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Railsea by China Mieville

Railsea (original 2012; edition 2012)

by China Mieville

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960639,024 (3.92)111
Authors:China Mieville
Info:Del Rey (2012), Edition: Book Club Edition, Hardcover, 448 pages
Collections:Books Read in 2012

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Railsea by China Miéville (2012)


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first mieville novel. not sure if I like his writing style. hard to follow at times. interesting story though. ( )
  thefamousmoe | May 1, 2016 |
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. Miéville writes: "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)"

Railsea is very highly recommended; http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/

( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
Did not finish. I'm very happy to suspend disbelief, but I found the fundamental theme of this book - monster moles on dry land as an analogue of whales at sea - intolerably irritating. I also didn't find the characters engaging enough to bother persisting. I love all of China Miéville's other books, just not this one. Plenty of other LibraryThing members loved it, so it's just me... ( )
  RegT | Mar 9, 2016 |
Railsea is set in a world -- I want to say "a post-apocalyptic world," but maybe that's not quite right. Maybe it's just a very old world in which a lot of stuff has happened. Anyway, it's set in a world where the oceans are railroads. Literally. Instead of water, there are miles and miles of train tracks, splitting and joining and looping in on themselves everywhere. And people take to these rails, among other things, to hunt giant moles. Whale-sized giant moles.

Basically, it's a sea story, but with trains. Which is a ridiculous, insane idea and should not work, but Miéville is an absolute master of taking surreal ideas like this and shaping them, somehow, into detailed, real-feeling worlds, and this one is no exception. The bizarre, fascinating setting isn't the only selling point here, either. The plot is full of exciting, suspenseful adventure. The narration has a clever, self-aware quality to it that could, in lesser hands, have seemed painfully arch, but instead works beautifully. Also, it riffs on Moby-Dick in some thoughtful, playful ways that I found utterly delightful (although, lest you get the wrong idea, the novel is by no means a Melville pastiche). Miéville slyly sneaks in a few other entertaining literary references, too, from the obvious to the obscure. And the ending... the ending was nothing I expected at all.

I've enjoyed all the Miéville novels that I've read (which includes the Bas-Lag trilogy, The City & the City, and Kraken), but I think this one may be my new favorite. What a ride! ( )
1 vote bragan | Feb 29, 2016 |
Huh! I just learned two things. When an author uses a 'descriptive' name for a character, there's a term for that: aptronym, probably coined in the 1930s by newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams. There's also a phrase for when a person has a name which relates to their chosen profession: nominative determinism.
Now, if this were universally true, I guess China Miéville should have gone into Asian studies or something... but since I've loved the theory since I came across an article claiming that boys with the name "Dennis" were 10x more likely to become dentists, I'm probably seriously subject to confirmation bias, but, reading Railsea, I can't help but wonder if there's a Melville/Miéville connection.
Personally, I don't like Herman Melville. I went through a phase of reading all the whaling history and fiction I could get my hands on, as a great many of my relatives were on whaling ships. As a matter of fact, the incident that Moby Dick was based on involved members of my family (call me bizarre, but it's kind of fun that my ancestral cousin was a cannibal [See: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17780.In_the_Heart_of_the_Sea. Seriously, do, it's a completely excellent book.]). (And what Moby Dick was based on, not anything to do with buses on Staten Island. Damn artists! [http://fhsi.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/the-snug-harbor-bus-stop-that-inspired-herman-melville-greatest-novel/]) He also lifted one of my ancestral family names, Starbuck, but he's not the only person to rip off that name, the ripping-off that Melville did has been fully eclipsed by caffeinated beverages.
Anyway, sorry, but Moby Dick has to have been one of my very least favorite whale tales out of the dozens that I read. (And 'Billy Budd'? Even Worse.)
Miéville disagrees. 'Railsea' begins as a straight-up homage to Moby Dick, lifting incidents and anecdotes pretty much directly (from what I recall.) The differences: instead of ships, the vehicles here are trains, and instead of whales, the beasts under pursuit are Giant Moles. The train crews are terrified to ever touch the ground, because if they do, Giant Moles will instantly swarm up and eat you. Luckily, with the exception of raised "islands" and "continents" of actual land (bedrock?), where civilians live, the ground is massively crisscrossed with train tracks, extending as far as known geography.
I have to admit, it took me a while to get into this book. At first, I found the Moby-Dick-allusions tiresome and unoriginal, and I also felt that it was rather juvenile (this is marketed as YA). Giant moles? Kind of silly.
However, once the actual plot of the book got going (which is NOT the plot of Moby Dick), it really picked up. I also have to admit I enjoyed how it was simply the expected thing, here, that all captains would have an obsession with a giant and dangerous beast (or, a "philosophy.") The descriptions of the Railsea itself were stifling and oppressive - but they're meant to be, and it all comes clear at the end - with some obvious-but-not-too-bludgeony social messages about the dangers of letting huge corporations take over.

I still love Miéville, and I'd say this book is worth reading, for fans, but it's not where I would recommend anyone new to Miéville should start. It is a YA book, with orphans and questing and coming-of-age and all that stuff. It reminded me quite a lot of Paolo Bacigalupi's YA book, 'Ship Breaker.' Both writers definitely come from a very similar thematic standpoint - and both have stronger, more complex statements in their non-YA publications. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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To Indigo.
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This is the story of a bloodstained boy.
Our minds we salvage from history's rubbish, & they are machines to make chaos into story.
Angels, unremittingly & absolutely sane, cannot but seem to poor humanity relentlessly & madly murderous.
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"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 & 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-colored 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 kind of treasure map indicating a mythical place untouched by iron rails--leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters, & salvage-scrabblers. & it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea. Here is a novel for readers of all ages, a gripping & brilliantly imagined take on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick that confirms China Mieville's status as "the most original & talented voice to appear in several years" (Science Fiction Chronicle)"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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