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Friday, August 10, 2012

“Railsea” by China Miéville (Reviewed by Sabine Gueneret and Liviu Suciu)

Order “RailseaHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION/INTRODUCTION: China Miéville lives and works in London. His first novel, King Rat, debuted in 1998, and since then, China Miéville has become one of the most acclaimed fantasy writers of the 21st century, with the author receiving numerous awards for his work including three Arthur C. Clarke Awards, two British Fantasy Awards, a Hugo Award, a World Fantasy Award, and a BSFA Award.

Most of the author’s work can be classified as urban fantasy or “weird fiction” (as Miéville himself likes to say), but with an incredibly wide scope from the existential thriller The City & The City to the YA novel Un Lun Dun (review coming soon). My first experience with a Miéville novel was Un Lun Dun which I had bought randomly in a little bookshop. Ever since then, I have looked forward to each new release by China Miéville with huge anticipation. However, with Railsea I was secretly thrilled to see the author return to YA because I find Miéville even better in that genre…

FORMAT/INFO: May 15, 2012 marked the North American Hardcover publication (see below) of Railsea via Del Rey. The UK edition was published on May 24, 2012 via Pan Macmillan.

OFFICIAL PLOT SYNOPSIS: “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 pray, the battle resulting in one’s death & 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 & salvage-scrabblers.

It might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea…

ANALYSIS (Sabine): So Railsea is the second YA novel by China Miéville. Yet it is much more adult, both in terms of story and writing, than the author’s other YA novel, Un Lun Dun. For me, the YA element in Railsea is mostly character-related, since Sham is a young protagonist coming of age: naive, shy and insecure when he first boards the Medes, events soon place Sham in a leadership position, and by the end of the novel, he has become a man capable of making his own decisions. Railsea is also a great adventure story, with no “adult themes” such as sexuality (even if death and religion are present), so I guess in that sense as well the book can be classified as YA.

Plot-wise, there are obvious parallels with Moby Dick (a young boy employed by a captain obsessed with a giant beast encountered years before at a physical cost), but these similarities grow smaller as the story goes on, while diverging further and further from Herman Melville’s novel. In fact, it seems like Railsea is more of an inside joke or homage to the classic novel than anything else in my opinion.

Contrary to many of China Miéville’s recent novels, Railsea isn’t centred on a city, but rather a train much like the author’s book Iron Council. In this case, it’s actually a moletrain where giant moles and other creatures hide. Regardless, the world-building is very original, with nearly zero description used to depict the world of Railsea. Instead, the Railsea world is transmitted to the reader via new words and concepts, such as “and” which has disappeared and has been replaced by “&”, or philosophy whose meaning is twisted and takes on a larger scope than its actual one. The syntax too is surprising, with the author using a lot of double negation, while the story undergoes a few loops in time, with Miéville addressing the reader as if he was telling the story rather than writing it, then goes back and changes the POV, etc cetera... I admit it is unsettling at first, as you can’t really grasp what exactly is happening, and it takes some time to fully adjust to everything—it took me 50 pages or so—but once you do, it is just brilliant.

As for the ending, I loved the underlying metaphor that is present during the entire story, but becomes more pronounced as the book progresses. Like all of his novels, China Miéville’s beliefs are always present and that is what gives his writing such strength, power and poetry—whether you agree with him or not. However, Railsea is less engaging than some of the author’s previous “adult” novels, more on the philosophical side than the political one, but the book raises thought-provoking questions nonetheless. In short, Railsea is another great novel by China Miéville!

ANALYSIS (Liviu) Any China Mieville novel is a huge event and while last year's Embassytown was excellent, so far, no book of his has recaptured the genius of Perdido Street Station and The Scar.

For the first half, Railsea is the most inventive Mieville book since those two mentioned above. Genius world building  - rails/trains and underground monsters instead of oceans, ships, whales and sharks - two kinds of land types and two kinds of sky types, mix and match of tech, some in the Roadside Picnic advanced aliens garbage kind and very literary style, while the storyline is building a lot of suspense.

The second half is more conventional - the storyline reverts to the familiar like in Embassytown and starts again treading on known ground with a lot of predictability and the book starts veering a little more in YA territory.

So for example if you have read something like Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt you will have a good idea of where Railsea goes and even - with the appropriate changes of course - how the plot will develop as the logic of this kind of story is followed by Mr. Mieville pretty directly.

Still the writing remains top notch and the action is fun with some more superb world building, but the sense of the limitless, of the "what is next?" is lost a little so Railsea is ultimately an excellent novel and a top 25 of mine, but not a once in a long time milestone like PSS or The Scar.

Highly recommended of course and fun, enjoyable to the end, no question about it



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