Looking for Jake: Stories
by China Mieville
Review by Colleen Cahill
Del Rey Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0345476077
Date: 30 August, 2005 List Price $13.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The fourteen stories in Looking for Jake can be classed as fantasy, but do not expect elves, wizards or noble steeds: Miéville explores a more urban, modern and dark realm than would Tolkien. In the title story, the narrator wanders through a London that is breaking down in a "inexact apocalypse", one that "erupts with vague entropy". There is no denying the dark magic of this and several of his other works. In "The Tain", London is again in an state of downfall after an attack by a mysterious force, one that lives in reflective surfaces, but now has broken free. A dark tone runs through all the tales in this book, such as "An End to Hunger" which follows a brilliant but opinionated hacker who attacks a website where one can click a button to donate money for the world's hungry people. He finds there is more to this charity group than just good works, as the hunter becomes the hunted. This is not to say the author is without humor, if a blacker sort, such as in his "'Tis the Season", which takes the commercialization of Christmas to one possible conclusion. The touches of humor, warmth and humanity in these works highlight the dark atmosphere, bringing out shadows that would be otherwise lost.
It is Miéville's ability to take things we all know and show another, darker side that makes these stories so interesting. In "Foundation", the secret to the most successful building inspector is not his training, for he has none, but his ability to talk to foundations. He is actually tormented by the voices only he hears and seeks a certain building he hopes will free him from this curse. One of the eeriest tales is "The Ball Room" told by a guard in an Ikea-like furniture store, complete with the children's room of plastic balls. In a series of escalating events, the room becomes the center of trouble and pain, leading to an unexpected solution by the corporate management.
Even when using a traditional fantasy element, such as witches, Miéville takes a different tack. In "Familiar", a male witch discovers that the familiar he calls is not a cat or even frog, but a strange grotesque, one that he cannot bear to be near. Finding he cannot kill it, he turns it loose in the town, where it uses its greatest talent: it learns. My favorite of all the stories is "Reports of Certain Events in London" which records Miéville's reaction to a mis-mailed package of documents that describe an interesting group tracking down rogue streets and discovering these traveling thoroughfares have a dangerous side.
As with his longer works, Miéville brings his considerable skills as a wordsmith, crafting not only a story, but a mood. If you have yet to read any Miéville, Looking for Jake is a good way to try some of the work of this often dark but always interesting author.