Railsea, by China Miéville

Railsea, by China Miéville (2012, Random House Publishing, 2013 Del Rey Trade Paperback Edition)

There’s no way to prepare the reader for a China Miéville experience – unless perhaps to familiarize oneself with the great writers of Science Fiction and Science Fantasy – Herbert, Gibson, Banks, Peake, Modesitt, etc.

Writing style – Weird Fiction

The immersive experience is similar; the detailed, cohesive imaginings of new worlds; the leaps of faith required by the reader; the new language and references. In this novel, the acclaimed, prolific Miéville uses trains and rail travel, from the simplest handcars to massive armoured trains, to create a Steampunk tour de force. (He describes his fiction as “weird fiction”.) He turns the normal rules of rail transportation on its head: the land becomes the railsea of the title, the tracks run across this heaving wilderness like bridges, the tunneling creatures living beneath the earth’s surface are the terrors of the nautical deep, captains run their trains like sailing ships, from colony to outpost, in search of war, salvage or trade.

Miéville’s œuvre

Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville (1st edition cover)
Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville (1st edition cover)

Like his earlier work, Perdido Street Station (2001), Miéville’s railsea world is detailed, interesting, and beautifully described, and the characters are compelling. Like many a sea-tale, the story involves orphans, cabin boys, crew, dangerous journeys, pirates, battles, bars and arrivals. But everything in this sea-tale will surprise you, including the ending and Miéville’s use of the ampersand (&) and the illustrations. And if you think that stepping off a railway line onto the earth would mean that your feet meet solid land, think again. Even solid land can heave, churn and swallow you like the sea, depending on what’s below.

Not really a young-adult/adult crossover novel

Supposedly a young-adult/adult crossover novel, Railsea is neither light nor easy, and there are no plot-holes. Major sections of the story of doctor’s assistant and would-be salvager, “Sham”, is prefaced by a short chapter in which the narrator explains where he is in the tale and increases the reader’s anticipation, or explores the origins, function and meaning of the railsea. Sometimes, these sections are very short: “Time for the Shroakes? Not yet.” (That’s it, verbatim.)

Other times Miéville acknowledges the curiosity and intrigue experienced by the reader:

“You are likely to narrow in on uncertain & mysterious questions of iron-rail theology. You wish to know which is the oldest civilisation in the railsea, which island state’s records go back furthest, using which calendar? What do they tell us about the history of the world, the Lunchtime Ages, prehistory, the times before the scattered debris from offhand offworld picnicking visitors was added to aeons of salvage?  Is it true the upsky used to be full of the same birds as now fly the down? & if so, what was the point of that?”

Dear reader, if you also want to know, read on. You will be fascinated.

Author profile – Wikpedia

China Miéville, 2010
China Miéville, 2010

China Tom Miéville (/ˈtʃaɪnə miˈeɪvəl/; born 6 September 1972) is an English fantasy fiction author, comic writer and academic. He is fond of describing his fiction as “weird fiction” (after early twentieth century pulp and horror writers such as H. P. Lovecraft), and belongs to a loose group of writers sometimes called New Weird. Miéville’s left-wing politics are evident in his writing. He is politically active and published his PhD thesis on Marxism and international law as a book in 2005. He teaches creative writing at Warwick University; in 2012–13, he was Writer-in-Residence at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
Rejectamentalist Manifesto Blog by China Miéville…
China Miéville at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database…