Three Moments of an Explosion

BOOK: Three Moments of an Explosion
4.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblace to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by China Miéville

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

and the
colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Earlier versions of the stories within were originally published as follows: “The Rope is the World,”
Icon Magazine
(print and online), December 2009;
“Covehithe,” The Guardian (online), April 2011;
The White Review, issue 8, July 2013; “The 9th Technique,” self-published by the author in The Apology Chapbook in October 2013; “The Design,” McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, issue 45, December 2013; “Säcken,” Subtropics, issue 17, Winter/Spring 2014;
“The Condition of New Death,” “Syllabus,” “Rules,” and “A Second Slice Manifesto” as handouts by the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool, for their exhibition “New Death,” March 2014; “Four Final Orpheuses,” “Three Moments of an Explosion,” and “The Crawl” at in April 2012, September 2012, and June 2014; “Polynia” on, June 2014; and
“The Buzzard’s Egg,” Granta, issue 131, April 2015.

eISBN 978-1-101-88472-0

First Edition

Book design by Christopher M. Zucker

“The horses dreamed on their feet and the wild animals, crouching to leap even in their sleep, seemed to be collecting gloom under their skins which would break out later.”

Ilse Aichinger, “The Bound Man”


Title Page
By China Miéville
Three Moments of an Explosion
The Condition of New Death
The Dowager of Bees
In the Slopes
The Crawl
Watching God
The 9th Technique
The Rope is the World
The Buzzard’s Egg
Dreaded Outcome
After the Festival
The Dusty Hat
The Bastard Prompt
A Second Slice Manifesto
The Junket
Four Final Orpheuses
The Rabbet
Listen the Birds
A Mount
The Design
About the Author


1. The demolition is sponsored by a burger company. Everyone is used, now, to rotvertising, the spelling of brand names and the reproduction of hip product logos in the mottle and decay of subtly gene-tweaked decomposition—Apple paying for the breakdown of apples, the bitten-fruit sigil becoming visible on moldy cores. Explosion marketing is new. Stuff the right nanos into squibs and missiles so the blasts of war machines inscribe BAE and Raytheon’s names in fire on the sky above the cities those companies ignite. Today we’re talking about nothing so bleak. It’s an old warehouse, too unsafe to let stand. The usual crowd gathers at the prescribed distance. The mayor hands the plunger to the kid who, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, will at least get to do this. She beams at the cameras and presses, and up goes the bang, and down slides the old ruin to the crowd’s cheer, and above them all the dust clouds billow out
Your Way
in soft scudding font.
2. It’s a fuck of a fine art, getting that pill into you so the ridiculous tachyon-buggered MDMA kicks in at just the right instant and takes you out of time. This is extreme squatting. The boisterous, love-filled crew jog through their overlapping stillness together and hustle toward the building. Three make it inside before they slip back into chronology. Theirs are big doses and they have hours—subjectively speaking—to explore the innards of the collapsing edifice as it hangs, slumping, its floors now pitched and interrupted mid-eradication, its corridors clogged with the dust of the hesitating explosion. The three explorers have bought climbing gear, and they haul themselves up the new random slopes inside the soon-to-be-rubble, racing to outrace their own metabolisms, to reach the top floor of the shrugging building before they come down and back into time. They make it. Two of them even make it down and out again. They console themselves over the loss of their companion by insisting to each other that it was deliberate, her last stumble, that she had been slowing on purpose, so the ecstasy would come out through her pores, allowing the explosion to rise up like applause and swallow her. It would hardly be an unprecedented choice for urban melancholics such as these.
3. You can’t say, you can’t tell yourself that it’s the intruder’s spirit doing any of this, that there’s a lesson here. It’s neither her nor any of the other people who’ve died in its rooms, in any of the one hundred and twenty-six years of the big hall’s existence. It’s not even the memories, wistful or otherwise, of the building. The city’s pretty used to those by now. The gusts, the thick and choking wafts that fill the streets of the estate that’s built in the space the warehouse once occupied, are the ghost of the explosion itself. It
something. It’s
—you can tell in its angles, its slow coiling and unfolding. A vicar is called: book, candle, bell. The explosion, at last, lies down. As if, though—the two drug enthusiasts who got in and out of its last moment insist—out of pity, rather than because it must.


When cold masses first started to congeal above London, they did not show up on radar. By the time they started to, perhaps two hours later, hundreds of thousands of people were already out in the streets and gaping skyward. They shielded their eyes—it was cloudy but very bright. They looked up at glowing things the size of cathedrals, looming above the skyline.

They’d started as wisps, anomalies noticed only by dedicated weather-watchers. Slowly they’d grown, started to glint in the early-winter afternoon. They solidified, their sides becoming more faceted, more opaquely white. They started to shed shadows.

Social media went mad with theories. The things were dismissed as mirages, hoaxes, advertising gimmicks for a TV show. They were heralded as angels, abominated as an alien attack or a new superweapon.

The first appeared over City Hall. This was plausibly a strategic target, which increased the sense of panic, though Parliament was only a few miles away and would have seemed a more obvious choice. Others quickly thickened into visibility over Lewisham and Elephant and Castle and up my way.

Some stayed still. Others began to drift slowly, seemingly randomly, according to their own currents, not the winds.

All but military flights over the city were banned. The army and specialist police units came onto the streets. Jets went low overhead, and bristling helicopters rose suspiciously and seemed to sniff at the sides and undersides of the eddying things.

I was about eleven—this was almost fifteen years ago. There was me, Robbie, Sal—she was big for her age and bossed the rest of us around a bit—and Ian, a nervous kid to whom I wasn’t nice.

We were under Mass 2, as it was later dubbed. It rocked sedately from side to side over the skies of Neasden as I and my friends ran in urgent delight around the gawping north Londoners. We ran to keep up with it, following it toward Harlesden. It seemed to be the most excitable of the visitations, heading east and south like an unstable ship.

From every one of the masses sank microclimates. We were all wearing our thickest clothes in the air that poured off them. It was like a bitterly cold wind flowing straight down, gusting with wispy snow.

It was all frenetic, it’s hard to say just what happened when. I remember running really fast past the clock on Station Road, where it meets Wendover Road and Avenue Road, barreling by a woman in a black jilbaab and knocking her shopping over so she shouted at me furiously and I yelled something like “Shut up you old cow!” to make my friends laugh even though I knew I was in the wrong. It seems strange to me now that I remember that, that I took a moment to answer her, that she was so angry with me, that she even noticed me, in the shadow of what was overhead.

“Look at that thing, man!” Robbie said. Army vehicles went past the Portuguese cafés and the Islamic bookshop.

We ran full pelt all the way to the West London Crematorium. As if they’d have let a gang of raucous kids like us in to the grounds, normally, but they didn’t care: everyone was pushing through the gates because the mass was right overhead. It rose above the gardens of remembrance. There must have been funerals going on that day, with hundreds of strangers in the garden, and that thing above.

People were trawling for information, watching the news on their phones, but by the time the government scientists announced the results of their tests (whatever they were and however they’d taken them) their conclusions were obvious to everyone. We all knew that what hung above London were icebergs.

Military pilots made heroic maneuvers through the cold vortexes around the masses. Their undersides and flanks were frost- and snow-furred ice. On top, invisible from London until we saw the footage from the planes, jutting toward the lowest cloud, they were almost snowless. They were like white glass, hills and hillocks of blocky facets.

The city heat met their cold. On day two a frozen stalactite like a giant icicle broke off Mass 4 and plummeted to the ground, destroying a car in Dagenham and starting a whole new panic. I texted with my crew. We agreed to meet right below Mass 2 again. It was as if we were goading it. We were eleven and death couldn’t touch us.

The berg had stopped above the common of Wormwood Scrubs. A line of police officers surrounded the grass. “You ain’t coming in,” an officer said to us. The dirty parkland stretched behind him, overlooking London. Above it was the ice. We shivered in its shadow. I could hear the screams of London’s feral parakeets freaking out in the trees.

We were debating how to slip past the cops but before an hour passed they took some instruction over their radios and did not so much usher us in as simply give up being guards. Mass 2 was on the move again. We went whooping after it.

BOOK: Three Moments of an Explosion
4.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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