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Looking For Jake & Other Stories by China Miéville

Looking For Jake & Other Stories by China Miéville
Book Name: Looking For Jake & Other Stories
Author: China Miéville
Publisher(s): Macmillan
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Anthology / Fantasy / Horror / Science Fiction
Release Date: September 2, 2005

Looking for Jake and Other Stories is China Miéville’s first collection of short stories, published in 2005. It’s an imaginative, thoughtful, political and highly original collection of work, a melding of fantasy, science-fiction and horror. Miéville nails this intricate balance, a subgenre some have termed New Weird and even professed him its ‘god-father.’

Miéville mostly uses science in order to enrich his stories. He doesn’t drown the reader in difficult concepts, but uses physics to back his ideas up. Some stories, like the closing novella The Tain and Details require the reader’s concentration in order to be understood, but that’s not because the ideas at hand are too complicated, it’s because they’re detailed and conveyed in a deep prose style.

Miéville’s true talent lies in perspective. His command of voice and narration is sublime, with each short story clearly defined from the last via an engaging, well-reasoned narrator. From the paranoid messenger protagonist in Go Between, to the optimistic everyman in ‘Tis the Season, it’s clear Miéville has carefully considered his viewpoints, a difficult task considering the constraints of a short story. Surprisingly, The Tain suffers from a rather un-fleshed out protagonist, which is surprising considering it’s the longest of all the stories. The reader may care more about the author’s vivid, disturbing vision of a post-apocalyptic London (and its unique invaders) than Sholl’s fight for survival. Fortunately, the plot comes to a sound, interesting ending, and the sudden turn the story takes after the first chapter is a hook. Miéville’s switch of perspective in the novella is fantastic, and shows the amount of work that he puts into his smaller fictions.

Miéville’s stories are full of brevity. They’re like deep, sudden breaths. His stories aren’t beginnings or endings, they’re slices of a character’s existence, an important glance into their weird, impossible lives. It’s about what the character, and we as the reader, learn from these few, precious glimpses. If some of Miéville’s tales come to ambiguous endings, it’s only because the ending isn’t really that important. It’s the journey that matters. It’s how the reader is forced to question their world, in relation to the strange, impossible things that happen in Miéville’s created, yet familiar, landscapes.

Foundation, Familiar and Looking For Jake are the more fantastical stories in the collection. The former is the brilliant story of a man that can hear voices of the dead within the foundations of buildings. Familiar is the genesis of a witch’s creation that escapes into the world. There’s some phenomenal phrasing in this one. Looking For Jake, a perfect easing-in to the collection, is the simple tale of the narrator’s search for the mysterious Jake amidst a London that has completely broken down in light of supernatural occurrences. Fantasy fans may want to start with these stories.

Horror fans will find their chills in The Ballroom, the most straightforward scary story in the collection. But it’s An End to Hunger, a dystopian horror focussing on corporative evil, which offers the most shivers, possibly because of its modern, more relatable setting. Cyber-attacks and dangerous technologies are becoming more prevalent in our current world, and it’s startling to see how they can be used, for good or evil. Different Skies, the tale of a window through which another world lies, lies host to a number of scary children. And children are usually the scariest when it comes to horror.

Jack is the only story not set in London. It’s part of his New Crobuzon world, but doesn’t require any foreknowledge to be understood. It’s a maniacal, colourful account of a criminal’s life that definitely nudges the reader toward Perdido Street Station, Miéville’s first novel in that world. There are also a few more experimental stories in the collection. On The Way to the Front is a graphic comic written by Liam Sharp. It’s interesting, but might not appeal to readers who have come to read Miéville’s impressive prose. Which, of course, it is. His words are divots of gold that seem to have fallen so effortlessly from his pen. His use of neologisms and imaginative concepts, however, is the product of hard work. His back catalogue of deep, rich novels is evidence of that.

Reports of Certain Events in London, however, is a meandering tale, and not particularly exciting. Told in incidental accounts and journals, it’s slightly confusing, and not particularly rewarding, but it’s a testament to the variety of stories that Miéville offers. Another experiment, Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopaedia, is more successful. An epistolary short story that recounts a strange, impossible disease, it is thought-provoking and rich in detail.

Attempting Miéville’s novel Kraken some time ago, I found his weird prose style and use of abstract concepts quite difficult to engage with. Looking for Jake and Other Stories is a more accessible window into Miéville’s imagination, the perfect launch pad into the rich worlds he creates. For those who prefer the short story medium when it comes to Miéville, his latest collection, Three Moments Before an Explosion, was published in Summer 2015.


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