Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review:: Looking for Jake, by China Miéville

Title: Looking for Jake
Author: China Miéville
Format: eBook
Rating: ★★★★☆

China Miéville is best known for his novels, but in short stories he's able to play with his craft in ways that wouldn't work in longer fiction. He left me wanting and unfulfilled time and time again, but simultaneously positive there was no other way for things to end.

To be frank, I love China Miéville's aesthetic. I like nihilism, the depraved, the disgusting, trains, the industrial, the raw, the sense of newness out of the old. In some ways, this book of short stories was Miéville diluted, but some of them were certainly Miéville distilled.

The short story medium allowed him a different kind of sandbox. While I really appreciate the way he crafts intricate novel plots that manage to leave me guessing at every turn, his short stories seem to allow him to explore concepts and worlds that couldn't hold themselves for a full novel, or would lose their impact if added into another story.

Frex, there's a story about Jack Half-a-Prayer from the Bas-Lag novels. It could have been worked into one of the Bas-Lag novels, but I don't think it would have worked in the same way. It wouldn't have had its chance to shine on its own, to have its own meaning, instead of being a side story for someone else.

Another reason I loved this book was because China Miéville actually managed to scare me. With a story about a ball pit, of all things. There's another story he tells as "himself," which did an interesting job of adding extra plausibility, along with "evidence." A hacker takes on an injustice only he can see, in another tale, an injustice that becomes easier to see as the story goes on. In another story, Miéville manages to satirize the commercialization of Christmas, living in a police state, radical politics, economics, and rioting... all at once. There's also a comic story tossed in there, but it was not my favorite.

Many of the stories (and this is especially common in weird fiction) dealt with what could have been explained away as mental illness. Often, I find this depiction extraordinarily frustrating and not handled well. However, I did not have any issues with the way that Miéville managed it. It seemed sensitive (not a word I'd usually ascribe to him...) to this being a reality, not a fiction, for many folks.

All in all, I'd say that I prefer Miéville's novels to his short fiction. I feel like he can better flex his literary muscles with more length. However, I'm certainly glad he found a way to tell these tales.

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