57. Looking for Jake – China Mieville
The first Mieville I ever read was for an epics and fairytales sort of class in college and it always surprises me that the book of his that was chosen (and it was in the early 2000s, so it’s not like there were a ton out to choose from) was the most concise and straightforward book of his I’d read until this short story collection. That book was King Rat, the drum and bass/jungle/house/grime version of the Pied Piper, in a way…and now you know the rest of the story.
Mieville tends to get a bit sprawling, to shove in a lot of ideas about London all at once and it can get overwhelming trying to parse out how every random character is contributing to the story. That tendency gets curbed by the lack of space in a short story. There’s no room for fifty versions of old-timey supernatural gangsters, which was comforting. I’m always intrigued by the Mieville novels I’ve read, then I get lost, then I wonder if it’s just because I’m not UKish that I’m lost, then I try to just go along for the ride because London really is my favorite city on earth and I still know bits of it by heart (but why…WHY…did the Piccadilly Circus HMV have to close? That’s where I got the first Grinderman LP – it’s special. Sister Ray’s better never close, I’ll have to cut someone.), then I regret not really reading that much Lovecraft before I started the book, and then I finish it and wonder what just happened. Thankfully, each story in Looking for Jake cannot cause that kind of journey. Not enough room.
Danger Crumples, getting sleepy from the mental taxation of sitting with me while I read Kraken.
We start in, well, what a shock, bizarro-London with “Looking for Jake,” and a breakdown in reality that involves nasty creatures. It’s what I expect from Mieville, but way reigned in and the situation is never really addressed. It seems to me the reigning is what causes the lack of explaining.
“Foundation” was really horrifying and quite sad; the images that it evokes are not ones I want to revisit.
This image of Danger Crumples, however, I will revisit as long as I have eyes.
“The Ball Room” – This is absolutely my favorite story in the whole collection and frankly, it might have inspired Horrorstor. It’s a bit gleeful in its exploration of the evil children’s ball pit in an Ikea-like store. This is the first time this story appeared in print and I would totally buy it just to have this story (I haven’t yet, as usual, I stumbled upon the existence of this collection while hunting for misshelved books.).
“Familiar” – Another tale I enjoyed quite a bit about what happens after a witch ditches his unliked familiar. It’s like Milo and Otis, without one of them, in London, and if one of them was growing in power and evil plotting abilities the whole time they were gone. So, more like Benji.
Okay, okay, don’t turn on the quizzical glare so hard, Dangey, I will admit I have not seen Benji. But I did run into the cover of Benji many times during the period of my youth when I was scared of dogs, okay? Benji scared me. At the video store.
“Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopaedia” – Words are powerful. Infectious, even.
“Tis the Season” – Privatizing holidays…it reminded me of this pamphlet I found about the war on Christmas being orchestrated by the Bolsheviks way back in the day up until the current dickcheese took charge of the U.S. Now I think it’s not just dystopian London headed for a stupid situation where only rich people can celebrate Christmas.
“The Tain” – This was at one point published separately, but I always think it’s nice to know that there’s more than one way to get a particular short piece. Especially when it’s about mirror fauna escaping.
Danger Crumples was a master escape artist. Once, I got out of the shower to find him standing in the doorway of the guinea pigs’ room. And, when I moved into my current apartment he stayed one night away from me at the home of another and managed to chew himself out of his temporary laundry basket cage…but didn’t get out of the room. It was a solid attempt to Homeward Bound for a guinea pig.