These short stories attest to Mieville’s talent in expanding the ordinary little occurrences in life, into amazing — and at times, dark and brooding — stories.
I think Mieville has a talent for transforming perspectives. Like the short story, “Details”, about an old woman who is convinced she is pursued by monsters. We may have seen those monsters too: when we look at clouds, patterns on tiles or edges of lines; faces or body shapes peering out, conjured by our mind’s eye. (note: there’s a term for it – pareidolla).
Another thing that struck me was that China Mieville brings a certain level of sophistication to Fantasy. That was my conclusion by his third short story, “The Ballroom” (creepy tale of a haunted playroom).
Mieville does what great storyteller do: he teases stuff from your imagination. Without you realising it. He takes seemingly simple (even absurd) ideas and transforms them into tales that appear like they have been there forever.
Also, he is able to take an idea and weave a story (you try writing a story of feral streets!)
Speaking of Wild streets (“Reports of certain events in London”): I wondered if Mieville walked past an old street one day, and asked what if streets could walk away?
“You watch the man who comes and speaks to buildings” (P25. “Foundations”).
P53. Reports of certain events in London. What if some streets were alive and goes feral? Or that they are as untamed and unknowable as wild animals?
Beautiful, concise prose: “It parsed the grammar of brick and neglected industry” (p89).
P197. The ending to “‘Tis the season” shows Mieville’s brand of humour (a tale of a citizen’s uprising of a franchised Christmas; the scale of commercialisation at which was blatant and yet makes me wonder “why didn’t I think of that?”).
The story “Jack” is based on one of his Steampunk idea: the “Remade”; people who have been sent to Punishment Factories and parts of their body replaced and regrafted with animal or steam-driven machinery, or both. Ends with a twist (concerning the narrator).
“On the way to the front” is done in graphic novel style. I didn’t get the story though.
“The Tain” (fantastic piece; longest story in this collection) is about the idea of our reflections being creatures from another world. Who decide to rebel and take over the human one. But I have articulated it so inelegantly. You have to read the story.
Mieville is a genius in this collection.
Stories in this collection:
- Looking for Jake (disappearance of a friend; hints of some catastrophic and mysterious event in London)
- Foundation (a dark tale of a man who can communicate with buildings; feeds them too)
- The ball room (creepy haunted play room)
- Reports of certain events in London (discovery of wild streets)
- Familiar (magic; of a animated thing achieving consciousness and taking over its master)
- Entry taken from a medical encyclopedia (a spoken word that can cause insanity)
- Details (old lady; pursued by patterns in walls)
- Go between (a man who’s roped in as a courier, but by people unknown to him and unclear of thwarted mission. He wonders if certain acts were caused by his actions/ inaction)
- Different skies (a retiree who installed an antique window that leads to a different era; tormented by kids from that era)
- An end to hunger (a hacker who hacks the End To Hunger website, and pays the price)
- ‘Tis the season (Christmas franchised to the extreme; and a plot to take it back)
- Jack (a Remade story)
- On the way to the front
- The Tain (imagos, vampires, human anarchy. Apparently Mieville was inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s “Fauna of Mirrors”, from The Book of Imaginary Beings, and Schwarz and Fjeld’s “Illusions Induced by the Self-reflected Image”).