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Railsea

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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 and the other’s glory are extraordinary. But no matter how spectacular it is, travelling the endless rails of the railsea, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life. Even if his philosophy-seeking captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing – ever since it took her arm all those years ago.

When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But the impossible salvage Sham finds in the derelict 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.

376 pages, Hardcover

First published May 15, 2012

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About the author

China Miéville

149 books13.7k followers
A British "fantastic fiction" writer. He is fond of describing his work as "weird fiction" (after early 20th century pulp and horror writers such as H. P. Lovecraft), and belongs to a loose group of writers sometimes called New Weird who consciously attempt to move fantasy away from commercial, genre clichés of Tolkien epigons. He is also active in left-wing politics as a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He has stood for the House of Commons for the Socialist Alliance, and published a book on Marxism and international law.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,676 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
727 reviews11.6k followers
July 4, 2022
Thank you, China Miéville. Thank you. Thank you!


In the last week & a half, full of 14-hour work days, lack of sleep, physical & mental exhaustion & near-constant feeling of overwhelmed inadequacy CM provided me with the sanctuary of a few precious hours when none of that mattered, when I was completely under the spell of this weirdly fascinating, ridiculous but engrossing universe, when I felt that Miéville's boundless imagination has given me a safe haven where I could breathe free. Therefore, my impression of this book may be somewhat colored by all the above. But that's what books are for, right? To create a frame of mind that makes life better, richer & even easier, right? (Btw, I actually do love my job. It's a dream job. But it's just that I'm so overwhelmed right now, realizing how incredibly steep my learning curve is!)
"People have wanted to narrate since first we banged rocks together & wondered about fire. There’ll be tellings as long as there are any of us here, until the stars disappear one by one like turned-out lights."
I would love to take a hypothetical journey through China Miéville's mind. I mean, I highly doubt that there can be ANYTHING of which this man's boundless imagination cannot conceive. He has a knack for taking the most ridiculous situations, the craziest ideas, the strangest premises - & seemingly effortlessly developing them into rich worlds, mind-boggling adventures, & brainy entertainment (rare slip-ups such as Kraken nonwithstanding).



This book was meant to be. I mean, Miéville & Melville are separated by only one letter. It was bound to happen - this weird combination of Moby Dick¹ & trains. Except here the wild chase of dreams & 'philosophy' happens in the Railsea. Which is exactly what it sounds like. A sea of rails. Where, among other things, a captain (missing a limb) is pursuing a gigantic pale whale mole. That's right. Who else but CM could EVER pull it off?
¹ I read Moby Dick as a 10-year-old kid (obsessed with Jacques Cousteau, btw) & simply loved it. Of course, all the intended symbolism sailed right over my kiddo head (pun intended). All I knew was - blah blah, crazy captain, blah blah, weird stuff, blah blah - hey! cool stuff about whales! look at all the ways to take a dead whale's corpse apart! look at all the cool stuff you can make from whales! I think I read it as a sort of encyclopedia. Yeah, I was a weird kid.
Railsea is, as expected based on the knowledge of the source material, a story about a quest, an obsession, a purpose, & an overpowering allure of a dream. It is chock-full of all that literary symbolic stuff, yeah, but it is also full of adventures & fun (& ampersands!). & yet again, like in pretty much every single one of Miéville's books, the strength of it is not in the plot or the characters (even though those are excellently done) but in making the setting to be the true character & the true focus of the story. The bizarre nature of the Railsea world of dangerous earth & toxic sky & trains & moles & train-angels is so well-developed that it somehow feels real & dangerous & incredibly fascinating. It was NOT the plot, really, that made me turn the pages in anticipation - it was the reveal of more & more sides & secrets of this world that captivated me. & the tone - the often-cheeky breaking-the-fourth-wall tone that I adored as well. & staring so may any sentences with "&" - a non-grammatical love of mine. Wonderful job, Mr. Miéville. Simply wonderful.

This apparently is a YA book - probably because it has a teenage protagonist. Otherwise, there is not much that makes it a typical YA except for slightly toned-down vocabulary (for Miéville, that is. Dictionary still may be beneficial.) I guess YA as an intended audience of Railsea explains why this world is lightyears tamer than the festering filth of New Crobuzon - but tamer does not mean less interesing. It has much less cynicism, & bleakness is replaced by hope & the sense of adventure - but this is exactly what I needed after the last few exhausting days. & there is NO talking down or oversimplifying or insulting the readers' intelligence in any other way, the way many YA books do. In short, whatever the intended audience may, this will be an enjoyable read for adults.

5 stars ampersands. Highly recommended!

——————
Recommended by: Catie
Profile Image for Traveller.
223 reviews705 followers
December 16, 2015
We're having an open book discussion of this book here . Do come and join!


More & more, when it comes to China Mieville, for me, it's lurrvve lurve LURVE! I'm starting to get to the point where I miss his 'voice' when I'm not busy reading a Miéville...

In this amusing and inventive coming-of-age story, Miéville pulls out all the Postmodernist stops & creates a work that is at the same time immediate, as it is highly allusive & metafictional.

Some of the characteristics of Pomo fiction, especially as they apply to Railsea:

Postmodern authors tend to employ metafiction (fiction that refers to itself, for instance when it poses as a journal or a history book, or when the author (as Miéville does in this novel) "breaks the fourth wall" by speaking directly to the reader).

Another characteristic of postmodern literature is the questioning of distinctions between high & low culture through the use of pastiche. A pastiche is a work of art or literature, that imitates the work of a previous artists, usually distinguished from parody in the sense that it celebrates rather than mocks the work it imitates. It tends to combine subjects & genres not previously deemed fit for literature.

In plain terms, this would mean that lines between media and genres are being blurred, especially those between, in this case, speculative and literary fiction, and... whatever the genre is of the works alluded to, I'd imagine.

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (the one that was recently adapted into a film) is a good example of pastiche, especially in a chronological sense.

Common themes & techniques in pomo fic:

In Railsea, we find a lot of instances of parody and of intertextuality.

I'm going to shamefully steal Wikipedia's paragraph on intertextuality because it perfectly describes what Miéville does in this novel:

Intertextuality
Since postmodernism represents (an integrated) concept of the universe in which individual works are not isolated creations, much of the focus in the study of postmodern literature is on intertextuality: the relationship between one text (a novel for example) & another or one text within the interwoven fabric of literary history.

Intertextuality in postmodern literature can be a reference or parallel to another literary work, an extended discussion of a work, or the adoption of a style. In postmodern literature this commonly manifests as references to fairy tales – as in works by Margaret Atwood, Donald Barthelme, & many other – or in references to popular genres such as sci-fi & detective fiction.

Often intertextuality is more complicated than a single reference to another text.


Indeed, Miéville makes many allusions to varied sources, some of them less respectful than others, but most of them pretty funny in a dry, tongue-in-cheek sort of way.

The main work that Miéville parodies here, would be Moby Dick by Herman Melville, first published in 1851 . The latter is ... wait, let me utilize Wikipedia again:

==========
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale ... is considered to be one of the Great American Novels. The story tells the adventures of w&ering sailor Ishmael, & his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, comm&ed by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat & bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.

In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, & the metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. Through the journey of the main characters, the concepts of class & social status, good & evil, & the existence of God are all examined, as the main characters speculate upon their personal beliefs & their places in the universe.

The narrator's reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor's life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices, such as stage directions, extended soliloquies, & asides.

The book portrays destructive obsession & monomania, as well as the assumption of anthropomorphism.


========
In addition, Miéville subverts 'traditional' texts either via satire or by subverting stereotypes. For example, in Railsea, a character who was a stereotype male in the original (the alluded to) text, is presented as a female character in Miéville's text, with almost hilarious effect.

In Railsea, the names & a gender & a limb or two & a few species are changed, not to mention the landscape. In Railsea, we are looking for our malicious prey, which is a huge mole instead of a whale, while travelling the "railsea" instead of the ocean, in a train instead of a ship. ..& we have more fun. Lots more fun.


Miéville pokes merciless fun with many aspects of Moby Dick, (& other works) to the point that I often laughed out loud. Which brings me to another set of characteristics of po-mo fiction, which fits in with the parodic style of Railsea, being: irony, playfulness & black humor.

Well, these are in ample supply in Railsea. Miéville is pretty inventive with his world-building (Miéville readers know that by now) & in this work, in addition, he peppers the text with clever writerly asides & well-executed drawings.


Moby Dick is not the only text he alludes to though; the text is richly scattered with allusions to especially "adventure" or "boy's" fiction like Kidnapped & Treasure Island By RL Stevenson, including a truly hilarious reference to Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Not sure what else; but here is the list of the most important influences as supplied by CM himself:

Joan Aiken, John Antrobus, the Awdrys Sr. & Jr., Catherine Besterman, Lucy Lane Clifford, F. Tennyson Jesse, Erich Kästner, Ursula le Guin, John Lester, Penelope Lively, Spike Milligan, Charles Platt, & the Strugatsky Brothers.

Wondering about the &? Seems like another Mieville experiment in text==> meaning. The amper&and& symbolize the twisting of the railtracks. I'm not sure if that particular little experiment worked (replacing "and" with "&"), since it seems to irritate many readers, but I must admit that after initially being irritated myself, I soon got used to it & didn't even notice it anymore by the end.

This is one of the things I love about China Miéville: he is courageous! He is prepared to put his money where his mouth i&.
China, I <3<3<3<3 you !!! XOXOXO
Looking forward to your next creation.

Full disclosure: Okay, this work is not perfect, perhaps especially due to a curious emotional 'dryness' or restraint. New Moon it is not.
In some respects this makes it a bit dry and nerdy compared to "non-literary" YA fiction out there.

...but if you're a nerd, this provides so many chuckles that it is worth its 5 &tars. Part of why I gave it 5 stars, was because I think China has gained some immense discipline as a writer. A good thing is that Miéville has, for a change, pared down the plot a lot compared to some of his initial works - albeit almost a bit too much this time. On the other hand, stylistically, for me, this work is perfect.

*All illustrations shown here, are from the book, as done by China Miéville himself.

.
*With thanks to Wikipedia, where you can read more on po-mo fiction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmode...
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,895 reviews10.5k followers
October 17, 2012
Urged on by his guardian cousins, young Sham Yes ap Soorap gets apprenticed to a doctor on a moletrain, riding the Railsea in search of moldywarpe, giant moles hunted for food. Captain Naphi of the Medes, the train Sham sails aboard, is obsessed with Mocker Jack, the biggest moldywarpe of them all, & will do anything to find her prey...

Remember that game you used to play when you were a kid, when the living room floor was either molten lava or shark-infested waters, & you had to leap from chair to couch to coffee table & never touch the floor? That's what the world of Railsea reminds me of, covered in miles & miles of rail, most exposed earth harboring moldywarpes, mole rats, worms, & many other malevolent beasties.

In Railsea, China Mieville tells a tale inspired by Moby Dick, the tale of a young orphan named Sham, a captain obsessed with a mole the size of a building, & the other denizens of the Railsea, a world of dangerous fauna, megatons of salvage, & untold parsecs of rail.

The sheer inventiveness of Mieville's world is staggering. As in Kraken, China shook the idea tree hard on this one. As outlandish as it is, the setting of Railsea isn't all that hard to imagine.

The story feels like Moby Dick at first, but with tastes of Treasure Island & Robinson Crusoe as well. It also reminds me of a more accessible version of China's Bas-Lag books. Captain Naphi's obsession with Mocker Jack echoes Captain Ahab's, although Ahab never had pirates, angles, & the edge of the world to contend with.

Sham's meeting with the Shroakes is what makes the book veer away from being a take off on Moby Dick and become its own animal. A colossal mole, perhaps. I had my doubts about Caldera and Dero Shroakes at first but things really came together at the end. And what an end it was!

I don't have anything bad to say about this book, although the use of "&" in place of "and" took a little getting used to. It's the most accessible of China Mieville's books & a damn fine book as well. Don't let the YA label fool you. It's a solid & satisfying read at any age.
Profile Image for Joel.
553 reviews1,600 followers
May 14, 2012
Leave it to China Miéville to write a young adult novel and so obfuscate his intentions (via complex vocabulary, a tricky literary style, dense prose, measured pacing, a total lack of plot threads about which boy is cuter) that I've had more than one conversation with youth librarians here on Goodreads who swear up and down that this isn't a young adult book. My evidence is, of course, rather shaky at best: the publisher says so, and why should I complain, because that means the hardcover costs less than $20.

But if the feel is similar to Miéville's bizarre New Weird Fantasies (particularly the Bas Lag trilogy), if you've read him before, there are a lot of giveaways that he is writing for a more innocent crowd, like the book is much shorter, has roughly half as many adjectives, there's no swearing, and no one has sex with a lady with a bug for a head. I'd wager this is one of the author's only works that doesn't included the phrase "dessicated corpse" at least once or twice (don't worry though, he does manage to cram in a "palimpsest" for old times' sake). Also, like Un Lun Dun, his book for middle grade readers, there are a lot of cool pictures, drawn by the author himself!

So, what it isn't is your typical YA novel. What is is, is one of my favorite fantasy adventures in quite some time. The plot description makes it sound like a Moby Dick pastiche, and that's basically accurate: set in sand-blasted, trash-strewn world where there is no ocean, but instead endless vistas of interweaving rail lines, it follows the journey of Sham a (a boy? teen? It's never entirely clear...) who gets a job as a doctor's apprentice on a "moler," serving on-board the train of a single-minded captain determined to hunt down and harpoon the giant albino mole that chomped her arm off. But it's a lot more than parody, and another example of the author's ability to mutate his prose to suit any purpose. Here, he's also playing with other tropes and conventions of Romanticism and Victorian literature, as well as more modern fantasy (even his own) -- equal parts Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and Perdido Street Station. In stark contrast to the first-person teen narrators that populate the YA genre today, Railsea is told in playful omniscience, in a fashion that is as much about the mechanics of storytelling as it is about telling the story, jumping here and there in the action, self-consciously commenting that no, it isn't quite time for that bit yet, we'll come back to that part later, instead let's have a chapter where we explain a bit of tangential backstory. This kind of trickery requires a delicate touch. He went a bit overboard with it in Un Lun Dun (oh, the puns!), but he's much more in control here (something something pun about keeping the story on the rails something something).

It isn't quite as philosophically or thematically deep as his adult novels, but it manages to fit quite a lot into the Boy's Own Adventure mold, including a host of the kind of memorable characters I've come to expect from a China Miéville book. Sham falls haphazardly into the narrative but quickly becomes an active participant, making tough choices and managing to be brave and terrified at the same time. Along the way he meets two younger kids, orphaned boy/girl twins who play an important role, two characters who are a lot of fun, who carry the weight of what they have lost but don't let it stop them from setting off on their own journey. Then there's Dr. Fremlo, Sham's teacher on-board the moling train, who admits that you don't really have to be a very good doctor out on the railsea, because anything you can't fix with a few stitches is probably going to be beyond fixing anyway. Ahab-analog Captain Naphi will remind regular readers of the she-captain from The Scar, though she has her own unexpected secret to reveal.

And oh, what a world! The railsea idea sounds a bit silly at first, but if there's one thing Miéville is good at, it's world-building, and he brings this one to life in vivid detail: small cities that are essentially islands between rails that stretch from horizon to horizon, where falling from even a stopped train will bring certain death, not from drowning but from one of the terrifying mutant creatures that swims the railsea (take your pick, we've got giant moles, giant ants, giant owls, giant worms, giant earwigs...). Where Lovecraftian horrors inhabit the poisoned upper atmosphere and humanity is confined to a slim sliver of breathable air in-between rail and the Upsky. Where much modern technology has been lost (is this a future Earth? A colony planet? Outside our universe altogether?), but ancient, ruined tech can be salvaged and made new. Where some trains are driven by engines, yes, but others are blown by huge sails, or moved by slave-driven pistons, or pulled by a herd of rhinos. I highly doubt there will be another book set in this world, but I really, really want to see more of it, and that's a nice way to feel after you've closed the covers.

So, if it isn't obvious, I'm entirely in the tank for this author, but I do think this is one of his most enjoyable, most accessible, and even most successful books in years. In aiming at a younger audience, he's produced a book that is simultaneously simpler and yet no less linguistically complex (well, maybe a little), with a much more straightforward narrative than he typically favors. It may just turn out to be my new recommended starting place for those intimidated by his reputation as a difficult writer.

Advance e-ARC provided by Netgalley.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,854 reviews16.4k followers
February 9, 2018
Call me Sham Yes ap Soorap.

I wonder how many reviews have started this way? Certainly Mieville dropped a letter & flattered Melville the old sincerest way, but this book is so much more than a modern revisionist re-telling of the great American novel. There is also a tip of the literary hat to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped & the briefest of wink & nudge at Robinson Crusoe. But tying it all together is Mieville’s inimitable narrative ability.

China Mieville’s 2012 publication Railsea is a chatty, observant & omnipresent narration, like a great storyteller - boldly fantastic, yet playful. Labeled as a Young Adult novel, & I suppose in many ways it is, I saw it more as a lighthearted modern fantasy with subtle post-apocalyptic elements.

Almost the opposite of magic realism – in Railsea Mieville writes great stretches of pure fantasy punctuated by brief glimpses of mundane, common sense realism. The effect is a Will Ferrell straight man moment, & a cleansing, grounding functionality that provides a credible boundary to the over the top fantasy theme.

& there are a lot of ampersands.

description
Profile Image for Orient.
255 reviews207 followers
Read
November 26, 2016
DNF at page 150



Ok, so what are the reasons why I didn’t like this retelling of Moby-Dick. (In fact I haven’t read any retellings of Moby-D before, at all :D) The world building, the writing and the language are strange and quite odd for me. At first I couldn’t get used to all that & signs, oddly formed sentences, but it’s not a big problem. This book is peculiar. I must admit, there were some funny puns thrown and that’s one of the points why I didn’t DNF it at the very start. Also it has some kind of mystery. But what annoyed me is that I felt only a slight intrigue and mostly I read “Railsea” as a random ordinary diary. Well, a diary with some monstrous creatures and not too much of adventures. The characters seemed bland a little bit, well except Mr. Moley-Dick, who sadly, left to pasture in the holy grounds too quickly.



One of the gems I found in Railsea:
So. Turned out he’d slept outside in the yard of some final pub. Whimpering at the assault of merciless morning light on his eyes, he blinked until he could see a few of his crewmates still snoozed in a barn, watched by contemptuous goats.

I read some books before which I didn’t like and I finished them because I was so angry that they had no hook for me and of course I wanted to spill all the nasty things I thought about the book. Well it’s not the same with this book. I can feel that this book is special, so I don’t want to throw any nasty things at it. It’s only disadvantage is my POV :D



Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
659 reviews840 followers
June 23, 2020
“Technically, our name, to those who speak science, is Homo sapiens— wise person. But we have been described in many other ways. Homo narrans, juridicus, ludens, diaspora: we are storytelling, legal, game-playing, scattered people, too. True but incomplete. That old phrase has the secret. We are all, have always been, will always be, Homo vorago aperientis: person before whom opens a vast & awesome hole.”

China Miéville on Moby Dick and Railsea - BooksPlus - ABC Radio ...

In so far as Railsea features a captain obsessed with hunting down a behemoth mole, China Mieville's novel is a lot like Moby Dick. Instead of whaling ships, we have trains (and more trains) and the rails that connect the world to itself. Exploring this world is akin to plumbing all the ancient knowledge upon which both the known and unknown world has been founded. There is a theology interwoven into this quest. There are pirates. And there are even giant beasts. That said, Railsea is nothing like Moby Dick. Forget I ever made the comparison!

Railsea is also very different than other Mieville books I've read such as City & the City and Perdido Street Station, and while calling itself YA, it is so much more. How Mieville plays with conventions and language is central to the book. Once again, as in other Mieville books, I had to throw away the silly notion that the plot was important. It took a while for it to grab me, but it is well worth the effort!
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,912 followers
February 8, 2017
There's truly a lot to enjoy here, especially if you're a fan of philosophy and moles.

Sometimes together. No, no, scratch that. You can't separate the philosophy from the moles.

Every captain must have a philosophy to chase after, and truly, it DOESN'T REALLY MATTER if you're missing an arm or a leg, Okay? Just trust me on this. Don't go chopping off perfectly good appendages just because some bloody mole popped out of one of the seven layered seas and ruined my perfectly happy steampunk reverie.

This is vintage Mieville, in my opinion, or at least, this is the kind of Mieville I'll always associate with Mieville. It's the unabashedly weird, the hints of some truly spectacularly interesting worldbuilding, the use of small furry creatures, and the totally meta reimagining of classics, distilled into what could almost be a children's tale of adventure, including trains on the high seas, pirates, and One Huge Goal.

(Yes, Philosophy. Most philosophy comes with a (tail) to tell, and only good philosophy has a (tale) you can hold on to.)

Hell, that's my favorite part.

Unfortunately, there's a lot less philosophy than I really wanted, and some of the (tail) drags around a bit too much, so it's not quite as cohesive as I'd like.

Otherwise, it was clever and cute and I really wanted to like it more than I actually did. Much like most of Mieville's work, actually. I take my hat off. I bow respectfully to the sheer weight of imagination and word wrangling skill.

And then I wish the shape of the whole novel had been better.

It's worth reading. I just wish I could outright love it, too. There's so much promise.
Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews256 followers
May 23, 2012
5 Stars

Once again I am blown away by China Mieville. Railsea is a young adult oriented delight. It is like all Mieville novels in that it is tough to put it in a category. It is part fantasy, part dystopian, a smattering of steampunk and science fiction, and all Mieville. Parents can take delight knowing that if their child takes up this amazing piece of fiction, they will also be taking up the Webster dictionary. 

Mieville creates a fun and three dimensional cast of characters and side characters. The world building in this book is imaginative and top notch.  The plot is a combination of a coming of age story of a boy named Sham, a search for a captains "Moby Dick", and the endless pursuit of the great treasure that all thieves are searching for.

The dystopian world of the Railsea that Mieville has created is worth the read alone. It takes place in a world that has become poisoned, the upper atmosphere is unbreathable, the land itself is dead, and the world is filled with incredibly inhospitable fauna. I felt like I was reading a book in a world filled with Graboids from one of my favorite B-movies Tremors. It feels a bit like a post apocalyptic Moby Dick. Trains crossing a land covered in iron tracks, crossing dry and dead lands, passing by derelict machines, and unearthed salvage where one might finally strike it rich. Mieville's prose painted this landscape in a way that made me feel like I was there. He makes it all work at a new level by turning railway terminology into a completely new nautical one. The worms breach the surface of the ground and flop back down the same way that a whale does in the sea. The rail-people cast their fishing lines a stern in hopes to get the catch of the day. The penguins ... Rocked... Literally! The trains moved like giant ships a sea, across the vast and derelict landscape.

The amazing creatures that filled the pages were all earth adapted versions of creatures that we know today. Think about the world of The Flinstones,  where they had creatures that they called rock this and rock that. Burrowing owls, digging rats, beetles as big as a car, and worms the size of the trains themselves. The poisoned uppersky was filled with freak show twisted and mutated creatures. One such giant was reminiscent of a horror out of Stephen King's The Mist and I thought that it was freaking sweet. Mocker-Jack, captain Nephi's white whale, was a massive worm that was bone colored and had a house sized mouth that was filled with razor sized teeth. There are many other amazing creatures to,be discovered in this book.

Sham is a good young adult protagonist that goes through all the familiar coming of age story plot points. He befriends my second favorite character, his cool Daybat friend that he saves and names Daybe. Together they take us the reader on a magical and unforgettable journey. Across the great Railsea aboard their moler train, they search out legends and treasures. It is a fantastical ride that will be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Mieville paints the Railsea with almost as much detail as he does his pinnacle achievement the city of New Crobuzon from Perdio Street Station.

The book is paced at lightning speed. There are not really any major twists or turns to speak of, but that is alright too. The book has an amazing ending that really brought together the themes behind this gem. I would have loved it to be twice as long.

I loved this book and Mieville is one of the most gifted writers out their today.  Fantasy lovers, dystopian readers, YA readers, and those that like sci fi and steampunk are all sure to love this one. This book is one of my favorite reads of 2012. I am sure that it will hold a top spot come this years end....Not to be missed. 
Profile Image for Maciek.
558 reviews3,270 followers
May 1, 2013
It could make a person despair, to dwell on how many parts of everything have been neglected. Have not even been discussed, writes China Miéville near the end of Railsea, his latest novel for readers "of all ages". But nothing’s done. If you tell any of this to others, you can drive, & if you wish, go elsewhere on the way. Until then, safe travels & thank you.

This kind of meta eye-winking can be charming and occurs frequently in Railsea, which often references and comments on itself. Miéville's authorial presence is strong in this one, going so far in smashing the fourth wall as to acknowledge the limitations of his own work - constraints typical for most fiction marketed for younger readers - but at the same time turns it into a virtue, inviting the readers (young and old) to exercise their imagination and picture adventures still to come and lands beyond the horizon, extending an invitation to create our own stories. Such a thing is a wonderful gift for children who are just beginning to discover the potency of their minds - but also a reminder for adults that their powers of invention might often lie dormant, but are not gone.

The concept of Railsea is bound to appeal to steampunk fans: the world is covered in rails instead of water, and people travel it by train for thousands of miles, trying to avoid pirates and dangers of nature (and not). The book has been advertised as "a gripping and brilliantly imagined take on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick", and while the parallels are obvious - the captain of a train-ship is called Abacat, a woman driven by obsession to pursue a giant creature known as "Moldywarpe", whom she considers her nemesis. But with its young protagonist, Sham Yes ap Soorap who boards the moletrain Medes to engage in his first Moldywarpe hunt reminded me of Jim from Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson's most famous work and one of my favorite novels from my childhood. Sham brings a sense of adventure to the tale which is bound to entice all readers, and is a sympathetic character for whom one is glad to root for through his ups and downs. The Moldywarpe hunt is just the beginning: Sham's discovery of a train wreck and its cargo which can potentially change the fate of the railsea will thrust him into a world of pirates and scavengers reminiscent of old sea tales, but set in a world full of winding and shifting tracks of mysterious origin. The setting alone makes the book worth reading - even though its utterly fantastic the use of tropes from past works makes it seem familiar and authentic.

This was my first novel by China Miéville and I am happy to report that it is a very good one. I first added it when I discovered it and thought that it looked delightful, and that's exactly what it was. A delightful book, bound to be liked both by readers of all ages. I loved Treasure Island when I was a child, so much that I read it several times and in this novel Miéville has captured a glimpse of that sense of adventure which so lured me in when I first stepped with young Jim Hawkins onto the deck of the Hispaniola. Ahoy!
Profile Image for Ivan.
415 reviews272 followers
August 29, 2016
I generally like YA sci-fi/fantasy novels but I rarely consider them anything more than lite fun between “big” books and because of it I tend to be less critical towards them but every now and than one comes along that is good by any standard and reminds me to take this sub-genres seriously.Un Lun Dun,Half a king, Wizard of Earthsea (yes I do consider this book to be YA but not rest of the series), Graveyard book, Chaos Walking and now Railsea joins the group.

If I had to label it this would be YA dystopian novel, it isn't as bleak as his Bas-Lag series and doesn't require constant use of dictionary like most of his work and overall everything seems toned down but don't be fooled this mix of Moby dick, trains, steampunk and Mieville's special highly hallucinogenic spice isn't like anything you seen in this sub-genre. This is strange and bizarre world that can only be conceived in Mieville's head with storyline only him can pull off.
Profile Image for Patrick.
Author 65 books231k followers
Read
August 26, 2016

I've only read one book by China Mieville, but I've heard many good things about his writing from many smart people. So I grabbed this book when I was away at a convention and needed something to read.

But Honestly? I'm not sure how I felt about it. It was well-written. And it was clever. It made me chuckle in certain places. There was interesting, even unique worldbuilding....

But I just don't know. I feel like I *want* to like it more than I actually did like it. It might simply be an issue of flavor -- not every book pleases every person.

Or maybe it was a little too much between for me. Maybe part of me wanted it to be more meta, or less meta. I had a friend that felt that way about John Scalzi's Redshirts, and really didn't like it, even though I enjoyed the hell out of it.

So I'll forgo giving it a star rating. I'm too conflicted and ambivilent to quantify my feelings right now...
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,161 reviews2,010 followers
July 22, 2015
Only China Miéville can write like this. Not just writing about a whole new world but also writing it in a whole new style. He has a wonderful way with words, sometimes using them in unusual ways and sometimes just making them up but always to great effect. This book is supposedly aimed at Young Adults and it does have a YA feel about it but it is also very readable for any age. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys the weird and the wonderful in the hands of an excellent writer.
Profile Image for Terry Brooks.
Author 225 books77.2k followers
May 29, 2014
This month's book recommendation: RAILSEA by China Mieville. Here is a truly original writer, someone who takes sentences and reinvents them. I love how he says things. You have to focus because if you don't pay attention you will miss what he is getting at. But this mostly YA book is a retelling of MOBY DICK, and it is a resounding success. I just loved it. I've been a China fan since reading KRAKEN and CITY AND THE CITY among others. He can be a tough read, but no one ever said that good books were for sissies.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,372 reviews1,421 followers
August 13, 2016
"This is the story of a bloodstained boy." That's the first line of this strange and fantastical tale of giant creatures that "swim" in the earth's soil and the brave and flawed "molers" who chase them for profit and life purpose. Mieville has created a dystopian world covered in railway ties with skies poisoned by chemicals and filled with monstrous, alien creatures who feast on those who get too close. But, there may just be something beyond the rails, if the characters in this story are determined and lucky enough to see their way through to the end of the world... Though based off of the tale of Moby Dick, Railsea is an engaging adventure and coming of age story that reads like nothing else I've ever experienced. Mieville has blended together steampunk, dytopian, and fantasy elements to create something completely different.

Sham is a boy on the cusp of manhood who can't quite figure out what he wants to do with his adulthood: "Sham felt sure there was something he fervently wanted to do & to which he was excellently suited. Which made the more frustrating that he could not say what it was. Too vague about his interests for further study; too cautious in company, perhaps a little bruised by less-than-stellar school days, to thrive in sales or service; too young & sluggish to excel at heavy work: Sham's tryings-out of various candidate activities left him het up." pg 36, ebook. Anyone who has ever been lost about what path to follow in life will be able to empathize with Sham.

Mieville's story, like Moby Dick has layers of meaning built into it: "Edging such places is the railseaside, called the littoral zone. Those are the shorelands. Port towns, from where transport, freight & hunting trains set out. Where lighthouses light ways past rubbish reefs breaking earth. "Give me the inland or give me the open rails," say both the railsailor & the landlubber, "only spare me the littoral-minded." pg 51 ebook. Clever, no? A warning, if you don't enjoy reads where the author makes up words to tell the story, you may want to skip Railsea. There's a bunch of creative adjectives and nouns mixed up in this one.

The religions of this world were a fascinating too. I wish Mieville had explored them more: "He muttered in his head to That Apt Ohm, the great rotund boss-god, one of the few deities worshipped across the railsea, whatever the peculiarities of local pantheons. Bollons was ecumenical, granted church-licences to any deities whose worshippers could pay the fees. But the disrespectful worship of That Apt Ohm was taken more seriously there, pursued with more verve, than at most stops on the railsea. Sham had no idea quite what, if anything, he believed, but there seemed little harm in a quick silent word with one of the few gods whose name he remembered." pg 100, ebook.

Part of the homage to Moby Dick, finding a captain's "philosophy": "How many of these philosophies were out there? Not every captain of the Stereggeye Lands had one, but a fair proportion grew into a close antipathy-cum-connection with one particular animal, which they came to realise or decide-to decidalise-embodied meanings, potentialities, ways of looking at the world. At a certain point, & it was hard to be exact but you knew it when you saw it, the usual cunning thinking about professional prey switched onto a new rail & became something else- a faithfulness to an animal that was now a world-view." pg 130 ebook. What's your white mole?

I enjoyed Railsea but I can see how this writer might not be for everyone. He uses fragmented sentences and ampersands (&) to move the story along. The chapters are incredibly short which also kept the pace rolling but it could also be viewed as making the novel choppy. Sometimes, Mieville breaks through the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly. I thought that device was charming, conjuring up images in my mind of storytellers sitting in front of the fire or at a pub. But, again, this may not work for everyone.

Some read-alikes for Railsea: Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness or Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig.
Profile Image for Jacob.
129 reviews466 followers
July 5, 2021
May 2012

Are those moldywarpe bones towering over New Crobuzon?

Now there's a thought. But it ain't true, sorry. This ain't a Bas-Lag book. It's more fun than that.

Sham Yes ap Soorap ("Call me Sham") is just a mediocre doctor's assistant aboard the Medes, a moletrain hunting the railsea for, well, you get it--& its one-armed captain is on the lookout for the biggest moldywarpe ever: Mocker-Jack, the great white mole himself!

Yeah, it's kinda like Moby-Dick-with-trains, only it's not, too--far as I know, Ishmael & Ahab didn't go looking for the end of the (rail)sea, & there weren't angels either. Or were there? I haven't read it yet.

Sorry, this review has derailed a bit (har!), but you get the idea: there's a boy named Sham, & he discovers something strange in a wrecked train: somewhere out there, the many many tracks that crisscross the dangerous earth (full of big beasties, antlions & earwigs & moles, oh my) just end--the railsea just stops!--& what lies out there past the edge of the maps where trains don't go is a secret many many trainfolk would kill to find out.

& it's by China Miéville!

& it's got illustrations of giant beasties!

& it's full of ampersands!

& it's a YA novel. I was skeptical when I first heard about it, but quickly converted--it's too fun & playful & adventurous to dislike. It might be one of China's best books in years, too--not that The City and the City or Embassytown weren't also great, but this one is just wicked fun. Which might say something about expectations, since I was skeptical of all those titles (Railsea especially) that turned out great, & the one that excited me most a few years back (Kraken) turned out to be less than good. So I think I should stop judging Miéville's books before they come out, & focus all my time on reading (& enjoying) them as they come.

So, when's the next one? I'm waaaaiting.
Profile Image for Metodi Markov.
1,273 reviews294 followers
August 24, 2022
Книгата е превъзходна, преводачът ѝ също!

Особено ми хареса преклонението и податките към творчеството на Хърман Мелвил, братя Стругацки, Даниел Дефо и Р. Л. Стивънсън.

Препоръчвам я!

И докато "Станция Пердидо" ми се видя доста объркана, а "Градът и градът" ме остави равнодушен, "Морелси" докосна детето в мен и неговата неутолима жажда за приключения.

Art by Lauri Teivonen

Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,837 reviews1,343 followers
September 18, 2015
What word better could there be to symbolize the railsea that connects & separates all lands, than “&” itself? Where else does the railsea take us, but to one place & that one & that one & that one, & so on? & what better embodies, in the sweep of the pen, the recurved motion of trains, than “&”?

CM certainly appreciates the hothouse of lexicon. One senses the work and wonder at play. Railsea doesn't wear any undue YA infamy, well, not until the concluding third. I found the exhumation of language much more compelling than this lost world of Moby Melville. It isn't much of a spoiler, but I did wish to add that Mocker Jack, the antagonist super mole of the novel isn't just a parody of the White Whale, but I found it to be a rumination on Derrida, the ever deferred inchoate answer to philosophy. I was surpised at how indifferent I remained.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,671 followers
October 24, 2017
"Our minds we salvage from history’s rubbish, & they are machines to make chaos into story."
- China Miéville, Railsea

description

I enjoyed it. Not fantastic Miéville, but an amazingly constructed universe. The story was well-developed and the characters were interesting. Very steampunky. Very weird. But when Miéville is ON he is really ON and his prose train is moving. There is a genius engine under his hood. He has produced some of my favorite books, and I still don't think he is close to writing his great novels. I think even his masterpieces might just be rungs he is climbing. There is a lot of potential and a lot of energy in this guy. Overall, I would probably rate this one below Perdido Street Station, Embassytown, and The City & the City, but above The Scar and This Census-Taker. It is probably, for me on par with Kraken and The Last Days of New Paris.
Profile Image for Fuchsia  Groan.
162 reviews197 followers
June 14, 2018
Con claras referencias a novelas clásicas de aventuras como Robinson Crusoe, La isla del tesoro y, obviamente, Moby Dick, Miéville crea una novela de aventuras con clara estética steampunk que aunque catalogada en numerosas ocasiones como juvenil sin duda, como cualquier buena novela, puede disfrutarse a cualquier edad.

Personalmente la he disfrutado muchísimo, he tenido esa sensación tan agradable de ir descubriendo el mundo inventado por Miéville poco a poco, sorprendiéndome e intentando imaginar, la geografía e historia de ese Mar de Hierro. Solo por ello ya merece la pena adentrarse en la novela. Diría más, solo por eso merece la pena adentrarse en cualquier obra del autor.
Los personajes están bastante bien, los Toporribles, otros detalles imaginativos como la filosofía amarilla de Naphi, las pequeñas intervenciones del narrador, el humor, y el final, que me parece fantástico, fan-tás-ti-co.
Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews322 followers
May 3, 2015
You probably wouldn't have wanted to read my original review that was lost in the ether (as apocalyptic fantasies not grounded in some semblance of reality don't really do anything for me) but China Miéville's Young Adult (or so they say, but good luck, young readers parsing this "Railcreole") homage to Moby Dick (with a decimated world covered with seas of railroad tracks, poisoned lands, and ruled by burrowing, larger-than-life animals like antlions, earwigs, blood rabbits, naked moles (with guillotine teeth) and, of course, the king of the railsea, the epic moldywarpe) is richly rendered, but thoroughly lacking in character development. Fantasy lovers will probably love dissecting Mieville's symbolism (including, even, That Apt Ohm, or God and Heaven), but the characters (including Sham Yes ap Soorap, young doctor's apprentice on moletrain Medes) and Captain Naphi (the Medes' female captain whose life's obsession is hunting the moldywarpe that removed her arm) get short shrift in the intricate world rendering.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 321 books399k followers
November 8, 2013
Imagine a world where islands of solid ground are surrounded by seas of shifting dirt, sand and ice, all of it infested with dangerous subterranean predators -- giant moles, ant lions and of course the dreaded naked mole rats. The only way across this earthen sea is a labyrinthine network of rails, built and maintained by mysterious beings called Angels.

In the Railsea, men travel by train, and brave molers set sail to hunt the giant moldywarpe. Our hero, Sham ap Soorap, has just signed aboard the moler train Medes as a medic's assistant. The captain of the train, like so many captains, has her own 'philosophy' -- she is obsessed with finding and killing a giant ivory-colored mole Mocker-Jack, who took her arm years before. However, when the Medes comes across a forbidden secret in the ruins of an old train wreck, Sham realizes there are quests even more important and more dangerous than the search for the great ivory mole.

Yes, this is a re-imagining of Moby Dick, with trains and moles instead of ships and whales. If that sounds ridiculous, that's part of the book's appeal. Only Mièville could take such an absurd idea, treat it as serious, and run with it to create a compelling, believable, hilarious story. Railsea is billed as a story 'for all ages,' and that's an apt description. It's not a book for everyone. You have to be willing to roll with the concept and plunge yourself into a bizarre environment, but the more twisted your imagination, the more this story will appeal to you. The more you read, the harder it is to put down.

I loved Mièville's earlier book for younger readers, Un Lun Dun, and Railsea is even better. I laughed aloud. I cheered for our brave hero Sham. I was caught up in the incredible world-building and the central mystery that finally takes us to the end of the rails, literally, where we find the truth about the Angels. If you've read Moby Dick, Railsea will be especially enjoyable (much more so, in my humble opinion, than Moby Dick -- blech). But knowledge of Melville is not essential to appreciating
Mièville. This is a swashbuckling steampunk adventure with lots of heart and humor.
Profile Image for Olivier Delaye.
Author 2 books213 followers
July 4, 2021
Looking back on my favorite reads of 2013, it’s pretty obvious to me that Railsea tops the list. And so re-reading it (for the third time, mind you) in 2016 was sort of a given.

Mieville’s prose is not as heavy and, dare I say it, pompous here as it is in Perdido Street Station and his choice of words is definitely more reader-friendly, which allows us to fully immerse in the story without being distracted by a plethora of obscure words and never-ending descriptions. The steampunk world he creates in Railsea—a diseased (deceased, even) world where the soil is so polluted and so infested with monsters that walking on it means certain death for any human foolish enough to try it—is downright horrible and yet very entertaining. Almost shamefully so! The same goes with the fauna that live in it—giant earthworms, giant earwigs, blood-thirsty owls, mutated rats and whatnot. The plot itself is based on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick—only instead of a ship it’s a train, and instead of a giant sperm whale the protagonists are hunting a giant mole—but Mieville goes beyond that and delivers a truly original and powerful story with a very surprising and satisfying ending.

Definitely worth reading and rereading!

OLIVIER DELAYE
Author of the SEBASTEN OF ATLANTIS series
The Forgotten Goddess (Sebasten of Atlantis, #1) by Olivier Delaye
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,498 followers
March 10, 2013
A satisfying blend of post-apocalyptic sci fi and semi-mythical fantasy with overtones of “Moby Dick”. It took me a good 100 pages to suspend my suspicious disbelief in this world where the railroads are a pervasive technology linking diverse city-states and many monstrous creatures burrow the earth and fly the skies. But the story of a boy on a quest and the people he successfully enlists in his cause made for a compelling tale, essentially a portrayal of the power of an individual to exceed the constraints of fear and superstition.

Our young hero, Sham, apprentices himself as a doctor’s assistant on a “mole train”, a group of people who hunt the giant Moldywarpes by rail. The method of the hunt wonderfully emulates that of 19th century whale hunting with harpoons targeted when the beast breaches. Captain Naphi has a special bent for a particular mole (Mocker Jack), much as Captain Ahab had for his great white sperm whale. Nautical metaphors abound, with the intensive network of rails likened to a “railsea” and pockets of human settlement to islands with harbors. After a while, this mode of thinking takes you over and I was hooked as a reader.



Book jacket painting for "Railsea" and renderings of Sham and his pet daybat and of breaching Moldywarpe by Vladimir Verano

The following paragraph of the skeleton of the plot may be interpreted as spoilerish

Sham’s inauguration in bloody butchering of the mole has some kind of symbolic value, as soon he becomes obsessed with pursuing deeper knowledge of the mysteries of his world. He dreams of becoming a salvor, another profession that takes to the rails to salvage remnants of past civilizations. His quest seems driven by the mysterious disappearance of his father. And it aligns with that of a young brother and sister he meets along the way, who seek to fulfill the work of parents who also disappeared in their work to discover what lies beyond the railsea. What we know from the beginning of this book is that this world is obviously recovering from some apocalypse that befell a more advanced technological civilization. The myths say some terrible angels hold guard at the gates to Heaven at edge of the world, and while treasures are to be found there, there is some threat from an infinite “vale of tears.”

The prose Miéville wields is delightful in its sensuousness and old fashioned tonality. Here is a sample portraying the diversity trains the boy encounters on their way into the metropolis Manihiki:

Here a small train, three carriages only, manoeuvring the rails of the harbor at the end of the great thrumming cables, tugged by two great birds. Well: a buzzard-train, emissary from the Teekee archipelago. Wooden trains decorated with masks; trains coated in die-cast tin shapes; trains flanked with bone ornaments; double- & triple-decker trains; plastic-pelted trains stained in acrylic colours. The Medes passed the clatter & clank of diesel vehicles like their own. Past the shrill fussy shenanigans of steam trains that spat & whistled & burped dirty clouds, like irritating godly babies. & others.

At times, the omniscient narrator of the story speaks directly to the reader, often weaving the metaphors of the railsea into the way he is telling his tale. Here he explains why he uses the ampersand instead of the text “and”:

The lines of the railsea go everywhere but from one place straight to another. It is always switchback, junction, coils around & over our own train-trails.
What word better could there be to symbolize the railsea that connects & separates all lands, than “&” itself?


As in 19th century novels, these forms of interruption help render the sense of sitting in a living room as a storyteller orally unwinds his tale. The original format for metafiction. For some readers this method will irritate as a source of distancing from immersion in the story, but it was charming play to me. For example, after hesitating in prior interludes, here he prepares to carry through on moving the narrative from character to another:

Asked: What should the story do when the primary window through which we view it is shuttered? we might say: It should look through another window.
That is to say, follow other rails, see through other eyes.


The novel has much uniqueness in its vision and is the most accessible of the four Miéville books I’ve read so far. To me, the railsea society’s mythologies about its predecessor civilization has some of the feel of John Crowley’s “Engine Summer”. The coming of age aspect of a youth taking on a lost parent’s quest to understand and dispel the restrictive mysteries of the world is rendered with some of the flavor of Pullman’s “The Golden Compass.” Other readers can have a field day with Miéville acknowledgments of writers who inspired him. Among some 17 writers and artists he cites, the most modern are Penelope Lively, Ursula Le Guin, and Charles Platt. Classic writers include Robert Louis Stephenson, William Dafoe (author of “Robinson Crusoe”), and, of course, Melville (whose name is so similar to the author's).

Profile Image for Nataliya Yaneva.
165 reviews322 followers
May 11, 2016
Свежарски стиймпънк роман с постапокалиптичен привкус, в който вместо жизнерадостните сирени на кораби и поренето на вълни чувате потракване на железни колела (тутуф-тутуф) и усещате мазния дим, издишван от локомотиви. Защото като всяка себеуважаваща се приключенска история, море и тук има, но е-от-релси.

Чайна Миевил е отделил доста време върху изграждането на атмосферата – от подземната, през морелсовата, та чак до небесата, които също гъмжат от разни странни животни. Ако се опитате да си представите цялостна картина на написаното, в нея няма да ви липсват части, където да не знаете какво да поставите поради липса на указания. Миевил дава възможност бавничко да се потопим в неговия странен свят, който прави крачки върху логиката на нашия, но нещата там в голяма степен са upside down. През очите на Шам наблюдаваме тоя особен пейзаж, на който той едновременно се диви, но и му е чужд, а на всичкото отгоре усеща, че трябва да има и нещо повече само от лова на къртици. Като на всеки романтичен млад човек, и на Шам не му се ловят животни, ами му се ровичка из останките от отминали (и не чак толкова) времена, за да разбере... абе, просто да разбере. Целият роман е изграден върху ненаситността да откриеш какво следва зад следващия ъгъл, следващия завой, следващата релса... и да знаеш, че дори да отидеш накрай света, пак има накъде да поемеш и какво още да намериш.

Като цяло приключенските романи винаги ме оставят с леко тъжното усещане, че момченцата (а по-късно младит�� мъже) имат далеч по-смислени и интересни занимания от момиченцата, които изглежда в тях основно са притурка към обстановката, защото трябва да присъства някакъв скучен контрапункт в цялата работа. Е, тук на смелите дами е отдадено дължимото, като двата основни женски персонажа, макар и твърде различни, почти слагат в джоба си всички останали.

Качвайте се на влака с Шам и отпрашвайте по морелсите да пооткривателствате, защото въпреки реалните и приписвани литературни отпратки в романа, няма да останете с усещането за нещо вече прочетено и предъвкано и определено няма да съжалявате.
Profile Image for Ruby  Tombstone Lives!.
338 reviews409 followers
November 24, 2015
Once again, China Mieville has done it. Taken a bunch of genres, mushed them together and thoroughly conquered them. This time it's young adult, steampunk, speculative fiction and then some.

description

I love Mieville's playfulness with techniques. No two books are written similarly. In this case, he intersperses the longer action-oriented scenes with one-page chapters where he, as narrator, breaks the fourth wall, directly addressing the reader. Frequently this is done to explain a literary device, such as the "mise-en-abyme", or picture-within-a-picture effect. Sometimes, it is to explain why he is focusing on one thread of the story and not another. I feel like these chapters not only acknowledge that this is a book for young adults, but honour that responsibility by providing learning experiences, without talking down to the reader.



One technique I wasn't sure I would enjoy was the use of an ampersand to begin a sentence. Take a moment and let that sink in. Not only is Mieville using ampersands in a novel, not only is he beginning a sentence with "and", he is actually BEGINNING A SENTENCE WITH AN AMPERSAND, PEOPLE! I know, right? I should have hated the book for that alone, but miraculously, I didn't. This is probably aided by the fact that Mieville explains the technique in one of his mini-chapters, using the ampersand as an analogy for winding train tracks, and thus linking it to the story.



Ahhhhh, the story. As always, Mieville has created a thoroughly unique and fantastic world for us to play within. Imagine a world where criss-crossing train tracks were the only way across an earth so toxic that everything within it wanted to kill you? If the soil were a sea, and the rails, remnants of an epochs long forgotten civilization, the only safe passage across? What then?



I also loved Mieville's use of the term, "philosophy" to mean "obsession". In his Railsea world, great train captains hunt the one that got away - whatever beast they are obsessed with finding and killing is referred to as their "philosophy". Each of these animals represents a theory to that captain, who endlessly obsesses over its meaning. Melville's "white whale" has become just the thing every great captain needs.



& then there's the wordplay. (See? Now he's got me doing it too.) This one little sentence may be my favourite, "The vast harsh velvet beast breached." I could say that all day.



Most of all, this is a fun story, which doesn't patronise its intended readership. Oh, and the kid has his own pet bat, so..... jealous! Bravo! Five stars!


Profile Image for Michael.
836 reviews612 followers
December 14, 2015
I’ve only really enjoyed on China Miéville novel (The City and the City) but I am a fan of what he does for literature and speculative fiction. His latest novel Railsea is his second attempt at a YA novel and while I’ve not read his other YA novel Un Lun Dun I must say I wasn’t really impressed with this one. I really loved the complexity of The City and the City so I was looking forward to see Miéville’s take on Moby-Dick. Granted I should have read Moby Dick before this book but I found this book was too simplified and weird writing without some intelligent plotting just ends up making the book weird.

Set in a dying dystrophic world that is now desert; Railsea is an adventure novel that tells the tale of three young orphans joining the train to hunt for Mocker-Jack; the giant Mole. The book mixes adventure elements that remind me of Treasure Island with Miéville’s own genre; which he calls ‘weird’ and is a mix of fantasy and steampunk. The main protagonist; Sham was pretty average in this book but the train captain Abacat Naphi peaked my interest, I think she was the Ishmael in this book; even considering Mocker-Jack as her nemesis.

I thought this book might be more of a children’s book rather than a YA novel; iO9 said it best when they said this book was for “kids who cut their teeth on Thomas the Tank Engine, then Lemony Snicket”. It just felt odd and too simplified but a twelve or thirteen year old would probably enjoy it as a gateway into the YA fantasy/steampunk genre. The main issue I had was this book was the over use of the ampersand there is way too many in the book; even a large amount of sentences starting with ‘&’. It just never looked or felt write when reading it and I found I got really annoyed with it.

This book is for young teenagers and China Miéville fans, anyone else interested in trying this author might want to look elsewhere. I’m a little disappointed with this book but would be interested to see how my other friends find it; if they read it. There are some interesting elements in this book but for me I felt more frustrated by it. I hope others love and enjoy this book more than I did, Miéville has a lot to offer the literary world but I personally think; skip this one and go read The City and the City.
910 reviews256 followers
June 28, 2015
Ending hit me like a hammer, will have to recollect my thoughts before I can even attempt a coherent review.

4.5 stars

Ok, so I'm still unsure if I can write the review this book deserves, and a lot of it has already been said anyway. It's certainly far easier to write about books I didn't like, or ones I loved but could use nostalgia as a tool to write the review. Railsea was released this year, and I read it recently, so no nostalgia there. The world it is set in is wildly unlike my own, so again, no nostalgia.

I guess all I'm left with is that it is simply a a damn good book.

I'll be honest - I struggled at the start. There are dense paragraphs, and strange, poetical phrasings that, coupled with the use of the ampersand make for a challenging read - until you get into the rhythm of the story, much like adapting to walking on a boat or train. At first you can't manage any more than short distances as you stumble around clumsily, and then! Your legs adapt and you can walk, run, as if you were on solid ground. This may be a clichéd idea, but is exactly how I felt getting into the story. It reeled me in slow but sure and then smacked me over the head with an incredible ending.

The basic themes in Railsea may appear simple - slowly revealing istelf to have an inner a commentary on corporations, capitalism and enviromentalism - but to reduce the book down to just those themes would be a crime against it.

The prose is unusual and delicious, a refreshing change from the rather bland fodder that seems to fill so many YA books these days. In fact, this highly unusual book rises so far above the clichés of that genre that I would hesitate to even call it as such. There is no romance, no love triangles, no high-school crushes or (as in the recent flood of books) dystopian rule that must be overcome by the young, bland (attractive) protagonist. The only part that that makes it fit this limiting label "YA" is the age of the characters - this is a book for anyone who loves to read.

It isn't perfect, hence the missing half a star. But it's close, and sometimes that's almost better.
Profile Image for J.P..
295 reviews46 followers
August 9, 2012
Nobody can build a world better than China Miéville. Plus his creativity knows no bounds. This is one of the most literary YA books I’ve ever read. I can just imagine a 12 year old stumbling over words like rumbustious. Actually there’s debate over whether or not this belongs in the YA category but whatever label you choose it’s a great read.
His prose is less dense in this novel but it has the author’s usual characteristics of a blend of different elements. A bit of science fiction here, a dash of fantasy there. Imagine a world where trains are the only form of transportation and huge burrowing animals threaten to undermine the tracks at every turn. This is a coming of age story with all sorts of interesting characters and although there are a myriad of places to explore the resolution to the most mysterious of them waits until the very end.
The strength of this novel is in the revealing of an amazing world. If there was a bit more to the plot I would’ve given it 5 stars. I wish this site had half stars because I would have given it 4 ½ stars. For those new to the author this is great place to start. Then you can be mesmerized by Perdido Street Station and The Scar.
Profile Image for Andrea.
378 reviews53 followers
July 31, 2012
How can China Mieville fit so much imagination into his closely-shaven head? The man's potential appears boundless. Since he exploded onto the scene with Perdido Street Station,each new work has broken new ground in so many different directions. It's mind-bogggling that the author of The City and the Cityand Embassytown can produce this chimera of Romanticism, steampunk, dystopiana, with sprinklings of pirates,a soupcon of Robinson Crusoe, & of course an obssessed & (possibly) maimed captain hunting for the great white-ish mole.

The world-building is fabulous, an author does not need 900 pages to fashion a totally believable world and its denizens. The concept of Railsea itself is exceptional, its inhabitants a natural consequence of their situation. The action is perfectly paced, gritty, with certain death lurking around every corner - yet unexpectedly hilarious at times. Although promoted as a YA book, its true depth & scope will only be appreciated by the connoisseur of the finest literature.

& i loved the symbolism of the ampersand.
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