Prepare for the bizarre! Railsea is not the kind of book I would otherwise pick up if it wasn’t for book club. It is just about as far as you can get out of my reading comfort zone…. but I’m really glad I read it. For those unfamiliar with Mieville he has quite the cult following and writes for both young adults and adults in a style that has been described as “fantastic fiction” or even “weird fiction” (a term he uses about his own writing). And weird it is. This is the kind of book that leaves you baffled as to what goes on in the heads of others.
Railsea, it seems crosses the young adult/adult divide and is aimed at ‘everybody’. It’s not a difficult read as some of his adult fiction novels are known to be, but it was, for me, a stretch to get my head around the concept and form a visual perception of the world he was creating. To understand Railsea you need to imagine a sort of post-apocalyptic world where instead of oceans you have endless (or perhaps not) and entwining railway lines. I know, just try and get your head around that one first! Next picture all sorts of trains, war trains, supply trains, salvage trains (think scrap collection) and mole trains, in same way we have war ships, cargo ships, fishing boats etc. Now I hear you saying “what the heck is a mole train?” and that brings me to the next weird concept the books is based on. Underneath this sea of rails is the ground but it is toxic for humans to, what does inhabit this noxious earth are all sorts of weird, often giant, tunneling moles which are hunted by the operators of the mole train. Have you got all that? Good, let’s move on.
The central character is a young doctor’s apprentice by the name of Sham Yes ap Soorap (see, even the names are weird) who is new to the Medes, a mole train. Sham’s talents as a doctor in training are limited, very limited, but he becomes entwined in the railsea journey and can’t help but think there is more to life than the never-ending tracks. He sets out on a unexpected quest to discover what else is out there with the help of an even weirder pair of siblings with their own goal in mind and the crew of the Medes. It is a fascinating depiction of a strange yet compelling world, influenced heavily by Moby Dick (a book I have no intention of picking up).
This is where I get honest though. I expected to hate this books and at first I really did. Like I said to get your head around the whole idea is a challenge. Then throw in countless wacky names and the author’s obsession with using the ampersand (&) instead of ‘and’, and you get a book that really takes its toll on the grey matter. I did get over most of that – the ampersand thing drove me to distraction throughout and I found it unnecessarily broke the flow of the writing – to enjoy it enough to give it a 3 stars. However, in the spirit of honesty, I’m probably never going to pick up another Meiville book, but I definitely will recommend him to those who like a bit of sci-fi or fantasy or distopia fiction, especially young adults.
So what’s the weirdest book you’ve ever read? Do you follow a particular author in a cult-like fashion?
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