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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.


About Rachael

Hi. I'm Rachael. I realized one day that, even though I read a lot of books, I often have a hard time remembering them later on. I guess that happens when there's so much to try to remember! So I started The 50 Book Project, with the intention to read and blog about 50 new (to me) books in 2014. I read a lot of fantasy, but I'm trying to branch out and experience new stuff. Any questions? Suggestions? Let me know! Comment, or email me at

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