- This review can also be found at my book blog
It was my first time reading China Miéville. As in every short stories collection, there were ones I loved, ones I really didn’t like and ones I just went meh at, but overall it is stronger than many others I’ve read over the years.
The titular novella, which opens the collection, is a “meh”, bordering on bad. It is intriguing, but ultimately amounts to nothing. It feels a lot like it could be the start of a larger project. As it is, it’s an enjoyable but unsatisfying read. Maybe the fault is partly of the first person limited narration, which of course doesn’t allow much explanation as the narrator doesn’t actually know much more than we do. It creates a perfect paranoid and creepy atmosphere, which is a plus. But literally nothing is explained. At all. When I started reading The Tain, I thought maybe it was the same post-apocalyptic London, which would have been brilliant, but the details don’t really add up as far as I can tell. Maybe I will re-read the two stories more thoroughly, keeping in mind this hypothesis.
Foundation was definitely among the bad bits. Maybe the worst. It was just a very confusing story, at least for me. It didn’t even grip my interest as the first one did, so I had to read many passages again as I had understood nothing on first read. The premise is interesting, but it’s just very badly executed. It sounded like a creepy-pasta at times, especially in the sections about the war. Maybe I just don’t enjoy this kind of things, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
I enjoyed The Ball Room when I first read it, even though it hadn’t a very original premise. Sadly, it slid into meh territory after reading the rest of the collection. It is not badly written, but it’s pretty much the usual ghost story and there is far better material in this book.
Reports of Certain Events in London was one of my favourites. The premise is absolutely fantastic; the execution is witty and keeps you glued to the page. If I had one complaint is that there is a suspended ending. But it works well. Although I am really craving for more, I so wish the author would write more about the Viae Ferae.
Familiar was a though read for me, as I am not exactly a fan of body horror and big lumps of meat and internal organs (by which I mean that I find them interesting to read about, but I’m also on the verge of vomiting the whole time). The familiar exploring the reality around it was very interesting - although it didn’t make it any less squick-y. Overall, I would have enjoyed this story despite personal distaste, but the ending absolutely ruined it for me.
Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopaedia is your usual “creepy and fantastical” illness. Its only saving grace are the funny footnotes. They are still not enough to move it away from the big swamp of “meh”.
Details was my absolute favourite. I even took out my gold pen and put a golden star near its title in my reading journal. Deliciously creepy, with very well.developed characters for a story this short. Be aware that it is the kind of horror story that makes you very damn afraid of daily activities.
Go Between feels a lot like a character study. The unusual premise allows the author to portray a character questioning his morality who doesn’t know which are the consequences of his actions, or even if they have any. In my opinion it’s a very good story. Only complaint is that it seems a bit contrived he’d stop right at the last package. The moral dilemma could have been posed at any other stage.
Different skies is another story with a not very original premise, but despite this I greatly enjoyed it. Maybe it was thanks to the POV, as I usually like reading from the perspective of old people. Again there is a suspended ending, but here it works, unlike in Familiar.
Another extremely cool story was An End to Hunger. I like reading about programming and technology, so that was definitely a plus, but the strongest element are definitely the characters. Aykan is unforgettable. It also features the best suspended ending of the collection: it’s great how we never find out if it was just paranoia or if something horrible actually happened. A good dose of leftist political discourse doesn’t hurt either; great commentary on charity.
'Tis the season was an anomaly in the collection, as it was a sort of satirical dystopian story amongst mostly horror and new weird. It is extremely funny, both as a satire or just out of sheer weirdness. The ending genuinely made me laugh out loud, maybe even a bit too much. If I really had to file a complaint, it would that as mentioned above it doesn’t really fit in the mood of the collection. Not that I would have preferred it not to be included.
I don’t feel I can voice an opinion about Jack, as it is related to the Bas-Lag cycle, which I have never read. It was a good story even like this, but I’ll probably revisit it after reading the novels.
I skipped On the way to the front: I just kept falling asleep.
The Tain ends the collection, and is actually a novella. I found it enjoyable, although it is not amongst my favourites. The imago were very interesting monsters, and I loved the two final twists (well, a revelation and a twist). Another thing that made it great was how detailed the descriptions of London and of the movements the characters make in the city were, it made it clear it hadn’t been chosen at random. Also not sure if I skipped it in my fury to see how the thing ended or something else just as stupid, but I didn’t catch an explanation on why the imago wouldn’t touch Sholl. Damn you, Miéville, explain something to us once in a while!