Looking for Jake


China Mieville


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

July 2, 2007

ooking for Jake is a collection of short stories by China Mieville, author of the wonderful and surreal Perdido Street Station. I have also read King Rat by Mieville, which was also a tremendous display of talent (I think it was Mieville's first novel? Very impressive.) Perdido Street Station is classic, a staggering display of ingenius world building, imagination and fantasy/horror/gothic all rolled into one. So I have pretty high expections of Mr Mieville; perhaps I expected too much when I picked up Looking For Jake.

Looking for Jake contains 14 stories. None of them are excellent. Quite a few of them continue some nice ideas, but they seemed like stories or scenes that couldn't be worked into a novel. For example, the story of the Go Between tells of a man who is involved smuggling items along a clandestine pipeline, yet he doesn't know what group he working for - he simply follows instructions - but is he aiding the anarchists or the government? I neat idea, but once presented, it doesn't go any where.

The story Reports on Certain Events in London has a great premise - occasionally, roads will appear in London, complete with inhabitants and buildings. These roads appear real enough, but they don't last for long before vanishing again. Sort of like Brigadoon, but more sinister. Unfortunately, this story is told in the form of reports/letters from one of the investigating characters - I never really like that format. (Freedom and Necessity is presented in the same format, and it is INCREDIBLY dull, hard to believe such talented authors as Brust and Bull could write such a snoozer.)

There are a couple of creepy horror stories in this collection: The Ballroom describes one of those child "fun zones", such as you see at a fast food restaurant, where a small room is filled several feet with soft, colored balls. But what if something evil was lurking under all those balls, doing something horrible to a child or two? It is creepy indeed. The story Different Skies tells of a man who brings home an antique window from a sale, but notices that the window looks out over a different London than ours - and the denizens of that other London are frightful and aggressive. It is a nice setup, but the story doesn't go any further than that - it sounds like the premise of a novel.

There is a short story in comic book form, but the reproduction is bad and the pictures are so small that it is difficult to make out.

The Tain is a novella, the longest in this collection. What if the "reflections" we see in the mirror are not simple echoes of our image, but instead are thinking beings on the other side of the glass who are forced to imitate each act that vain humanity performs in front all the mirrors - teeth cleaning, making faces, applying makeup, etc. The mirror creatures are tired of centuries of imitation, and with humanity building more and more mirrors, the creatures get no respite. So they decide to rebel.

The title story Looking for Jake is more of a mood piece - it describes an eerie London after an invasion of demonic creatures. Most of humanity has been destroyed or killed. There are some places that are definitely unsafe to go, and these seem to be multiplying. But the lead character doesn't really do anything, once we get our tour of this bizarre London, the story ends.

Jack is a story set in the Perdido Street Station "universe", which of course makes it more interesting, because who can get enough of New Crobuzon? But it is too short a visit, the story isn't really that long, just a bit of a reminder about how interesting it would be to pick up one of Mieville's novels again.

Overall, this was kind of a disappointing collection. I know I am probably too harsh in my judgement, but these stories just don't seem as brilliant as his novels.