Looking for Jake, by China Mieville (2005) K

Date Read: 2.17.06

Book From: Personal collection

Reviewer: Kakaner


Looking for Jake is Mieville’s first published short story collection, containing tidbits of every lustworthy genre– weird and urban fantasy, sci-fi, noird, horror, and of course, baslag. The collection is an extremely welcome contrast to Mieville’s previous works– one, his first novel, and the other three a sprawling epic trilogy. Mieville definitely clings (and I suspect will always cling) to the urban setting, which in my opinion, is the best type of backdrop to broil all types of conspiracies, folklore, and war. In the case of suspense and horror literature, I feel the urban setting also lends itself very well to relatability, and while you as the reader might find yourself soaring to distant lands and imaginations with high fantasy, urban fantasy brings the weird and excitement directly to you. My reactions to the stories in this collection range from indifferent to eyes-glued-to-the-page drooling– here I have some thoughts and mini-summaries of each story:

Looking for Jake – A post-apocalyptic tale after the fall of mankind which utilized 1st person POV, and the narration, a disjointed thought monologue of someone searching for “Jake”. As interesting as it sounds, it did not hold my attention and was actually quite boring.

Familiar – Okay.

Reports of Certain Events in London – China Mieville receives a strange package in the mail addresed to Charles Melville and discovers the existence of a strange conflict. This was an experimental piece for Mieville– he used “scans” of articles and letters as an alternative medium, and honestly, it just became really frustrating jumping back and forth between prose and scans after 10 pages. It was quite draggy, pointless, and not that worthwhile a read.

Foundation – A housewhisperer travels from family to family telling them what is wrong with their house, and he does so by listening to the very house… Very very creepy. Very creepy. Very good. I would say this was an urban-kinda-not-fantasy piece… strong focus on atmosphere. Overall, this was an entirely heavy and depressing story, although I didn’t come away sad per se.

Details– Obviously inspired by Red Riding Hood, a boy is instructed to bring food and questions to an old lady every day. This was another very suspenseful and creepy tale, but chock full of symbolism.

Ball room – Creepy things happen in children ball rooms (and by ball rooms, Mieville means those ball pens in MacDonald’s). Very original.

Go Between– My absolute favorite. A man receives hidden instructions– in the bread he buys, stuffed into mayonnaise jars, under the rim of tupperware– to leave packages in random places, and he begins to wonder why he is doing this. This story was just so striking in its weirdness and had a very interesting thought progression.

Tis the Season — About Christmas holiday in stores. Erm, I was indifferent.

Different Skies– A man buys a new antique windowpane and finds it bothers him when he studies. Again… uninteresting.

An End to Hunger– A website says its purpose is to end world hunger and that it will donate half a cent for every click on the donate button. However, one person finds this site ridiculous and attempts to interfere using the internet. I really enjoyed reading this because it was just plain interesting; however, the beginning is actually really misleading and at the end, I didn’t really understand the point of the story.

Jack– The long-awaited Baslag short story! A tale of what happens when Jack’s betrayer is caught. A very solid story! This did NOT focus on Jack, but focused instead on insight into his character and surroundings. I loved the 1st person POV, and there was a huge twist at the end… I really can’t say anything more without giving it away. Extremely clever use of narration.

The Tain– All I’m going to say is that it’s about reflections. I looooooooved it. It was so original– seriously, who comes up with a story about reflections?! And treats them as entities? This was so creepy and engaging… a must-read!

To wrap-up… BUY THIS COLLECTION! It’s not your typical horror/sci-fi/fantasy collection. It’s fresh and original, and even if I wasn’t enthusiastic about some of the stories, the ones that are amazing are too stellar to miss. Plus, Looking for Jake is only published in a gorgeous matte finish trade paperback with those nice, thick, quality pages that don’t grease or smudge when you touch. It’s an excellent addition to any bookshelf and has great re-read value.

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China Mieville

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