Review: Railsea by China Mieville (2012)

Railsea by China Mieville
Del Rey, 2012

Rating: D

In a strange, steampunky-world connected entirely by a convoluted railway system, a young man named Sham Yes ap Soorap works with a group of hunters whose job is to take out giant skinless mole-like creatures called moldywarpes. They burrow under the ground and jump out at passersby, leading Soorap and the crew to harpoon them from the relative safety of their trains. Apparently the creatures terrorize the locals, and are useful for their meat and various other typical parts that would be used by hunters.

China Mieville’s greatest weakness and greatest strength is that each one of his novels is completely different from the last, not just in general story but in narrative voice and overall feel. It seems like Mieville painstakingly goes out of his way to reinvent himself every time he puts pen to paper, and in the case of Railsea the reinvention comes across as cluttered, to say the least. Instead of the word “and”, Mieville uses an ampersand throughout the novel, which is explained at some point as being symbolic of the idea of the Railsea as a thing in his world, but instead the strange grammatical decision comes across as extraordinarily amateurish and blatantly pretentious. To compound the agony of the style, Mieville takes a handful of chapters to break the fourth wall as the narrator and pat himself on the back as the writer, as if to say “See how wonderful I am?”

Railsea is a frustratingly bad novel that oozes with pretension and borderline awful prose. Originality is generally a good thing, but there are times to remember that sometimes something has never been done before because it is not a very good idea. The characters in Railsea are completely uninspired and what little plot that is here is barely more than a convenient vessel to push the world the author has created. Although the world is strong, it is the only redeemable quality of an otherwise completely unreadable book. With unlikable characters and a plot that is both meandering and completely tedious, it is hard to see why anyone would enjoy this novel in the least.

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7 thoughts on “Review: Railsea by China Mieville (2012)

  1. Damn. I was so looking forward to reading this–and I will, but I’ve yet to read a positive review (yours is more tolerant than most). Thanks.

    • The Goodreads community is thrilled with it– higher than a 4 average. Then again, there are a LOT of Mieville fangirls out there who just fall over themselves for anything he puts out. I could see this hitting certain people the right way, but I wasn’t into it. I gave “The City & The City” a C, too. These are the only two novels of his I’ve read. I will try something else eventually.

      • Yes, I loved the concept of ‘City’ but I feel it’s his least successful book. I’ve read everything except the latest, but the only one I’ve repeatedly re-read is Perdito Street Station. I’d love to hear what you think about that one.

      • Mieville has a huge population of female fans, for whatever reason. For example, on social networking groups like Goodreads, etc, all of the people on my friends lists who read and review Mieville happen to be female. Not sure why that this, but Mieville seems to have more female fans than male.

  2. A D grade? yikes! I recently finished Railsea (will get a review up one of these days, I swear), and yeah, the book had some issues, but over all I enjoyed it. Probably not his best work, and if you think the ampersand trick was pretentious, you may want to avoid his Embassytown.

    I think Mieville’s biggest problem is that he’s promoted and advertised as writing scifi/fantasy when in reality he’s writing hard up literature. one isn’t better than the other, they are just different to read.

    I do completely agree with you that he seems to go out of his way to make sure his books are all completely different. the only thing they have in common is they are all weird.

    • Thanks for commenting! I don’t read literature any different than I do sci-fi– my expectations are essentially the same, which is probably weird, but is true.

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