Friday, June 15, 2012


Railsea by China Miéville
Random House, May 2012
Hardcover, 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345524522
YA fiction
On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.
From China Miéville comes a novel for readers of all ages, a gripping and brilliantly imagined take on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick that confirms his status as "the most original and talented voice to appear in several years."
My Thoughts:

Railsea is China Miéville's latest novel. Although officially classified as a young adult novel, it will undoubtedly be appreciated by adults too. It tells the story of Sham Yes ap Soorap, a young doctors apprentice riding on the moletrain Medes.  The Medes Captain Naphi has a philosophy, a life goal: hunting the great ivory colored moldywarpe, known as Mocker Jack, that took her arm. Sham, however, feels that, at least for him, there must be more to life than riding the endless rails of the railsea hunting prey.  When the Medes finds an old, wrecked train, Sham finds something that eventually ends up sending him on a quest & changing his life. I don't want to say much more than that.
This is a clever, imaginative science fiction/fantasy novel set in a well-realized world where an intricate tangle of railway tracks cover the earth. Most people have a real aversion to setting foot on the earth below the railsea where giant carnivorous predators of all kinds lurk, including the huge moldywarpes (giant moles), mole rats, antlions, burrowing owls, earwigs, blood rabbits, & others.
Obviously, in Railsea Miéville was influenced by Herman Melville's Moby Dick, but in the acknowledgments Miéville credits many writers & artists that inspired him, including: Joan Aiken, John Antrobus, the Awdrys, Catherine Besterman, Lucy Lane Clifford, Daniel Defoe, F. Tennyson Jesse, Ursula Le Guin, Penelope Lively, Spike Milligan, Charles Platt, Robert Louis Stevenson, & the Strugatsky Brothers. (I can see other influences too, like Herbert's Dune, the movie Tremors.)
China Miéville is a remarkably creative & talented writer. Even though Railsea is a YA novel, Miéville's use of language & prose will greatly appeal to adult readers. Some younger readers actually might find the prose challenging, however, the story is so inventive & entertaining that most will stay with it even if it requires more mental thought than lesser novels. There are a wide variety of characters in the novel, including trainfolks, pirates, salvagers, rumourmongers,  explorers, & more.

You might have notice my use of the ampersand symbol "&" instead of the word "and" it this review. There is a reason for this as Miéville cleverly uses the ampersand rather than the word "and" in Railsea. (See the quotes below.)  
Railsea is very highly recommended
China Miéville is the author of several books, including Un Lun Dun, Perdido Street Station, The City & The City, Kraken, & Embassytown. His works have won the Hugo, the British Science Fiction Award (twice), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times) & the World Fantasy Award. He lives & works in London.


When at last there came a sound from the speakers above, it made him start. It was the alarm for which he & the rest of the crew of the Medes had been waiting. A crackling blare. Then from the intercom came the exclamation: “There she blows!” pg. 5

Soaring from its burrow in a clod-cloud & explosion it came. A monster. It roared, it soared, into the air. It hung a crazy moment at the apex of its leap. As if surveying. As if to draw attention to its very size. Crashed at last back down through the topsoil & disappeared into the below.
The moldywarpe had breached.
Of all the gapers on the Medes none gaped harder than Sham. Shamus Yes ap Soorap. Big lumpy young man. Thickset, not always unclumsy, his brown hair kept short & out of trouble.  pg. 6

He had been made to memorise a poemlike list of the moldywarpe’s other names—underminer, talpa, muldvarp, mole. Had seen ill-exposed flatographs & etchings of the grandest animals. Stick-figure humans were drawn to scale cowering by the killer, the star-nosed, the ridged moldywarpe. & on one last much-fingered page, a page that concertinaed out to make its point about size, had been a leviathan, dwarfing the specklike person-scribble by it. The great southern moldywarpe, Talpa ferox rex. That was the ploughing animal ahead. Sham shivered.
The ground & rails were grey as the sky. Near the horizon, a nose bigger than him broke earth again. It made its molehill by what for a moment Sham thought a dead tree, then realised was some rust-furred metal strut toppled in long-gone ages, up-poking like the leg of a dead beetle god. Even so deep in the chill & wastes, there was salvage.
Trainspeople hung from the Medes’s caboose, swayed between carriages & from viewing platforms, tamping out footstep urgency over Sham’s head. “Yes yes yes, Captain . . .”: the voice of Sunder Nabby, lookout, blurted from the speakers. Captain must have walkie-talkied a question & Nabby must have forgotten to switch to private. He broadcast his answer to the train, through chattering teeth & a thick Pittman accent. “Big boar, Captain. Lots of meat, fat, fur. Look at the speed on him . . .” pg. 7

Atangle across the whole vista, to & past the horizon in all directions, were endless, countless rails.
The railsea.
Long straights, tight curves; metal runs on wooden ties; overlapping, spiralling, crossing at metalwork junctions; splitting off temporary sidings that abutted & rejoined main lines. Here the train tracks spread out to leave yards of unbroken earth between them; there they came close enough together that Sham could have jumped from one to the next, though that idea shivered him worse than the cold. Where they cleaved, at twenty thousand angles of track-meets-track, were mechanisms, points of every kind: wye switches; interlaced turnouts; stubs; crossovers; single & double slips. & on the approaches to them all were signals, switches, receivers, or ground frames. pg. 10
A meat Island! The carcass loomed.
Molecarters snared the ropes in its skin & traintop winches hauled tons of moleflesh & a precious pelt across the ground on which no one would step. pg. 15
There are two layers to the sky, & four Layers to the world. No secrets there. Sham knew that, this books knows that, & you know that, too. pg. 30
The very idea, though, that thought of one foot after the other, careful on the dusty ties, avoiding the terrible earth, all the way back to the train, made him swallow. pg. 38
As long as humanity has rolled on the railsea, the rigours & vigours & bloody triggers of the underground have been legendary. There are predators on the islands, too, of course, above groundnorm....
Subterrestriality, by contrast, & life on the flatearth that is its top, is more straightforward & exacting. Almost everything wants to eat almost everything else. pg. 45
There was a time when we did not form all the words as now we do, in writing on a page. There was a time when the word "&" was written with several distinct & separate letters. It seems madness now. But there it is, & there is nothing we can do about it. pg. 163

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