by China Miéville
Railsea takes place on a world criss-crossed by innumerable railroad tracks which are used by pirates, scavengers, and hunters of the enormous rats, antlions, and other subterranean animals which inhabit the desolate landscape.
Much of the story is an homage to Melville's Moby Dick. Sham, Miéville's central character, is the surgeon's mate aboard the locomotive Medes. Naphi, the captain of the Medes is obsessed with hunting down a giant, pale Moldywarpe--a giant mole-type creature reminiscent of the sandworms of Dune, which she's been chasing for years.
On its voyage, the Medes encounters a train that had long ago been attacked and derailed. And while searching through the wreckage Sham discovers a photographic record of the the journey the train's riders had been on. One of the pictures shows a scene that changes Sham's perception of the world and alters the course of his life. It's a picture of a lone railine, stretching out across an otherwise empty landscape. It's proof that somewhere out there the never-ending tangle of railines ends. And that new reality, along with the questions it raises of where that railine leads to and what's there, become Sham's obsession and the beginning of a journey that will change everything.
I've reviewed other books by Miéville here before and talked about what a linguistic genius he is. His writing style and creative vocabulary are something else and they add an extra level of enjoyment every time I experience one of his books. Here's the prologue to Railsea as and example of what I'm talking about:
This is the story of a bloodstained boy.
There he stands, swaying as utterly as any windblown sapling. He is quite, quite red. If only that were paint! Around each of his feet the red puddles; his clothes, whatever colour they were once, are now a thickening scarlet; his hair is stiff & drenched.
Only his eyes stand out. The white of each almost glows against the gore, lightbulbs in a dark room. He stares with great fervour at nothing.
The situation is not as macabre as it sounds. The boy isn't the only bloody person there: he's surrounded by others as red & sodden as he. & they are cheerfully singing.
The boy is lost. Nothing has been solved. He thought it might be. He had hoped that this moment might bring clarity. Yet his head is still full of nothing, or he knows not what.
We're here too soon. Of course we can start anywhere: that's the beauty of the tangle, that's its very point. But where we do & don't begin has its ramifications, & this right now is not best chosen. Into reverse: let this engine go back. Just to before the boy was bloodied, there to pause & go forward again to see how we got here, to red, to music, to chaos, to a big question mark in a young man's head.
I won't explain the ampersands. I'll let you discover the reason for their use throughout the book on your own. But they're further evidence of Miéville's brilliance.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆