Imagine… a world… where oceans…. don’t exist. In their place are deserts covered with massive amounts of train tracks twisting every which way – a maze of tracks spanning the majority of the globe. Welcome to Railsea, a fantastic yarn by everyone’s favorite New Weird author China Miéville.
At its core, Railsea depicts the quest of Abacat Naphi, the captain of the “mole train” Medes, who is in obsessive pursuit of an ivory-colored “moldywarpe” (think monstrously large mole). But it’s also a coming-of-age story of Sham ap Soorap, who starts off as an inept doctor’s assistant but through a combination of luck and self-growth finds himself at the center of a race to the edges of the Railsea in pursuit of mythical lands – and treasure! It’s a compelling story that blatantly lifts ideas from other books – the captain’s quest is from Moby Dick, the abandoned alien tech (called alt-salvage) that litters the landscape is from the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic, etc.) – so creatively that the story never feels derivative or uninspired. In fact, with only one or two exceptions I didn't know what was going to happen next, a rare quality that makes all of his books extremely compelling.
I’m told that it’s a YA novel, a relatively meaningless distinction but does explain the (pre?) teen narrator and lack of serious swearing and sex. Regardless, all of the things I love about Miéville re here: unfettered imagination, linguistic wordplay, ample demonstration of his fierce intellect, unapologetic left-wing politics, and (of course) gigantic monsters. Relax and pour yourself a nice drink because this one’s a fun ride.
Related Posts: Book Review: "Roadside Picnic" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky