Review: Railsea

This post is more than 2 years old.

If you've ever gotten me into a book discussion than you've most likely heard me praise China Miéville. In my mind, Miéville is the most fascinating author writing today. His works are difficult. Not in terms of language, although he does love to make up words quite a bit, but in terms of the worlds he creates. This is probably a poor analogy, but reading Miéville is painful in much the same way as a new exercise will hit muscles you don't use often. His stories involve concepts that your brain simply wants to reject outright, and that's what I love about him. To be clear, his books are not always great, and sometimes you can tell he is trying to be weird just for weird's sake. But when it works - his writing is absolutely incredible.

Railsea is loosely based on Moby Dick, a book I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read yet. The world of Railsea is one of large tracts of earth covered by a seemingly infinite collection of rails. Instead of oceans, there is simply the loose earth of Railsea and the harder earth of human civilization. The Railsea is a dangerous place. Large burrowing creatures live within the earth. I hate to make the comparison, but think Tremors. Walking across this earth is - essentially - a death sentence. People use the rails with trains of various sorts. Merchant trains, Navy trains, even pirate trains.

The main character, Sham, is on a "Moler" train - essentially this book's version of a whaling ship. Instead of a whale, they hunt giant, and deadly, naked mole rats. The description of the hunts, life on the trains, and the world of Railsea in general is fascinating.

The ending was a bit... off. While the book was weird, the ending was a bit... too weird. Miéville is not shy in hiding his political agenda, and I appreciate that, but the ending was a bit too blunt for my tastes. To be clear, it didn't ruin the book for me at all. I still loved it.

For folks curious - I'm now reading Ready Player One. (50 or so pages in and it's great!)

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Raymond is a senior developer evangelist for Adobe. He focuses on document services, JavaScript, and enterprise cat demos. If you like this article, please consider visiting my Amazon Wishlist or donating via PayPal to show your support. You can even buy me a coffee!

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Archived Comments

Comment 1 by James Edmunds posted on 6/25/2012 at 2:50 AM

Read Moby Dick.

Comment 2 by andy matthews posted on 6/25/2012 at 6:07 AM

Don't feel bad Ray. I've never read Moby Dick either.

I still haven't made it through a Chine Mieville book yet. Got about 4 chapters into Perdido Street Station and lost interest. I'll give it another go later.

Ready Player One was excellent though. One of the only books I've ever wanted to reread immediately after finishing it.

Comment 3 by David Hammond posted on 6/25/2012 at 5:15 PM

Is it a coincidence that I initially read his last name as "Melville"? Or did I unconsciously scan ahead to the words "Moby Dick"?

Anyway, sounds interesting. I hadn't heard of China Mieville before. I just added Perdido Street Station to my reading list. Good place to start? It's his most popular book on Goodreads.

Comment 4 by Raymond Camden posted on 6/25/2012 at 5:18 PM

I'm not sure I'd recommend Perdido as his first book. It is incredible, but a bit daunting. I'd maybe recommend the The City and the City. It is an _incredible_ mind f###, but also approachable.

Comment 5 by James, F.E. posted on 6/25/2012 at 9:10 PM

I read Moby Dick. The narrative parts (which are quite good) are surrounded by informational parts that will tell you more about whales and whaling than you ever wanted to know.

I still need to get around to reading a China Mieville novel one of these days. Way too much to read, not nearly enough time.

Comment 6 by James Edmunds posted on 6/25/2012 at 9:24 PM

@F.E.: I think that the (very dated) natural science that is framed within Moby Dick is an important part of the experience of reading it - this helps to set your mind into the time when the writer and his readers moved narrative and background information in this way. On the other hand, I know several folks who re-read Moby Dick from time to time, and admit to scanning through the whaling exposition on their repeat visits.

Comment 7 by Tim posted on 6/30/2012 at 3:09 AM

Just thought I would throw in 2cents for RPO (Ready Player One) Fantastic book for us children of the 80's. Even better if you know Middletown OH. Joust will never be the same.

Comment 8 by Raymond Camden posted on 6/30/2012 at 6:26 AM

I am about 66% through Ready Player One. Love it.