I have yet to be disappointed by a recommendation from the NPR best books concierge, and Three Moments of an Explosion may be my favorite so far. A collection of sometimes sci-fi, sometimes fantasy, sometimes horror short stories, Three Moments starts with a base of a very realistic world, and adds in each of its stories an element of something beyond, something more magical or sinister.
The stories in the collection typically start with or are based in a real object, or a regular person, that has become corrupted or otherwise infused with a new quality. For instance, the titular story is about a routine building demolition, but seen from three angles via a kind of mini time travel. “Polynia” is about perfectly normal icebergs, except that they’re floating in the sky over London. The imagery throughout is stunning and detailed, if a little disturbing at times. The collection has a strangely low Amazon rating, and I think it’s because the stories, almost without exception, go to very dark places, which aren’t for everyone. The arguably lightest of the stories, “The Dowager of Bees,” is also one of the best, involving the appearance of secret suits that show up in previously standard decks of cards, prompting new rules that extend outside of the games being played, and the society of inducted people who’ve encountered them. The darkness in that story is peripheral, and exists only in the endlessly possible unknown repercussions of playing the wrong hand. One of my favorites, the last story in the collection, “The Design,” centers on a medical student finding intricate details carved into the bones of his previously untouched cadaver. There are echoes of some of the best weird fiction in the echings’ unknown, possibly ancient, creator, and in the unique point of view of the narrator. The most experimental stories here tend, for me, to be the least effective, like three stories that are shot for shot described movie trailers. Those have some appealing ideas and some of the most vivid images, but it feels like the construct was a way to not have to round out an interesting half of an idea. I would pay so much money to see full versions of those movies, and it’s beyond frustrating to know they don’t exist; that the dots between those images could be connected, but won’t.
The stories that do work, though, really hit and leave their unique images behind with you. I don’t want to give too much of too many of them away, because so much of the power of them comes from discovering the layers Mieville has added to the grounded reality of each of the stories, and seeing how they grow and spread. If disturbing imagery and open endings don’t put you off, this is a collection I’d highly recommend.
*Warning, there is some animal cruelty in a few of the stories, that can be difficult to stomach, as well as some general gore.
(And full disclosure, I skipped “The Dusty Hat” after I reread the first 5 pages twice and still had no idea what was happening.)