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Railsea by China Mieville

Railsea cover
Limited Edition SOLD OUT
Lettered Edition SOLD OUT
  • Length: 376 pages

Dust jacket by Vincent Chong

Welcome to the Railsea, a vast conglomeration of interconnected railroad tracks reaching to the limits of the known world. This brilliantly imagined setting stands at the heart of one of China Mieville's most extraordinary accomplishments.

A host of memorable characters move through these pages, among them a “bloodstained boy” whose adventures form the armature of the narrative, a brother and sister determined to complete their parents' unfinished journey, and a one-armed captain relentlessly pursuing her “philosophy:” the great almost-white mole known as Mocker Jack.

Railsea is a novel about the power of obsession, about the human longing for completion, about narrative itself. But it's also a captivating story that overflows with wonders and strange terrors, with pirates and scavangers, monstrosities and prodigies. And so much more. Filled with humor and great narrative energy, and written in a language so vivid it virtually leaps off the page, it is at once an utterly unique creation and a classic re-imagining of a classic tale. Railsea shows us China Mieville at the top of his game. It's going to be around for a very long time.

Limited: 500 signed numbered hardcover copies
Lettered: 26 signed leatherbound copies, housed in a custom traycase

From Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):
“Mieville (Un Lun Dun) returns to YA fiction with a superb, swashbuckling tale of adventure on the railsea, a vast prairie densely crisscrossed by train tracks… Working variations on such classics as Moby-Dick, Robinson Crusoe, and A Wizard of Earthsea, this massively imaginative and frequently playful novel features eccentric characters, amazing monsters, and, at its heart, an intense sense of wonder.”

From Locus:
“[Railsea] is told in an arch and sometimes quite funny voice, full of ampersands and invented words (the different “clatternames” for the sounds trains make on the tracks are amusingly onomatopoeic), and the overall tone, despite some occasional real horror, is essentially playful—it's Mieville having some good fun, and taking us along for an exhilarating ride.”

From The AV Club:
“Mieville manages to weld a rich science-fiction concept to influences like Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson (yes, there are pirates; how could there not be?)...”

From Kirkus Reviews:
“What made Railsea a definite winner for me was the narrative. The narrator of the story is not only omniscient but also omnipresent. It is the true conductor of this train—it stops whenever it pleases and relates each character's adventure at its own beck and call with as many or as little words as it wants. I found it extremely charming, even though I have the feeling that it might annoy some readers. I also truly appreciated the diversity of this world, in which some families are polyamorous and strong female characters abound.”

From NPR:
“[Railsea] feels like a great adventure, meant for girls and boys, as well as for the grown-up readers of science fiction and fantasy who admire the complicated worlds Mieville built for such adult novels as Perdido Street Station and Embassytown.”

From Los Angeles Review of Books:
“That irreverence lets Mieville escape the bounds of Moby Dick and strike out on a nineteenth-century nautical adventure transposed onto twenty-fifth-century train tracks. The story is anchored by the lovable Sham, assistant to the ship's doctor and perpetual dreamer, a classic fool bumbling along on a fool's journey. Unfortunately for Sham, there are lots of ways to bumble in this treacherous world. The skin of the land is like the surface of the sea, teeming with submerged, invisible creatures.”

“Mieville's accomplishments here, as in all his outstanding novels, are manifold.”


An Interview with China Mieville by Kat Howard

In Railsea, the latest novel from multi-award winning writer, China Miéville, we are introduced to young Sham Yes ap Soorap, a new crewmember of the moletrain Medes. The Medes sails the Railsea, a system of tracks crossing the poisoned earth, under the guidance of Captain Abacat Naphi, who pursues the great ivory-colored moldywarpe that took her arm years ago. In the course of their travels, Sham discovers something in the wreckage of a train that he cannot explain, and he undertakes his own search for the answers. On the way, he encounters explorers, pirates, the angels of the rails, and the great ivory-colored moldywarpe that haunts Captain Naphi. Railsea is a delight of a book, full of adventure and brilliant imagination.

Miéville was kind enough to answer some questions about Railsea, as follows:

Kat Howard: In a work like Railsea, where you are writing in purposeful dialogue with another text, how do you protect your own story? Do you keep your acknowledged influences close, or do you prevent yourself from rereading them until you are finished? What are some of the texts that have been major influences on your thinking and your writing?

China Miéville: Boring as the answer may seem, I simply never worry about it. That's not because I don't think influence looms heavy—it's the opposite. It's because I consider everything I ever do to be a palimpsest of influences and the overlapping shadows of giants and their texts. In this case, riffing playfully off something more overtly is more of an alteration of the accent in that conversation, rather than something fundamentally new. Of course one can, sometimes, stray too far, and get into wheel-reinvention, but that danger isn't reduced by not reading. I think the only realistic and systematic way of thinking about things is to be calmly matter-of-fact about the weight of influences. Not that one is always aware of one's influences—sometimes, the most telling and interesting things are the texts which one isn't aware of that loom heavy, or the books one hates, but with which one can't stop arguing.

As to what the major influences have been—I hope you'll forgive me ducking the question. I think I am a very predictable coagulation of the things I grew up reading—which is another way of saying that I suspect it would not be hard for someone to predict exactly what my keystone texts were. One tries to honour them and do something a little new at the same time.

KH: One of the things I enjoy greatly about your writing is your penchant for neologisms. Are they world-specific, or do you use them across texts?

CM: I'm glad you like them—I love inventing words. As to whether they're world-specific or not, it entirely depends on the book and the word. Mostly they're specific, because you're trying to tap a particular weltanschaung, a particular sense of totality, so something that gives that impression for one setting wouldn't, necessarily, for another. Which isn't to say that if I wasn't proud of one or two I might not shoehorn them into something else. In the case of the new words in Railsea, they were all book-specific.

KH: In Railsea, one of the monsters is a moldywarpe, which has its roots in Old English, and there is an avanc, a Welsh-branch Arthurian monster, in The Scar. Is the medieval particularly good for the monstrous, or is there some other method you use for finding and naming them?

Moldywarpe is just an old folk name for a mole. And as you know, folk names are utterly intoxicating. It is, though, very true, that Old English is a favourite seam at which I enjoy hacking—linguistically, it has such a strong, melancholy poetry. I am pretty cavalier about the sources of my monsters. I'll pilfer them from any mythos going. It's always a pleasure when you find one that hasn't yet been too extensively used, culturally. For which, certainly, yes, Anglo-Saxon times and texts are pretty useful. But they're by no means the only ones.

KH: While I don't want to cross into the area of spoilers, we learn something interesting about Captain Naphi towards the end of the book. Do you believe that we need to reshape ourselves before undertaking our quests in order to have them taken seriously (either by ourselves, or by witnesses to those quests)?

CM: You're asking a question that sounds as if it's about the real world, though I suspect that's not what you mean. In the real world, I don't think it has much meaning, because I don't think we have 'quests' in the real world. The belief that we do, in fact, might be responsible for a good deal of mischief. But in the worlds of narrative, certainly, sacrifice is one of the sine qua nons of 'Story', of 'quests', and what you're referring to was me wanting to have a bit of a playful but still serious prod at that idea.

KH: This maybe treading perilously close to asking the writer to interpret his own work, but—symbols can be seen as a form of liminality, a way to escape boundaries. In Railsea, the philosophies have freedom of movement through the earth, and are pursued by people who are literally entracked, locked into their paths. So is a pursuit of a philosophy a pursuit of freedom? Is it better to quest after one specific thing until its mystery is extinguished, or to possess a general desire for exploration?

CM: Goodness. I think I consider, to use the rather simpering expression that Obama favoured, that question is above my pay grade. Having said which, in we go. Again, are you talking about in the real world, or in the troublesome arena of Fiction? In the former, I think relating to your life as if it's a narrative in that way might be rather troublesome, even potentially dangerous. I think looking for the truth is better than not looking for the truth. I don't want to get into spoilers, or, as you say, auto-interpretation, except to say that there is a certain teasing implication in the depiction of the philosophy hunting in the book, I hope. I find it hard to imagine anyone reading it could think it served as an unproblematic model for theoretical investigations. I hope so!