Looking for Jake: Experimental story collection by Miéville

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews China Mieville Looking for JakeLooking for Jake by China Miéville

Looking for Jake is a collection of short stories by China Miéville, who has emerged as one of the most highly acclaimed fantasy authors of the 21st century. In Looking for Jake, Miéville freely explores whatever ideas take his fancy, without the burden of smoothing everything into a sensible narrative.

Not surprisingly, many of the stories in Looking for Jake therefore have a sort of experimental flavor. For example, “Reports of Certain Events in London” is an account of sentient streets that phase in and out of existence. In it, narrator China Miéville attempts to learn about the conflicts and character of these streets. As a writer, how would you approach such an idea to fit it into a conventional short story? Perhaps “not easily” would be Miéville’s answer. Although “Reports” is unique and captivating in its premise, it ends somewhat awkwardly.

Fortunately, other stories are fantastically successful, and no doubt all readers will find their own favorites — certainly I did. “Details” tells the story of a woman who has begun to see “the devil in the details” of everything: lines in a wall or stripes in a sweater. She lives her life trying to escape from a demon that waits for her everywhere. And most fantasy readers will enjoy “Familiar,” the tale of a discarded familiar and its struggle to survive without a master.

In Looking for Jake, Miéville moves effortlessly from one genre to another, ranging from graphic stories to ghost stories to medical entries. As with the best short story collections, readers must be prepared to move from one idea to the next. Unfortunately, some readers may not prove equal to the restlessness of Miéville’s muse, and not a few readers will walk away from one or two of the stories in this collection. However, given the variety on display here, perhaps the misfires will only serve to make the favorites shine brighter.

Because Miéville has earned the reputation of a weird writer among weird writers, some readers may see Looking for Jake as a sort of sampler plate. If so, beware: Miéville does not reach the same heights here as he does in Perdido Street Station or in later successes like The City & The City. Then again, Miéville’s greatest strength as a writer may be his overwhelming originality, and the stories collected in Looking for Jake certainly stand witness to his versatility and potential.

Looking for Jake — (2005) A collection of stories. Publisher: What William Gibson did for science fiction, China Miéville has done for fantasy, shattering old paradigms with fiercely imaginative works of startling, often shocking, intensity. Now from this brilliant young writer comes a groundbreaking collection of stories, many of them previously unavailable in the United States, and including four never-before-published tales — one set in Miéville’s signature fantasy world of New Crobuzon. Among the fourteen superb fictions are “Jack” — Following the events of his acclaimed novel Perdido Street Station, this tale of twisted attachment and horrific revenge traces the rise and fall of the Remade Robin Hood known as Jack Half-a-Prayer. “Familiar” — Spurned by its creator, a sorceress’s familiar embarks on a strange and unsettling odyssey of self-discovery in a coming-of-age story like no other.

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RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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