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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Transportation, and Book 12: Railsea

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I have this problem with writing blog posts on WordPress. If I put in the title of the post before I start writing, it will automatically create a permalink to said post using said title. If I don’t, it will create a permalink that just has a number instead of the title. Now, I’m free to go back and change that number to something having to do with the title of my post afterward if I want, but then it’ll really, really bother me that it’s not quite formatted in the way that WordPress would have formatted it if I had titled it first. And that wouldn’t be a problem if I ever knew what I was going to write about before I start writing. Blogging, for me, is a very casual, unplanned process. When I sit down to write write, I know what I’m planning, but in this case, I generally end up sitting and staring at a blank “new post” page and musing in my head for about 20 minutes to try to figure out where my stream of consciousness will take me before I start writing about the book in order to come up with an accurate title. And this time, I just kept getting stuck on one thought: Fuckin’ trains, man.

I don’t know what my problem with trains is. I don’t have a problem with any other form of transportation. I drive all the time. I absolutely love flying. I don’t mind buses in the least, though I haven’t had a reason to be on one in quite a few years. I’ve ridden in trolleys and gondolas and those little shuttle things they have at Six Flags and even the Monorail at Disney and I’m totally okay.

I love subways. Which are nothing but underground, overcrowded trains. (Okay, maybe I don’t so much love the overcrowdedness, but ignore that and I have absolutely no problem with them.)

Of course, put the “subway” above ground and I’m not so excited (I’m looking at you, MBTA Green Line), or up high on rails (ugh New York–though as I mentioned above regarding Disney, one rail is perfectly fine).

The weird thing is that when I’m on a train, it’s not as if I’m scared. I promise I’m not lying to you or deluding myself here: I really am not afraid of trains. There’s no panic or expectation of death. Not even a mild trepidation that something could go wrong during my journey.

No, I just hate them. It’s some sort of visceral, completely unexplainable loathing of trains. They infuriate me, and I have no idea why. It’s like that one person in your social group who, if asked for reasons for your hatred, you could come up with absolutely nothing, but you still want to punch them in the face every time you’re in a room with them, and probably feel like you deserve a medal for not doing so.

And maybe that’s why it took me so long to pick up Railsea by China Mieville despite having absolutely loved everything else I’ve ever read by him.

Railsea takes place in a world where, instead of oceans, there are train tracks. & not train tracks as we have them now, where they are few & far apart, but rather an intricate, patternless latticework of train tracks criss-crossing all over, covering the would-be ocean floor. Enough rails & intersections between said rails exist that trains can essentially sail all over, in any direction they want, steering as one would a ship. There are shores that lead to areas of increased elevation where all the people live, as the ground of the Railsea is filled with tunneling predators of various sizes, such as the Great Southern Moldywarpe, the Burrowing Tortiose, the Antlion, & my personal favorite, the Burrowing Owl.

Actual illustration of Burrowing Owl, (c) China Mieville.

The ground surrounding the rails is unsafe, but the animals leave the rails themselves alone. Train crews hunt these animals, with molers taking the place of whalers. There are pirates, salvagers, nomadic societies, & scientists studying the history of the rails. Religions try to explain the origins of the rails, and the nature of wood & how absurd it is that wood can be both rail ties & trees, & how trees must be sent by the devil to confuse us. (Mieville has fun writing, & the little one-page sections between chapters that help build the history and mythology of this world were some of my favorite parts.) Oh, & the word “and” doesn’t exist anymore, which you get used to.

Railsea tells the tale of directionless teenage orphan Sham Yes ap Soorap whose adoptive parents decide that being a doctor on board a moletrain is a good career for a young man to have, though Sham is much more interested in salvage. Sham ventures out on the moletrain Medes & is the worst apprentice doctor ever. But when the Medes comes across a bit of salvage, Sham finds a picture that changes everything. He skillfully manipulates Captain Naphi, using her own Moby Dick-esque quest to get her to take the Medes where he needs to go.

Despite my unexplainable hatred of trains, I absolutely loved Railsea, & perhaps now that I’ve read it, trains will be a bit more bearable because I’ll be able to imagine I’m on some sort of fantastical quest. I noted somewhat early in reading that I had taken almost no notes, & thinking about it, I realized it’s likely because the stuff I usually write down, particularly early on, becomes entirely unnecessary when you completely trust the author to answer all your questions and tell a perfect story. Granted, I don’t trust him to answer the questions in a way that I’ll like–I have some serious trust issues with Mieville, mostly thanks to Perdido Street Station hurting me many years ago.

Railsea is marketed as Young Adult, but I think that’s completely ridiculous. It is by no means inappropriate for teenagers; it’s just one of those books that would be perfect for any Science Fiction or Fantasy lover from age 12 on. If you were annoyed by how complicated my “Should you read 1Q84” paragraph was, you’ll love this:

Do you like adventures? Good! Definitely read this book.

Coming soon:
13. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
14. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
15. The Fault in our Stars by John Green
16. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. Unsouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Depending on how long Unsouled takes me, probably Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Book #15 in The Dresden Files, which comes out on Tuesday), but if I finish Unsouled too fast, there’ll be something else for book 19 and Skin Game will be book 20.

Time, and Book 11: 1Q84 vol. 3

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I don’t understand how it’s late-mid-May already. I could swear I just put up the Christmas tree maybe three days ago. But I counted, and I have 39 days left at my awesome job, and my boss made me take down my little countdown because it was making everyone too sad. I tried to explain that sad is like happy for deep people, but it didn’t fly.

39 days left at work means 40-something days until moving day, and if Christmas was two or three days ago, well, shit, I’m pretty much moving tomorrow. My apartment? A mess. My stuff? Not remotely packed. Books? All over every surface in my house. And we’re making some progress–slow progress, unfortunately, but I’d rather not kill myself trying to get everything done at once, because I’m a little too much of a perfectionist and I’d rather not develop an ulcer trying to get ready to move.

All this means is that, when I have a little spare time, I’m reading. But when I have enough spare time that I could conceivably write a blog post in said time, there are more pressing things for me to work on. I’m on book 16, really. Almost done with it. It’s wonderful. And I’m just now getting to book 11’s post. (Well, I did try one other time, but I was just in such a bad overall mood that the post just ended up being all negative and whiny and that’s not what I want, especially when I loved the book. And that was over a week ago!

So: Time. It’s crazy. People always told me when I was a kid that when I grew up, a year would seem like nothing. I didn’t believe them, of course. A year was, like, forever. So I asked one of my coworkers, who is around 60, if this is just how it is. Will it slow back down? Is it just because I’ve been crazy busy lately? Or will the year 2029 go by as quickly compared to 2014 as 2014 is going by compared to 1999? Does time continue accelerating at a steady pace, or will it keep accelerating but not quite as fast?

Is being an adult about sitting around in 2014 still wondering what happened to 2012?

But today, I have some time. Today, my goal is laundry, and I can blog while that’s going. It probably won’t be too long, though. We’ll see.

Book 11: 1Q84, Volume 3

I’ll be honest: The other reason it’s been taking me so long to get this post up is that I just don’t know how to talk about this book. More accurately, I don’t know how to talk about this book without my post being 90% spoilers. I’ll try to keep them fairly minor, but fair warning: Spoilers Ahead.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked up 1Q84. I had never read any Murakami before. In fact, I don’t even know if I’d ever read any Japanese literature before. And then the type of literature–it’s sort of a magical realism, I think, but I honestly don’t know because I haven’t read a whole lot of magical realism before. It was categorized where I first heard of it as fantasy, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. And, really, I didn’t look into it much beyond seeing lots of positive reviews and the fantasy categorization. I had absolutely no clue what this book was going to be all about, which ended up being pretty cool, because really, how often do you read a book where you just have no clue what to expect? Not often.

It’s a love story.

I remember the exact point at which I realized it was a love story. Tengo was on a train and he saw a young girl who reminded him of his classmate in middle school whom he didn’t know well, but had clearly left a lasting impression on him. He remembers that she was a Witness, and I thought, “Wait a minute. Aomame said her family were ‘Believers’. This… This is a love story.”

But even then, I wasn’t sure. I mean, I was hopeful that our two point of view characters would eventually meet again, but given the style of the book, I had no idea. There was so much working against them: The Little People, Sakigake, Aomame’s task and subsequent need to hide. I was completely ready for Aomame to die and for 1Q84 to be all about Tengo and Fuka-Eri’s battle against the Little People and Sakigake.

But she didn’t die, and there was no big battle. 1Q84 turned out to be a story about two people who want nothing more than to be reunited, who suddenly find themselves in a world that’s just slightly off, where there are forces that they don’t know anything about or understand–the Little People and Sakigake–working to keep them apart for seemingly no reason, and one force–Fuka-Eri–working the opposite side, helping to bring them together. Aomame and Tengo never find out more about the Little People, and neither do you. You’re right there with them, confused and hoping for something, but you’re not quite sure what.

Should you read this book? I’m not going to put a blanket recommendation on it. It’s a case by case basis. I will tell you this: There was one thing that bothered me about it. I found that the characters jumped to completely insane (true) conclusions far too easily. From the very beginning when Aomame realizes she is no longer in 1984 but 1Q84 based on a few missed news stories, I felt a little bit like, really? You miss a few news stories and the only logical explanation is that you’re in a parallel universe? Is that really, as you are saying, the only logical explanation? And this happens fairly often.

Should you read this book? That depends. Are you willing to take leaps of faith when it comes to characters just knowing what’s going on when there’s no apparent reason that they should be able to figure things out that easily? If you’re willing to think of this as a book about characters with insanely good instincts, that’s a check in the “yes” column. Do you love well-written detail about characters’ day-to-day lives? If you’re unlikely to throw the book out the window the fourth time the author goes into precise detail about what exactly one of the characters is making for lunch (keep in mind here that the book takes place in Japan, so as an American, I found it interesting because I felt like I was learning a whole lot about a different culture, albeit a fictionalized version of one), then put another check in the “yes” column. Are you okay with not knowing? With what felt like the main plot ending up being a side story that leaves almost all its questions unanswered, and the apparent side plot being the point of the whole story–keeping in mind that it’s done really well? Another check for “yes.” Do you like love stories, but at the same time you hate love stories so much? Definitely “yes.” Are you ready to take on a huge reading project? This one’s important.

This book is absolutely wonderful, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. I, however, can’t wait to read more Murakami–maybe next year when I have a bit more time and less pressure on my reading schedule! Hey, I mean, next year is practically tomorrow, right?

And before I leave off, I did mention that I’m nearing the end of book 16, so here’s the coming lineup!

Book 12: Railsea by China Mieville
Book 13: The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
Book 14: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Book 16: The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

I’ll probably write soon! Railsea somehow wasn’t quite so ambiguous that I will have no idea what to say, so I don’t think I’ll procrastinate for nearly as long.