China Mieville does it again. Railsea is the tale of Sham Yes ap Soorap, a young man who sets out to make his fortune by joining a moletrain. I love the world building in Mr. Mieville’s fiction and this is no exception. In this world, the sea is composed of rails stretching over dangerous stretches of ground inhabited by monstrous moles, carnivorous rabbits and massive beetles. The known world is limited only by how far the rails stretch and the terribly poisoned soil over which the rails run. Rocky outcrops mark the world’s ports and cities. Sometimes the world, peopled as it is by such strange and wonderful creations, take over from the actual story, Sham’s story, but the reader is never disappointed. In a nod to Melville’s Moby Dick, Sham’s train hunts a giant white mole, but Sham’s discovery of some mysterious photographs may lead to the most startling, and perhaps lucrative, discovery yet.
I admit I devoured this book in record time and I can’t resist giving it a full 5 stars.
Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the book:
“There was a time when we did not form all our words as we do now, in writing on a page. There was a time when the word “&” was written with several distinct & separate letters. It seems madness now. But there it is, & there is nothing we can do about it.
Humanity learned to ride the rails, & that motion made us what we are, a ferromaritime people. The lines of the railsea go everywhere but from one place straight to another. It is always switchback, junction, coils around & over our own train-trails.
What word better could there be to symbolize the railsea that connects & separates all lands, than “&” itself? Where else does the railsea take us, but to one place & that one & that one & that one, & so on? & what better embodies, in the sweep of the pen, the recurved motion of trains, than “&”?
An efficient route from where we start to where we end would make the word the tiniest line. But it takes a veering route, up & backwards, overshooting & correcting, back down again south & west, crossing its own earlier path, changing direction, another overlap, to stop, finally, a few hairs’ width from where we began.