16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Looking for Jake (2005) is China Mieville's fifth book and his first short story collection. The thirteen short stories and one novella are mostly set in London, but in nearly every story London has changed or been altered in some strange, often undefinable manner, creating a highly unsettling atmosphere that permeates every story in the collection.
The book opens with 'Looking for Jake' itself. The title story is a letter from one inhabitant of London to another, against the backdrop of a city where people have vanished and an overwhelming sense of listlessness has overtaken the populace. It's short, haunting and sets the tone for the book impressively. 'Foundation' follows things up in a similar manner and is arguably the most horrific story in the collection, with it's protagonist who sees what other people cannot.
'The Ball Room', cowritten with Emma Bircham and Max Schaefer, is an ambiguous, murky little ghost story with an unusual setting which is highly disturbing, digging into the fears of every parent. On the other hand, 'Reports of Certain Events in London' is one of the most 'fun' story in the collection. The narrator is Mieville himself, claiming to have received a curious package of documents through the post which suggest that there's far more to the winding backstreets of suburbia than first meets the eye. There's a nice line of humour in this tale that contrasts well with the grimness of some of the other tales, and is one of Mieville's stories where the influence of Neil Gaiman on his writing is most evident.
'Familiar' is a downright grotesque tale of survival and identity with some nevertheless darkly amusing moments. 'Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopedia' is a nice idea, a sterile examination of an apparently supernatural event which concludes with a mundane explanation being given which is nevertheless still horrific. There's a nice little trap that Mieville lays for the reader which is quite funny, but I defy any reader not to momentarily worry about the consequences.
'Details' is another psychological horror story, probably not best read by or to anyone with OCD. 'Go Between' can be read as an intriguing take on the War on Terror, with the protagonist being used by one side in an unknown conflict, and becoming paralysed by indecision: will acting save lives or kill them?
'Different Skies' opens with a pretty standard fantasy trope but its elderly narrator has a very different reaction to what you may expect from such a story. The tale plays with fears of mindless hatred and persecution and Mieville invokes the mindset of the OAP narrator in a most convincing manner. 'An End to Hunger' is an excellent commentary on those Internet charity chain-letters and the conclusion is darkly amusing.
'Tis the Season' is set in a world where Christmas has over-commercialised and priced out of the reach of most people, where only those with licenses can put up Christmas trees. The obvious (and perhaps slightly clumsy) metaphor is made up for by a nice line of cynical humour and a nice ending. 'Jack' is a must for fans of Perdido Street Station, returning to New Crobuzon and focusing on the character of Jack Half-a-Prayer. Those wondering what happened to him after the novel's conclusion have their question answered here, but in a manner they were not expecting at all.
The book ends with two different styles of story. 'On the Way to the Front' is a graphic short story, illustrated well by Liam Sharp, about a shadowy war being fought in plain sight on the streets of London. It's the most subtle story in the collection (which is saying something) with may different interpretations of the events possible. 'The Tain', on the other hand, is the longest story (actually a 100-page novella originally published in 2002 by PS Publishing) and sums up much of the feelings generated by the rest of the collection. London, and this time the world, has been devastated by an invasion it was not expecting in the slightest. One man leads the fight back. Or does he? The final line subverts the expectations the reader has been lured into by decades of SF movies and some of the more unimaginative fantasy epics.
Looking for Jake (****) is typical of Mieville's work, being haunting, original, dark, poetic and mysterious without ever being frustrating. A couple of the stories are less accomplished than the others, but this is still a fine piece of work from one of the best writers working in the genre today.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This collection includes fourteen stories, mostly short, by China Miéville. Most have his trademark strangeness, with the dark, oozy feel of Bas-Lag--although only one is set in that world. There isn't a shallow, cheerful tale in the lot.
My three favorites:
"The Ball Room" brings a creepy uncomfortableness to our experiences with those kids' play areas filled with plastic balls. They seem contained and safe, but... anything could be happening under there.
"Reports of Certain Events in London" explores the wild streets of London. They appear and disappear, hunt and hide from each other, and are mostly indifferent to the world of humans. Walking down a street ought to be safe and uneventful. Sometimes it is.
"The Tain" is the most like Miéville's longer fiction. It chronicles the precipitating events and the lingering aftermath of an invasion by "imagos" from mirrors and other reflective surfaces. There are strange settings, fantastic characters, and a complex plot. It's the good old weird stuff his fans love.
These stories prompted some reflection about why I enjoy Miéville's writing. His longer pieces work for me, not just for the imaginative strangeness, but for the multiple interwoven subplots, the abundance and diversity of strange ideas, and the creeping progress through fantastic landscapes.
In contrast, many of these short stories take on a single idea and exhaust it. The ideas are good: a pane of glass that looks somewhere different than the others, Christmas with all of the trappings trademarked, threatening presences in the fine patterns of cracks and shadows around us--good stuff! But most of these stories just stay with one idea. There is no community of strangeness with its members writhing together, competing for the reader's attention. I miss this.
Read these stories--you will be rewarded. But if you are a Miéville fan, you may feel disquieted just a bit. And not in a good way.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2006
This is in some sense a rebuttal of the reviews for the hardback version of this collection. I found the selection very entertaining, combining well thought out concepts and excellent narrative structure. The stories are written in such a way as to keep the reader at arms length, often written from a first person perspective and exploitng this in using the unreliable narrator to add depth to the story. I don't really want to go into too much detail as many of the stories hinge on a few but highly important details. On a more general note of content, there is a good short story from the Bas-Lag universe which adds to the scattered canon of work on Mieville's "robin hood" figure of Jack-Half-a-Prayer, as well as a copy of "the Tain" Mieville's hard to find novella. There has been some negativity around the collection and there are two disappointments. The first is the story in graphic format "on the way to the front" which doesn't read terribly well or clearly and probably needed a short written introduction. The other is the "looking for jake" story which is a good read, but largely hinges on the composition of a letter, which is lacks for originality given that Mieville uses the composing of a letter as an integral narrative device in "the scar". In conclusion I would like to recommend this collection to other readers, but ask them to be realistic the stories are considerably shorter than his other works and so should not be judged against them as other reviewers have attempted to do...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2008
This is the first book I've read by this author, so - looking at some of the other reviews here - I'm not influenced by comparisons with his other works. I loved this book - it's excellently written, the plot twists are actually twisty (i.e. not consistently predictable), it's paranoid and apocalyptic. Like the schizophrenic thoughts you'd get after a heavy session on speed and acid and three days with no sleep, made into real worlds. These stories have somthing of a Ray Bradbury quality of well-crafted vignettes, but with a consistently darker cast to them. Whilst I agree that the cartoon story - sorry, graphic novella - isn't that great, as a collection it rocks. Three stars? You're avin a larf!
Thirteen short stories and a novella (really only a longer short story) from China Mieville, whose book The City and The City recently made such a stir. That offering had a twisted and brilliant plot line, these short stories are equally twisted and might be characterised most accurately as tales of anomie and disaffection. Stories ripe for the times we currently find ourselves living in, perhaps?
The most memorable of these stories, Familiar, concerns a witch, whose client brings photographs of what she wants changed, altered, destroyed? It isn't clear and the story discards that line of development very quickly as it turns to the `familiar' the witch keeps in a plastic box. It is an "effluvia maggot", made up of the secretions and juices of his own body and it revolts him. He tries to get rid of it and what happens next makes for a truly sickening scenario. Where do these ideas come from? Well - from the deepest, darkest reaches of the human mind, of course. Stephen King - move over.
But Mieville is not really after the effects of the horror genre and many of his stories are much more keyed to subtle disaffections. In the story, Go Between, Morley has always been the recipient of messages which come through the goods he buys. They tell him where to leave the items contained in the goods. A piece of metal shaped like a pen-lid in his milk, perhaps, or a baton-like object in a loaf. He has always obeyed the messages, paralysed by the thought that not to do so may cause some fundamental breakdown in society, the world, or whatever it is that is out there controlling things. And then the final message comes and Morley's paranoia escalates.
Not all of these stories hit the mark and some can feel merely vague and rather pointless (the title story, for instance), but more often they have the feel and timbre of novelty and substance, merged with linguistic brilliance. Enjoyable, sometimes disturbing, this collection is eminently readable.
on 4 June 2015
I thought I was past sending 'fan letter' to authors, but every time I finish one of his books, I find myself thinking about writing to him to tell him how much I've enjoyed it. So far, I've resisted the temptation, but maybe one day ... This collection was recommended by a friend and it didn't disappoint: it's spooky, intriguing, disturbing by turns, and sometimes all those things at once. This is a writer who plays about with your perceptions. I read a lot at night and these disrupted my sleep but I didn't mind. All are good, but Reports of Certain Events in London is just superb. There's a sort of 'homage' to the Victorian ghost story, where the writer begins with a 'true' discovery. And right away we are in the middle of something amazing. This is a writer who can - within the space of a single short story - intrigue you, frighten you a lot, and then start you thinking about various experiences you might have had when living in a city - clever, beautifully written, a strong voice and an imagination to die for. I'd give this one six stars if I could.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2014
I really enjoyed these short stories. Most are very different to the writers usual stuff and a nice surprise.
Some of them are REALLY creepy. Excellent! One downside; The one cartoon one didn't work too well on my kindle because
it would not expand to a readable size.
on 28 December 2013
Many of these stories could possibly be described as ghost stories, and I do not normally take to spectral tales. Some of them could be described as horror stories, and I particularly loathe those. So why can I just not help loving this short story collection? Perhaps it is because these stories leap beyond the ordinary ghost and horror tropes and are (as the author China Miéville himself describes much of his own writing) just plain "weird fiction".
There are few short stories collections that pull together a twee fun political Christmas story, a tale of a supernatural outcome of a true incident in the Iraq war, and a mirror war which brimmed with great ideas while also giving me a new four letter scrabble word. I just cannot help liking this sort of weirdness.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2013
This story collection was the first China Mieville book I read and it very nearly prevented me from moving on to his other work. It's not a bad book, just not a particularly strong one. Like most of the other reviewers, I loved the longest piece here, "The Tain", which combines a strong concept with a gripping, action-packed narrative. The others, however, are a very mixed bag. Some of the ideas are good and the prose is strong but the overall impression is of a writer trying just a tad too hard to be weird, trying just a bit too hard to be down with the cool kids. "Jack" makes no sense unless you've read "Perdido Street Station", and the graphic story is virtually incomprehensible.
Without a friend urging me to read "Perdido Street Station", this book would have left me with the impression of another over-hyped young writer, all style and no substance, and I wouldn't have looked at another Mieville book. Luckily, my friend's persistence paid off, and having read "Perdido Streen Station" and "The Scar" it's now obvious that Mieville is an exceptionally talented writer, with an almost unique combination of imaginative power and humane ethical concerns.
At least one other reviewer also had this as his first Mieville book, and he loved it, which is fair enough, but for this reader, the Bas-Lag novels, though they look forbiddingly long, give a much more consistent impression of Mieville's strengths and are less prone to the style-over-substance issues that crop up here. Turns out "The Tain" was representative and the other stuff was atypical. So you pays your money, you takes your choice, but I'd recommend you takes another choice first, and that choice can be found by rearranging the following words to make a well-known phrase or saying: Station, Street, Perdido.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 June 2007
There are some uneven stories in this collection, but one story - FAMILIAR - is quite possibly the most brilliantly written, absorbing and exhilarating dark fantasy short story I have ever read. I keep going back to it and reading it over and over, overcome by the sheer brilliance of both concept and language in this remarkable tale of a witch's unwanted familiar that will do anything to survive. The only thing I can compare it to at all is a similar sense of grandeur evoked in me when I read D.H.Lawrence's poem 'Little turtle.' If I had to die, and could choose to have penned one story before that moment arrived, it would be this singular one.