Railsea; Riding the Rails of Imagination.

Gah. Recently (think two months) I moved into a gorgeous centennial home that’s really close to where I work. As in, I can walk to work close. Which is really convenient. But even more so is the fact that I have FABULOUS wood floors now, and beautiful original wood paneling/rails/molding. And all of this throwback decorating has gotten me really into steampunk; because I love the cultural clash of what the Victorian era was all about; new ideas about science, travel, and machinery, as well as the refinement of tiny cups of tea and feathered caps and curled hair. Copper, steam, and spats are all very popular themes; and the cultural movement waxes super geeky because it’s a visualization/fantasy of a world that still follows Victorian social traditions, but the wacky inventions that the inventors of the time came up with; such as peddle-powered hot air balloons and guns made of copper, were real. So it’s a wonderful blend of the real and the fantasy that reminds me very much of this YA novel, Railsea.

Written by the loveable and ever creative China Mieville, this follows the story of a young boy named Sham as her serves on board of a Moldywarpe (a type of very, very, large mole) train that races through the sea of train rails hunting the creatures for their meat and fur, in pursuit of a particularly large one that is white (Moby Dick, anyone?). It’s remniscent of the Lionboy Trilogy, or even Like Water for Elephants, in that it’s the typical bilsdungroman, picaresque novel. But the setting, and the language, changes everything. But of course, a quote from the author himself explains it best: “Part of the appeal of the fantastic is taking ridiculous ideas very seriously and pretending they’re not absurd.” Because who has ever heard of a sea made of train rails? In which large trains buck around as if they were on the sea, when worms are fished out of the ground literally, and throwing a man overboard is as bad as making him walk the plank? There are pirates, whalers (moldywarpers), merchants, and more. And like pirates with their queer garb and language; it definitely takes awhile to adjust to the world that Mieville has created; a unique steampunkish blend of the ridiculous, fantastical, scientific, and adventurous, all of it culminating in the greatest adventure of all; a track, a single track, leading out of the railsea. A single track; that means there’s no turning back. It’s either the beginning or the absolute end. 

And of course Sham’s adventures take him out there to find out.

Really, there’s no better book for readers of all ages; the language is simple, and yet playful and creative enough to keep both YA readers and adults puzzling for hours. And then of course the suspension of belief is wonderful. It’s easy, of course, to believe that railways took over the world rather than automobiles as the main means of transportation; it was mere chance and good fortune that put one vastly over the other in our current world. But to think of moles the size of buses? Or that the rails are guarded by ancient robotic angels? Where do you draw the line between steampunk fantasy; the realization of the inventions of the age, and pure fantasy?

Read the book and then let me know 🙂


About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

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