S Griffin, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by S Griffin)
China Miéville might be a genius. His amazing talent certainly shines through in RAILSEA (2012, Del Rey Books), his YA mash-up of Fantasy / Science Fiction / Steampunk / Dystopia. The story follows young Shamus ‘Sham’ Yes ap Soorap in a revision of the MOBY DICK quest, first as a doctor’s assistant on a moletrain, and later on a journey to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Mr. and Mrs. Shroake, a husband and wife explorer team. Miéville's re-imagination of MOBY DICK is awesome. There is the ship now turned into a train, the same captains, and the sea now turned into soil, yet its an entirely different world.
“& as passersby passed by & the light continued to leak from the sky, Sham was certain the man’s presence was not coincidence.”
Sham’s world consists of hunters, scavengers, and pirates, who ride along a vast expanse of railways. To fall off onto the land besides the tracks ensures that you will be eaten by creatures that live on and under the caustic soil. The moletrain Medes’ narrow-focused Captain Naphi is seeking her ‘philosophy’ by hunting a certain moldywarpe by the name of Mocker-Jack. The general public lives on safer ‘islands’ of higher ground. Along the way Sham seeks two reclusive children, gets betrayed, acquires a pet, and witnesses battles with the strange, dangerous creatures in his world. Besides the Great Southern Moldywarpes, there are Burrowing Tortoises, Antlions, Blood Rabbits, Tundra Worms and more (Miéville has even included his own sketches of each!)
“Above them flew something nothing like a plane.”
Here is the genius of RAILSEA: the language Miéville uses. He substitutes some words and makes up a lot of others. They weave together melodically as the sentences trip across your tongue. They’re playful and fun and magical. People with names like Boyza Go Mbenday and places with names like Manihiki. There may be some sort of message in this tale, about society or religion or whatnot, but I prefer to take this book as purely a high-fueled adventure. I don’t want to overthink it; it’s just too much fun to read.
“& if,” he said, & his voice was suddenly chill & bony & metal & like the scuttling of a very bad insect, “you’d like not to be cut open & dangled over the side of this train & dragged along with your legs on the ground spilling blood everything under the flatearth can smell while we go slow enough for long, long miles that they can rise & eat you from the toes up & from the inside out, you know what you could do for me, Sham?
“Tell me where the Shroakes are going.”
The only tiny, tiny weakness I found was that I do wish we had a little more personality in the Shroake children, Caldera and Dero. Sham, on the other hand, is a typical youngster; he isn’t certain just who he wants to be and he makes his decisions as questions come up. To be sure, this results in a life of adventure.
Again, the strength lies in Miéville’s imagination and the way in which he plays with words:
“Out of the east & south the train came. It howled, it whistled, en route through & out of the known railsea. It breathed diesel breath. An everyday moletrain, transmogrified by urgency & peculiar direction into something more than itself, something grander, buckling of more swashes.”
I believe this is a considerably more entertaining book than MOBY DICK and highly recommend RAILSEA for all readers age 12 and up
Lars Adam Johnson, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Lars Adam Johnson)
China Mieville's all ages sci-fi meditation on the 'Moby Dick' story serves as a great intro to the concepts of Melville's novel for younger readers (along with Jeff Smith's 'Bone'). It is also a great take for adults and welcomes all to a fully realized imaginary world.
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Curtis Johnson, August 3, 2012 (view all comments by Curtis Johnson)
China Mieville slowly shares another one of his fantastical worlds with us. The story flows smoothly and takes all across the railsea, that is the only way people can travel between the outpost towns and cities based upon rock mountains and hills, in a post-apocalyptic dystopian setting. While the book is considered "Young Adult Science-Fiction", I would say that it is more "For All Ages Science-Fiction". Told from the perspective of a narrator, you just sit back and have the story told to you, and enjoy every minute of it!
Del Rey -
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Miéville (Un Lun Dun) returns to YA fiction with a superb, swashbuckling tale of adventure on the railsea, a vast prairie densely crisscrossed by train tracks: 'Tracks & ties, in the random meanders of geography & ages, in all directions. Extending forever.' Sham, an orphan, has gone to railsea as apprentice to a train's doctor. That train, the Medes, is a moletrain that plies the railsea hunting the great moldywarpes (giant moles) that live beneath the dirt, harpooning the subterranean creatures when they surface and rendering them down for meat, fat, and fur to be sold on the mainland. The train's captain, Naphi, is a strange, charismatic woman who lost her arm to an enormous ivory mole, Mocker-Jack; obsessed with killing the creature, she's willing to sail to the mythical ends of the railsea to catch him. Working variations on such classics as Moby-Dick, Robinson Crusoe, and A Wizard of Earthsea, this massively imaginative and frequently playful novel features eccentric characters, amazing monsters, and, at its heart, an intense sense of wonder. Ages 12 – up. Agent: Mic Cheetham Literary Agency." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
by The AV Club,
"Miéville manages to weld a rich science-fiction concept to influences like Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson (yes, there are pirates; how could there not be?)"
by Kirkus Reviews,
"What made Railsea a definite winner for me was the narrative. The narrator of the story is not only omniscient but also omnipresent. It is the true conductor of this train-it stops whenever it pleases and relates each character's adventure at its own beck and call with as many or as little words as it wants. I found it extremely charming, even though I have the feeling that it might annoy some readers. I also truly appreciated the diversity of this world, in which some families are polyamorous and strong female characters abound."
"[Railsea] feels like a great adventure, meant for girls and boys, as well as for the grown-up readers of science fiction and fantasy who admire the complicated worlds Miéville built for such adult novels as Perdido Street Station and Embassytown."
by Los Angeles Times,
“Other names besides [Herman] Melville’s will surely come to mind as you read this thrilling tale — there’s Dune’s Frank Herbert....But in this, as in all of his works, Miéville has that special knack for evoking other writers even while making the story wholly his own.”
by USA Today,
“[Miéville] gives all readers a lot to dig into here, be it emotional drama, Godzilla-esque monster carnage, or the high adventure that comes only with riding the rails.”
by Publishers Weekly (starred review),
“Riveting...a great adventure.”
by The Guardian (London),
“Wildly inventive....Every sentence is packed with wit.”
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