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.

Science Fiction Summer: A Quick Look at Recent and Upcoming Novels

This summer looks like it will shape up to be pretty significant in terms of science fiction releases. The number of big names putting out new books over the next few months is pretty impressive, and as such it is worth taking a quick look at what we will be reading through the warmer months.

  • The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi – The hottest novelist in science fiction returns to the world he created in Ship Breaker with a new young adult novel that follows two young refugees from a war torn world, where one of them is kidnapped and the other is forced to decide between saving his friend or finally getting freedom. Was released on May 1st by Little Brown Books
  • Railsea by China Mieville – A science fiction-y retelling of Melville’s Moby Dick tells the story of hunters tracking down enormous  mole-like creatures with harpoons while travelling down an endless system of rails across the Railsea. They discover a derelict train that leads them to something mysterious and impossible. Was released on May 15th by Del Rey
  • Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi – Scalzi parodies the classic Star Trek series in a comedic novel that follows a young Ensign who begins to realize that every time a team leaves the ship, it comes back with one less lower ranked crew member while the officers always mysteriously remain in tact. Tongue-in-cheek sci-fi adventure in the typical Scalzi good humor. To be released June 5th by Tor Books
  • The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross – Bob Howard is a computational demonologist working for the English government when a mysterious televangelist with healing powers named Ray Schiller starts to get a little too cozy with the Prime Minister. When the government dispatches a brilliant woman named Persephone Hazard to infilitrate the healer’s religious organization, Howard has to make sure everything doesn’t blow up their collective faces. To be released July 3rd
  • The Coldest War by Ian TregillisThe long awaited sequel to the brilliant Bitter Seeds, an alternate history story set in a world where the British use warlocks to fight the Nazis and their superhuman soldiers. Raybould Marsh was one of the best characters in recent science fiction memory and his re-appearance will be worth the price of the book alone. To be released July 17th by Tor Books
  • Whispers Under Grounds by Ben Aaronovitch – The third novel in Aaronovitch’s series about Peter Grant, a mixed race copper and amateur wizard living in London and investigating crimes involving paranormal magic. This novel takes Grant and his allies into the subway, still on the hunt for a mysterious wizard called The Faceless Man. To be released July 31st by Del Rey

This is just a handful of the really exciting science fiction novels coming out this summer. Rest assured that your dear editor realizes that this list is a bit of a sausage fest so please let us know what we’re missing from the list that you are looking forward to in the coming months.