Review: Railsea

Posted: June 19, 2012 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: China Miéville, Fantasy, Young Adult

Several times now I’ve sat down with my wife and have attempted to explain a China Miéville book. I’ve tried to tell her how cool it is and how amazing the ideas are.

I tried to tell her about THE CITY AND THE CITY (EBR Review) and how it was about two cities that occupy the same space, and how you weren’t allowed to look at the other city. How you could be identified by the way you walked and talked as being from one city or the other. I once tried to tell her about a special kind of magic in KRAKEN (EBR Review), where you were able to fold large, three dimensional objects as if they were a piece of paper down into small pieces of origami. I even tried to tell her about a cool race of cactus like people that lived in the Bas-Lag novels: PERDIDO STREET STATION (Amazon), THE SCAR (Amazon), and IRON COUNCIL (Amazon).

Each and every time I tried to tell her about these things, I failed miserably. My wife is a loving person and she tried her best not to laugh in my face (she even succeeded a few times) as I miserably explained these amazing ideas. And that’s the difference between China Miéville and most other authors I read. There are stories that sound ridiculous–they sound absurd and absolutely should NOT be cool–and yet when Miéville talks about them, you get it. You really understand the idea and it makes sense and it’s wonderful.

So I’m going to talk to you for a bit about RAILSEA (Amazon), and as I explain it you might laugh. You might think it sounds silly. And you’re right. It does sound silly, but again, when Miéville writes about it, you get it. It’s cool.

RAILSEA (when you really boil it down) is basically a weird-fiction rehashing of Herman Melville’s classic novel, MOBY DICK (Amazon). But instead of hunting for the great white whale on an ocean liner, in RAILSEA we travel on large trains that hunt down giant moles that burrow under the ground and occasionally breach up to the surface. In Miéville’s latest, we are hunting for the great white mole, Mocker Jack.

Sounds ridiculous right? And yet the book is an absolute blast.

This is the book I was hoping Miéville would write when he gave us UN LUN DUN (EBR Review). I liked UN LUN DUN, but it didn’t have the particular brand of Miéville-weird that I so love. Well this book has that weirdness in spades. Along the voyage, there are various encounters with moles (giant mountain sized moles) and huge antlions and other creatures. Anything. Everything. People are afraid of touching down on bare earth for fear of some creature coming up and killing you (a rational fear in this world).

As usual the writing is top notch. Miéville is a wordsmith and wields his words like a painter does his brushes and paints. It’s certainly streamlined a bit more here, making it more readable for younger audiences, but there are still moments of pure poetry in the way he writes.

RAILSEA is weird and absurd, but it wears those things on its sleeve, proudly. It’s a book that knows it’s ridiculous and revels in it.

The one complaint that I have with the book really is the way it was marketed. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. It was presented to me as a YA book, but it still never read like one. I know the language was never too much, but I just don’t get the YA thing at all. IF someone were to come up to me and tell me there favorite books were Harry Potter, HUNGER GAMES and TWILIGHT… well, RAILSEA isn’t exactly the book I would recommend to them next. If I knew a young adult who was a bit more advanced, slightly in to weird things, then sure. I would give them RAILSEA, but I would also give them a bunch of other regular SF and Fantasy. There’s really no sense in making it, and marketing it as YA if its primary audience is going to be the adult Miéville fans that already exist.

Like I said, that’s a small thing. This book worked for me. It’s weird and it’s absurd, but it wears those things on its sleeve, proudly. It’s a book that knows it’s ridiculous and revels in it. I did too.

  • Recommended Age: 12+ really nothing wrong here, just a bit of violence
  • Language: Not much, just a few scattered words, and nothing too harsh
  • Violence: A few images. One scene of cutting up a mole corpse.
  • Sex: Not really.

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