2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic seafaring tale set on land
Another great book from Miéville, this is a fantastic starting point if you haven't read him before. In a world covered in rails, where if you touch the bare earth you're likely to be devoured, a young man named Sham Yes ap Soorap goes on his first mouldywarp hunt. Borrowing from moby dick, treasure island and others, this is a book I devoured so fast and felt sad...
Published 2 months ago by Stephen Kelly
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The death of the fat controller
It was never as tight as it could have been. It ticked along at times, rather then pulling you forward. The finale was a play upon the title, but lacked any link to possible reality. The floating suggestion of alien intruders was too tentative. The concept of the ancient artefacts assumed a very much better quality of goods than those stocked by the high street. I am...
Published 10 days ago by True Thomas
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic seafaring tale set on land,
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Training the Imagination,Embassytown does for language. It expands the idea of rail-traveling trains in new directions, stretching our understanding while remaining faithful to their basic nature. The author has covered some of this ground before. In Iron Council he showed what might happen when a train's crew strikes out on their own, removing the tracks behind them and building a new route ahead. Railsea takes things a bit further.
Readers explore a world in which, unsurprisingly, train tracks cover most of the surface much like our ocean covers everything below... well, sea level. Some rocky islands are free of rails and of the poisoned soil beneath them. On these islands are the world's ports and cities. A variety of trains traverse the sea of rails. Some perform tasks similar to our familiar ocean-going ships: trade, exploration, "naval" military engagement, and even piracy. Others have stranger missions. There are trains that hunt the dangerous animals that burrow rapidly though the toxic soil. And there are the mysterious Angels that repair the rails for reasons of their own.
The railsea itself is such a well-crafted integration of the familiar and fantastic that it easily steals the reader's attention from the book's human characters. The characters' actions are interesting, but seem incidental compared to the continuing flow of new information about the railsea. It is enough to know that a young doctor's apprentice on a train that hunts giant moles finds pictures taken by a lost expedition. Soon joined by others, he follows this expedition's trail toward something new, interesting, and perhaps financially rewarding on the furthest shores of the railsea. You will have to join them to learn what they find.
I recommend this book highly. It is entertaining, imaginative and engaging. China Miéville's skills as a writer and storyteller have enabled him to create a reading experience well worth your time and attention. Enjoy!
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant,
This review is from: Railsea (Paperback)I've read all of Mieville's books. & I have to say I have loved every one of them.
The book feels familar from page 1, you very quickly get to know the characters and will sadly speed through each chapter. Great read.
4.0 out of 5 stars Certainly an imaginative world worthy of exploration!!!,
This review is from: Railsea (Paperback)This is the second of Miéville's books that I've read. The first was the uneven and clunky 'Perrido Street Station' which I enjoyed until half way through, when it got tiring. It has to be said that 'Railsea's length is a significant saving grace! At just under 400 pages, it suffered not nearly as much from the plodding podge of 'Perrido'!
The story is essentially a reworking of 'Moby Dick', set in another of Miéville's fantastically imagined 'worlds'. This time round we have a world devoid of oceans, replaced instead with endless expanses of bare soil crisscrossed with rail-track. Trains are the substitute ocean liners, and gargantuan earth-shovelling moles are just a few of the substitute-whales/generic sea life etc. Put simply, this a great environment in which to set a novel. Miéville has clearly thought a great deal about how such a world works. The reader is consistently provided new tipbits of detail, almost all of it being downright awesome. While levels of realism are thrown out the window, you'll be treated to an almost decadent treat of steam-punky fare, complete with some rather horrific monsters.
There are a few negative aspects to the novel, however. For one, Miéville has adopted a particular style with which to tell his story. It's somewhat stilted, and takes getting used to. The off shot is a rather cold, clinical narrative-style. I didn't really mind it, but will say it lessens the effectiveness of a few events. For instance, it becomes hard to turn a fight scene into something exciting. The story is fairly fast-paced, but there wasn't much urgency to it. Though things happened one after another, it was hard to feel fully envolved in the action. This was a shame, as the actual events would make for some out of this world cinema.
The plot itself is probably the main issue, for it doesn't have much going for it. In fact, I'd describe it as heavy handed. Essentially we follow Sham, a simpleminded (come on, he is!!! :P), assistant doctor on board a 'moling train'. What's that, you might ask. Well, think whaling ships of old, bent on hunting whales for oil and meat. Only there aren't any whales in 'Railsea'; just the massive moles prone to eating people alive. Sounds fun? Yes, it is! At any rate, Sham gets embroiled in a rather convoluted trip to find the end of the world. That's the gist of where the story's headed. There's rather too much use of fortunate coincidences to keep things going, and about half way through the story starts following two new characters alongside the likeable Sham. I'm a tickler for single-narratives, so having the story jump around between characters as slightly irritating, as Sham was the individual I really gave a damn for. Nonetheless, to plot wasn't bad; just a little thin, and none too original. But there we go.
To conclude, I'd certainly recommend 'Railsea'. Even though I disliked 'Perrido Street Station', I felt Miéville was a name to come back to. 'Railsea' book has proved this true!!! For a glimpse of this writer's imagination alone, it's a book worth reading.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very imaginative,
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A return to form,
More of the same please - but knowing CM books the chances of getting anything even remotely resembling anything either he or anyone else has done before is slimmer than a railway disappearing over the horizon!
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life on the open rails...,
This review is from: Railsea (Hardcover)I'm grateful to the publisher for sending me an advance copy of this book.
Most of Miéville's recent books seem to me to have worked out the consequences of an audacious central idea - two cities in one place in The City & The City an alien race learning to lie in Embassytown, the city of what London rejects in Un Lun Dun. Railsea follows that with... well, a rail sea.
You might think that the point of a railway is that the trains go, more or less, along a given route. But imagine the surface of the Earth, in the (far?) future, being covered in a dense mesh of intersecting lines, looping back on themselves, switching and splitting and splitting again. A railsea, on which, (with good maps and enough skill at working the points) you can travel more or less anywhere.
Upon a sea like that, what might you find? Island nations, with teeming ports? Ruthless pirates, as merciless as any in Treasure Island? A captain, consumed by the hunt for a great beast, like Ahab in Moby-Dick? Desert islands? Explorers? Treasure hunters? The proud navies of rival nations? Hunters of salvage (whether arche-salvage, nu-savage or alt-salvage)? Wreckers? Really, a boy like Sham, setting out on his first voyage as assistant doctor aboard the moletrain "Medes", might encounter anything.
Miéville portrays this railsea so well, using such twisted, yet concrete language, bristling with his own invented rail jargon, that as you read you can feel the beat of wheels on the rails and see the distant horizons, the dangerous knots of lines and treacherous shoals, the unmarked gauge changes that his characters negotiate. And he makes them real, as well - Sham, the Captain chasing down her all-consuming "philosophy", Sham's colourful crewmates, the strange Shroake siblings to whose story his becomes coupled.
Like them, Miéville speculates on where the railsea came from, and how it persists. Rails don't just happen, and in Sham's world, people are inclined to attribute it to the old gods, such as That Apt Om, and the repairwork to mysterious angel trains. Nobody really wants to get to the bottom of things, just to make a living. But sometimes, one doesn't have a choice...
This is an excellent book, which I think will appeal to Miéville's different groups of readers - a story of adventure, more straightforward perhaps than Embassytown or City and the City, but in my view more focussed and (even) better realised than UnLundun.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars &,
This review is from: Railsea (Hardcover)Miéville's obvious affection in writing for the younger reader is apparent & this story chugs along at an intelligently playful clip. In short it narrates the varied concerns & efforts of Sham ap Soorap, begrudging doctors apprentice aboard the mole-train Medes; under the auspices of Captain Naphi as she hunts the yellow - sorry: ivory - coloured mole-cum-behemoth known as Mocker-Jack, & the effects of his unwitting discovery of evidence that there is an end to the interminable tangle of tracks known as the Railsea.
The initial impression I had when I started reading was that this was similar in feel to Iron Council: an old western-feel yarn atop a train, however, as the story untangles it becomes clear - by the introduction of electrical devices & ruminations on epochs known as the Computational Era - that this is not the case. The use of such at first seems anachronistic, but the disparate parts are juggled sagaciously in the apt hands of Miéville so that it becomes a kind of fluid-disparity; elision with dulcet prose.
The story works on many levels and is what - in this reviewer's humble opinion - transcends the book from good to great.
The story is a yarn-that-rips as it riffs from Melville's (Moby) Dick with clever word-play, use of alliteration, sportive solecism and playful portmanteau (unsnarlable & decidalise being my respective favourites); the cheeky nomenclature of the Railsea's Deities (That Apt Ohm, the godsquabble to name a few); the clever use of ferro- prefixing anything nautical; the various types of salvage (nu-, arche-, alt- & dei-), & of course all that is enticingly hinted at or left unsaid between the lines (pun most definitely intended).
At first I thought the use of the ampersand purely a stylish literary quirk but oh what a fool I was for thinking Miéville would do anything so whimsical...
& = the Railsea, or more specifically: the tangle the Railsea represents. It's allegorical mastery & this reader was unashamedly impressed!
Miéville's penchant for political allegory is also present and becomes most demonstrative toward the end of the novel with effective imagery and extended metaphor. I loved it again; an eloquently detailed left-wing dig at right-wing state monopoly capitalism.
I have enjoyed Miéville's word-travails to other weird and bizarre reaches of his literary mind but none as much as Bas-Lag, of which Railsea is relishingly reminiscent. & if you're a Miéville fan, particularly a Bas-Lag Miéville fan, you will certainly not want to miss this.
The similarities to Iron Council are blatant but superficial & one cannot help but think of The Scar's Avanc when the Medes is chasing Mocker-Jack.
Was this intentional then, a kind of elided version of Scar and Council; Bas-Lag for younger readers? I'm not sure it matters but it does interest me. Unfortunately I no longer fall under the genre of young-adult and I did approach this with guarded optimism, however, if you overlook the unnecessarily short chapters and simplified plot you'll still find a story brimming with inventive ideas and cannily deviceful.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pure magic in literary form,
This review is from: Railsea (Hardcover)If there's an author that is the infamous box of chocolates, its China Mieville as he has an ability to take an idea and develop a reality that is not only fascinating but one that you could see as functional in the future. It's quirky, it brings imaginative prose to the fore and with the writing skills of the author make this not only a hard to put down title but one that will bring in many more fans as his fame spreads.
Add to this some cracking twists, some wonderful characters and a principle player that the reader will just love to hang around and all in you have all the elements for a best seller. Finally throw into the mix the authors no nonsense style of storytelling, a spartan set of prose and developments that feel natural and all in it's a wonderful adventure to embark upon. China really is an author to enjoy and for me, one that really makes my day when his new book lands.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Railsea,
This review is from: Railsea (Hardcover)I've always believed that fiction is, at best, very problematically related to the real world; and this, to a degree, is the reason why I don't review many so-called "realist" novels, as I find the greater part of that entire genre to be so much hubristic mulch. Having read Railsea, China Miéville's extraordinary riff on Moby Dick, I'm pretty sure that he feels the same way. The metaphorically loaded setting allows for an exuberant and playful examination of not only the ways that narrative relates to anything `real', but the fundamental relationships between literary texts, and the fact that meaning isn't some solid unity of ideas offered up by the writer, but a reader-created end point: a subjective culmination of interpretation, reading history and individual political and moral proclivities.
To achieve this examination, China Miéville has written a book rampant with puns, false references, deliberate misappropriations of the literary canon, and an absolute obsession with the idea of salvage, re-use and doubling. Reading Railsea, I was continually reminded of Roland Barthes' seminal essay `The Death of the Author', and the continental notion that all texts are "a tissue of quotations" taking cues from "innumerable centres of culture", leading in countless directions all at once; a concept for which, if you want to be twee about it, the Railsea itself stands as a great big metaphor. In Railsea, China Miéville challenges the implied directionality of narrative by having his narrator constantly break the fourth wall and tease the reader with questions and misdirects about the plot's chronology, its twists and turns and doubling-backs. Not only is this a nice nod to Moby Dick's "Call me Ishmael" reader address, which likewise serves to undermine the reader's confidence in the narrative's reliability, but it's also a pleasing echo of the meandering, looping, back-peddling trains that dominate the book's imagery. To this extent, I'd hazard to describe Railsea as the first example of post-structuralist teenage fiction I've ever read ("a book for readers of all ages" is how it's being marketed, and in plotting and characterisation at least, it definitely is a YA novel - a raucous teenage bildungsroman with an attendant absence of the profanity and sex that so colours China Miéville's other work). It's also gloriously silly. But characteristic of Miéville's oeuvre, there's plenty here for grownups like ..er.., I guess... me. Indeed, Railsea might also be the world's first example of teenage fiction to contain an impassioned discussion about the vagaries of the floating signifier. And this isn't just some tendentious post-facto theorising on my part; Railsea delights in its roots and, much like the inhabitants of its setting, it forges its own identity by melding together what the past has left behind: there's a kind of traditionality here that manifests in the book's iconography, language and events. Railsea is literary salvage.
Parenthetically, I should note however that i) the book isn't some pompous and grandiose attempt to re-write Moby Dick; Miéville treats his sources playfully - substituting the White Whale with the "bone-yellow mole" is daft, and the text knows it - and ii) I hope what I've said above doesn't give the impression that Railsea is unoriginal or in any way plagiaristic - it's as fiercely creative and as protean as you'd expect, albeit within a specific literary mode.
And that mode is the `Sea Quest'. While I'd hesitate to use the word `uncanny', Railsea unremittingly presents the reader with the familiar tropes and literary procedures of classic maritime adventure stories, albeit deracinated from their original contexts and placed instead within a world that has endured at least one apocalypse, one alien visitation and a whole miasma of climate change. The Railsea itself, for example, is more akin to a vast desert than an ocean; criss-crossed with so many rail lines that a train can, via some vividly described switching mechanisations, pretty much travel wherever it wants. If this seems counter-intuitive (trains unbound by the conventional limits of track to act more like ships than, well, trains), then you'd be right: Railsea's defining aesthetic is this re-placing of traditional maritime staples within a steampunk or fantasy (or whatever you want to call it) world.
The protagonist, for instance, is your prototypical cabin boy with ideas above his station; he's charmingly presented - likeable in a way that so many over-ambitious and precocious heroes of modern teen fiction just, aren't - his journey is driven more by the impetus of curiosity and investigative clout than some flood of Big, Important events beyond his immediate control. There's also a tentative back-story that hints at a personal childhood tragedy but without wallowing in the melancholic; a level of authorly restraint which I found particularly refreshing. This hero is knowingly named `Sham', which is not just a further indicator of the layers of fakery and salvage that pepper the narrative, but also a wry joke on Miéville's part; an expression of comic humility over what he's doing to Moby Dick. There are pirate ships, slave galleys, wrecks, sea monsters (okay, okay `Rail'sea monsters - both organic and mechanical), mutinies, bawdy ports, cannon battles and sea lore; and while it's impressive quite how many facets of the classic sea adventure Miéville has managed to cram into the book, there's the occasional passage that's just too much, and smacks more of genre trope box-ticking than anything serviceable to the plot - notably a marooning on a desert island/`Man Friday' sequence that the book could probably do without, and a few too many pirate chases, which eventually begin to stifle the plot and hinder the momentum.
But why, Tomcat, you ask, why this explicit focus on form? Well, these relatively abstruse concepts of genre appropriation, doubling, copies of copies, and a narrator that calls into question the reliability of his own story - these are the foundations of Railsea's structure, rather than some patina achieved through a gimmicky prose style and just pasted over the narrative. Obviously the fiction works on a literalized level, so you don't have to be into the theory of storytelling to enjoy the book - but it's always nice to know that such ideas underpin the writing, rather than simply sugar coat it. The central message of Railsea might be: narrative is unreliable and ungraspable and tricksy, but let's embrace it all the same.
The obligatory treasure map, for example, is a description of a photograph of a photograph - a kind of blurry remove from the original landscape in much the same way that Railsea is a blurry remove from Moby Dick, or Literature is removed from the everyday, waking world. A copy: the same, but not the same. It's a mise-am-abime that serves as a metaphor for the way texts reproduce themselves within other texts. What the treasure hunters are following isn't a faithful reproduction of the real world - it's a, kinda... sham. Such problems of authenticity are comically counterpointed in the book's Ahab analogue - the damaged and obsessive Captain Abacat Naphi (note the Captain Ahab anagram) - whose prosthetic arm is eventually exposed as a fake fake - a shell covering very human insides. This offers a pleasing bathos to the apparent nobility of her quest to kill the White Mole, and exposes her "philosophy" (as she calls it, as if she's read and understood Moby Dick on a level that most of us couldn't) as being as much about glory and a constructed personal narrative than it is about revenge. What's significant to Naphi isn't that her arm was really lost, or that the White Mole dies at her hands, but that there are stories of her arm being lost and that there are stories about the White Mole dying at her hands; stories to be reproduced and told over and over. One of Railsea's most memorable passages is the description of previous captains' successful hunts - Naphi is captivated by these: she wants to be a story. What's significant is the narrative representation of her adventure - Naphi's "philosophy" isn't a quest for revenge, but a quest for narrative.
[END OF SPOILERS]
I'm wary of making any grand claims that China Miéville adheres to theory x or theory y; but a challenge to the veracity of narrative is unquestionably part of Railsea's aesthetic. There's more that I could go into, such as the quasi-devotional Moletrain refrain of "Well grubbed Old Mole", which is actually a direct quote from Marx, which is actually a deliberate misquote of Hamlet etc. but I don't want to get too list-like in exploring these kinds of removes - hell, there's loads of them!
Sorry if you were hoping for a more comprehensive overview (whooops), but there are plenty of great Railsea reviews that focus on plotting and characterisation, and even some good debates over its suitability as teen fiction etc. etc. - and I encourage you to check these out. For what it's worth, I think Railsea is amazing - and if none of this narrative theory stuff is your particular brand of literary tote bag, don't worry - the book has baddies and goodies and chases and violence and jokes; and monsters too - in buckets.
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Railsea by China Mieville (Hardcover - 24 May 2012)