Saturday, August 13, 2011

China Miéville, Looking for Jake (2005)

And now, short stories, previously published in various venues, along with four new ones. One of the latter, "Jack," is set in Bas-Lag, and I don't think it's overly cynical to suggest that this was written specifically to increase the book's marketability. Not that it's a bad story: as you would immediately guess if you've read the novels, it's about the remade outlaw/folk hero Jack Half-a-Prayer, who plays a small role in Perdido Street Station and who is further explicated in Iron Council. It's not bad, with an interesting li'l revelation in the end that forces a reëvaluation of the whole, but it's not exactly essential or groundbreaking, either.

And that's how I'd describe most of these stories. There seems to be a basic problem here, which is that Miéville is fundamentally a maximalist, and his best novels gain their power through a heavy accretion of detail. The short story doesn't seem his ideal format. Not to say that "Reports of Certain Events in London" and "Familiar" aren't clever and cool in their own right, but I don't feel like they're very likely to have you bellowing HOLY SHIT!

What else can I say? "Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopedia" is a nicely Borgesian treatment of a fantasy disease. "Go Between" is a fairly effective existential thing where the protagonist anonymously receives various mysterious items to deliver hither and yon, and starts to wonder whether these are having a positive, negative, or non-existent impact in the world. "Details" has a suitably creepy premise, though I can't help feeling it's not as effective as it could've been. Oh, and there's a little novella (previous published as its own thing, "The Tain" (nothing to do with the Irish epic poem), which has an interesting concept and makes you feel kind of guilty about looking in mirrors, though it doesn't, in the end, seem to amount to a great deal.

The best story here, rather easily I think, is "'Tis the Season," about a dystopian future in which Christmas and all its assorted trappings are trademarked by corporations, and you need a license to engage in seasonal festivities. It's uproariously funny, and surprisingly hopeful and upbeat for something you'd describe as dystopian; a refreshing change from Miéville's usual (justifiably) pessimistic depictions of government/corporate oppression. Real Christmas spirit!

Anyway, there are others. None of them are painful to read, though a few are pretty bland. And some of them are pretty decent. Not a major release by any stretch, though.


Blogger Unknown pontificated to the effect that...

'Middling' is how I would describe most sci-fi lit. It's the reason I almost never read it anymore. Or maybe I just overexposed myself back when I was a teen.

10:07 PM  

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