Thursday, June 4, 2015

China Mieville: Railsea

China Mieville

  Railsea  is certainly one of his most straightforward and least complex novels, and 
has that YA feel to it.  But, what is unusual for a Mieville work, at least for the ones I've read, is that this one cries out for a sequel.  Not that this episode doesn't conclude successfully, but it strikes me as really being the first in a series, at least a trilogy anyway.  And, somewhere down the line, I can see a prequel coming.

Mieville has created a fascinating concept--a part of the world (Earth?) is almost covered with railroad tracks, especially the soft and non-rocky areas.  It is dangerous to walk where there's dirt because underground are all sorts of carnivores--large hungry carnivores with fangs.   Towns are build on the rocky places, much like islands in the sea, the sea of railroad tracks and  soft soil.  It's some sort of a post-holocaust world.

Sham, the main character,  is a young man who works on a moletrain, which goes out hunting for the huge moles--think whales and transfer their behavior to living underground rather than underwater.  Other trains are made up of merchants, salvage parties, pirates, war trains (war ships).  .  .

The captain of the train our hero is on has a prosthetic arm which she lost to a great grey mole, and now she's obsessed with killing Mocker-Jack.  Part of the fun of this novel is picking out the scenes that echo Moby Dick, and there are several, including one nightmarish butchery scene when a huge mole is killed (See Moby Dick). 

Railsea is not unique though in paying homage to Moby Dick.  I think Bruce Sterling's almost forgotten Involution Ocean should be seen as a descendent of Moby Dick, where on the planet Nullaqua (no water), the great dustwhales plow through a sea of finely ground silica on top of which sailing ships pursue them for Flare, a highly addictive narcotic. (link to my post regarding Involution Ocean  And this of course must bring to mind Arrakis or Dune, where the drug Spice could only be found as it was a mixture of the excretions of the sandworms and water.

If Mieville desires, he has plenty of room for prequels and sequels, as very little is presented about how the world got to be this way.  And, while this episode is successfully ended, there is no clue as to what will happen to the train or the crew for little is known about what most of the world is like. 


  1. You had me hooked with the Moby-Dick connections. But now you must provide an Rx: Which should I read (i.e., which is better?) -- Mieville or Sterling.

    BTW, like the scorched phoenix, Beyond Eastrod remains alive!

  2. R.T.,

    Toss a coin.

    I suspect reviewers will prefer Mieville's novel, but Sterling's has its own charm. I've read it three times so far. No doubt, Mieville will appear again on my reading list, as will Sterling's once again. .

    I hope it is like the Phoenix, resurrected, rejuvenated, and ready to go for another thousand years.

  3. R.T.,

    One more point--Mieville's (as to be expected) is the more complex novel, with a strong supporting cast and a more developed world. If you're looking for complexity in characters and plotting, go with Mieville. If you are looking for a very straightforward tale, go with Sterling.

    As I mentioned in my previous post, I like both.

    1. Thank you, Fred. Your generous advice and support has meant a lot to me. 'Nuff said!