulgence. Now that the space elevators, the skyhooks, the geostationary tethered-dock haulage columns, were shockingly feasible, research projects were all human-spirit this and because-it’s-there that. As if, faced with them, the mere savings were as vulgar as they in fact were.

This is science fiction to the nth degree. To unpack all that would take hours.

 
If this dazzling review doesn’t make you hit the pre-order button ASAP, perhaps a description of the book will. Many of the 28 stories in Three Moments of an Explosion were first published in spurts on Miéville’s website, rejectamentalist manifesto, and are now contained in book form.

The book description on Goodreads reads as follows:

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?

 
Salvage shared an excerpt from Three Moments of an Explosion, a short story entitled “The Dusty Hat”.

I have to talk to you about the man we saw, the man in the dusty hat. I know you remember.

Stop for a moment. I know you have a thousand questions, starting with Where have I been? What I want to start with is the man in the hat.

I was late to the conference. I’d had to stay in to watch a builder squint at the cracks in my outside wall and across my kitchen ceiling, cracks that had been there for a long time, ever since I moved in, but that started to spread about a year ago and were making me increasingly uneasy. And then the journey across the city was slow as a bastard so I arrived after the start and tried to creep quietly in to the lecture hall but everyone stared at me while I made my way to the seat you’d saved for me. I muttered something apologetic about subsidence. You mocked me sotto voce for being a bourgeois homeowner. I told you to hush and tried to pay attention.

But the man in the hat made us badly behaved. He was sitting in the audience right in front of us and when he got hold of the microphone and started speaking you leaned over to me and quietly pointed out quite how dusty his hat was. So I looked and that was me gone, I started giggling like an idiot and that set you off and we both had to look down at our hands as if we were taking careful notes. I don’t think we fooled anyone.

It was a wide-brimmed dark green felt hat like a cowboy’s or an adventurer’s. Even clean and new it would’ve been unlikely at a socialist conference in a university hall in south London: as it was it was extraordinary. It was old and pleasingly well-worn. It looked loved. But it was just filthy with dust.

‘His hat’s that dusty because he can’t take it off to clean it,’ you whispered. ‘Because his wife found out he gave her chlamydia and she put superglue in the brim.’

‘His hat’s that dusty because he’s arrived straight from tin-mining in Cornwall,’ I whispered. ‘Climbed straight out of a tunnel.’ I mimed flicking the hat’s brim and doubling over coughing.

 

 

Book details

Image courtesy of Macmillan

 

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