Pan, 2006, 307p.
This is a collection of Miéville’s shorter fiction culled from various previous publications, with some original to this book.
Looking for Jake. After an unspecified disaster has depopulated London an unnamed narrator goes looking for his missing friend Jake. The very Art Deco Gaumont State cinema in Kilburn is given several mentions and an image of it appears on the book’s cover. See also the picture at the end of this post.
In Foundation a First Gulf War veteran haunted by his experiences there is known as a house whisperer because he talks to buildings. Their foundations talk back.
The Ball Room, a story written along with Emma Bircham and Max Schaefer, has the eponymous play area of a furniture warehouse not entirely dissimilar from IKEA cause its clientele to experience strange and compulsive goings on.
Reports of Certain Events in London is a typographical riot of fonts, scripts, reports, “handwritten” letters, interpolations and transcribed pamphlets and employs an unusual framing device. Narrator “China Miéville” inadvertently opens a package delivered to his address but intended for a Charles Melville and finds himself fascinated by the contents – the proceedings of a group devoted to tracking the shifting location of, and combats between, London’s feral houses.
Familiar has a witch making a familiar out of a mixture of his own body fluids. It disgusts him and he gets rid of it but it comes back to haunt him. Ho-hum.
Entry Taken From a Medical Encyclopædia is errr…. an entry from a medical encyclopædia. Complete with footnotes and references. The infection described is caused by pronouncing a word in a certain way, which thus propagates itself in the victim’s brain.
In Details a young boy takes food every week from his mother to an old woman who keeps herself close, in the dark, barely opening her door before snatching the food, closing it again and getting him to read to her. She once saw something nasty, not in the woodshed, but in the details of a brick wall. She has been hiding from the patterns out to get her ever since.
Go Between sees a man receive from a mysterious organisation messages concealed inside his purchases. He fails to deliver the final one and wonders if he did the right thing.
An old man buys himself a seventieth birthday present, an old window with stained glass. He discovers he can see Different Skies through it, but there are potential horrors on the other side.
An End to Hunger has a genius computer programmer infuriated by the eponymous charity’s campaign. He works to expose its sponsors’ hypocrisies. They don’t like it.
In ‘Tis the Season Christmas and its accompanying paraphernalia have been privatized. Yuleco owns the rights and so ChristmasTM, SantaTM, MistletoeTM, RudolphTM etc are all under licence – even tinsel is illegal without one, never mind a tree. An unnamed father has won a prize to Yuleco’s official party. On the way there he and his daughter get caught up in the anti-privatisation protests. Slight, in a fun way. I just hope it doesn’t give anybody in power any ideas.
Jack in Mieville’s city of New Crobuzon, familiar from Perdido Street Station and The Scar, is a Remade. Altered as a punishment – feathered wings for arms or oily gears for innards and skin changed, or otherwise bizarrely surgically changed – Remades are looked down upon by the “normal” citizens. Jack Half-A-Prayer fights the system, standing up for the underprivileged. The city can tolerate so much as a release valve – but Jack goes too far.
On The Way To The Front is a graphic short story illustrated by Liam Sharp which would take longer to describe than it did to read. The reproduction is in black ink and might have benefited from colour (which would obviously have been too expensive.)
The Tain is much the longest story in the collection, a novella set in the aftermath of Earth’s invasion by the creatures who live behind mirrors, the Tain of the title. A Londoner is strangely immune to their attentions and sets out to parley with their leader. One of the Tain is also a viewpoint character. Not your usual alien encounter story.
While not every story hits the mark, as a whole the collection illustrates Miéville’s range and writing ability. It also highlights his fascination with London and his recurring theme of otherness, the not-quite-identical.
And here is the majestic (in that monolithic, Stalinist kind of way) Gaumont State Cinema.