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    Review of RAILSEA by China Mieville

    Del Rey, May 2012

    The rails stretch forever, a tangled mass of rails, switches and gauge changes stretching over poisoned land. The railsea is inhabited by dangerous beasts in turn hunting and hunted by men on trains. Angels, it is said, maintain the tracks, but these angels are no cute cherub--instead, they'll destroy anything that gets in their way. Sham Yes ap Soorap has, unwillingly, gotten a job on one of those hunting trains. His captain is one of those with a "philosophy." Captain Naphi, with her artificial arm, hunts an ivory-colored great mole and will allow nothing to stand between her and her obsession.

    A chance encounter with a wrecked train gives Sham a clue to something he never could have imagined. One of the photos he recovers from the wreckage shows a single straight rail line. This is impossible in the railsea, and contrary to every religion preached. He becomes as obsessed with finding the truth behind this photo as his captain is with her mole.

    Author China Mieville (see more reviews of fantasy and SF by Mieville) writes some of the most original and creative speculative fiction available today and RAILSEA provides flashes of this genius. The secret behind the railsea gradually emerges, and the most obvious Moby Dick references fade as Sham finds himself involved with ancient "salvage", with pirates, and with the secrets behind the entire railsea. Speaking of the railsea, Mieville uses the "&" symbol everywhere the word "and" would normally appear. It's a symbol for the interconnected mesh of the railsea. It's also amazing that such a little change could create some reading awkwardness but every time I hit this word, but it did.

    Overall, RAILSEA is an above-average fantasy/sf story with sime intriguing social messages, a clever retake of Melville's Moby Dick (Mieville/Melville--is there a connection?). For me, though, this story lacked the really compelling imagination of some of Mieville's other works. Compared to Un Lun Dun or The City and the City, for example, there just isn't a lot here. I'll always go out of my way to grab the latest by China Mieville and RAILSEA isn't a disappointment... but it isn't quite up to Mieville's best, either.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 7/22/12

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