Book Review: ‘Three Moments of an Explosion’

Front cover of the book. Red lines extend from the title Three Moments of an Explosion

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville

I’ve heard — and said — “weird” used to describe something in a negative sense. As a put-down. But there’s a flip side, where “weird” can be a descriptor for oddities that cause fascination.

Miéville has crafted a collection of oddities, in a sort of Ripley’s Believe or Not museum. A selection of what you’ll find on display in his book: players of card games are sometimes dealt unusual cards in “The Dowager of Bees,” icebergs float and crash above London in “Polynia,” a sack with animals that was a medieval torture device comes back to haunt in “Säcken,” oil rigs walk out of the ocean and onto land in “Covehithe,” and a medical student discovers scrimshaw on the bones of a cadaver in “The Design.” 

That’s just 5 stories of the 28 in this book. Other strangeness awaits.

This was my first read of Miéville’s works, and I enjoyed the bulk of the stories. They are presented as glimpses of scenes, so the strangeness is portioned out to you. Gaps between the scenes allow for the reader’s imagination to reach beyond the words. And I appreciated that. It lends to the mysteries of the stories, so they remain a bit mysterious. Floodlights are not pointed at them, to bring them fully in the open.

Some of the stories fell flat for me. Three are set up to explain trailers (for fictional movies, I suppose) — the stories proceed through time segments and tell what is happening. So we get a timeline of the trailers. Clever to use a different format for these stories, but I didn’t find them entertaining. Same with “Rules” — it felt more like notes of an idea than a story.

Still, there are some exhibits in Ripley’s Believe or Not that capture your eye and interest more than others. I found my visit to Three Moments of an Explosion well worth the time. If you’re a fan of stories by Jorge Louis Borges, Donald Barthelme, and Karen Russell, you would probably enjoy the trip as well.

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