by China Mieville


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“Other names besides [Herman] Melville’s will surely come to mind as you read this thrilling tale—there’s Dune’s Frank Herbert. . . . But in this, as in all of his works, Miéville has that special knack for evoking other writers even while making the story wholly his own.”—Los Angeles Times
On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death & the other’s glory. Spectacular as it is, Sham can’t shake the sense that there is more to life than the endless rails of the railsea—even if his captain thinks only of hunting the ivory-colored mole that took her arm years ago. But when they come across a wrecked train, Sham finds something—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—that leads to considerably more than he’d bargained for. Soon he’s hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters & salvage-scrabblers. & it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.
“[Miéville] gives all readers a lot to dig into here, be it emotional drama, Godzilla-esque monster carnage, or the high adventure that comes only with riding the rails.”—USA Today
“Superb . . . massively imaginative.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Riveting . . . a great adventure.”—NPR
“Wildly inventive . . . Every sentence is packed with wit.”—The Guardian (London)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345524539
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/30/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 308,254
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

China Miéville is the author of several books, including Un Lun Dun, Perdido Street Station, The City & The City, Kraken, & Embassytown. His works have won the Hugo, the British Science Fiction Award (twice), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times) & the World Fantasy Award. He lives & works in London.

Read an Excerpt


A meat island!

No. Back a bit.

A looming carcase?

Bit more.

Here. Weeks out, back when it was colder. The last several days spent fruitlessly pootling through rock passes & in the blue shadows of ice cliffs, late afternoon under a flinty sky. The boy, not yet bloodstained, was watching penguins. He stared at little rock islands furred in huddled birds plumping their oily feathers & shuffling together for comfort & warmth. He’d been giving them his attention for hours. When at last there came a sound from the speakers above, it made him start. It was the alarm for which he & the rest of the crew of the Medes had been waiting. A crackling blare. Then from the intercom came the exclamation: “There she blows!”

An instant frantic readiness. Mops were abandoned, spanners dropped, letters half-written & carvings half-whittled were thrust into pockets, never mind their wet ink, their sawdusty unfinishedness. To windows, to guardrails! Everyone leaned into the whipping air.

The crew squinted into the frigid wind, stared past big slate teeth. They swayed with the Medes’s motion. Birds gusted nearby in hope, but no one was throwing scraps now.

Way off where perspective made the line of old rails meet, soil seethed. Rocks jostled. The ground violently rearranged. From beneath came a dust-muffled howl.

Amid strange landforms & stubs of antique plastic, black earth coned into a sudden hill. & up something clawed. Such a great & dark beast.

Soaring from its burrow in a clod-cloud & explosion it came. A monster. It roared, it soared, into the air. It hung a crazy moment at the apex of its leap. As if surveying. As if to draw attention to its very size. Crashed at last back down through the topsoil & disappeared into the below.

The moldywarpe had breached.

Of all the gapers on the Medes none gaped harder than Sham. Shamus Yes ap Soorap. Big lumpy young man. Thickset, not always unclumsy, his brown hair kept short & out of trouble. Gripping a porthole, penguins forgotten, face like a light-hungry sunflower poking out of the cabin. In the distance the mole was racing through shallow earth, a yard below the surface. Sham watched the buckle in the tundra, his heart clattering like wheels on tracks.

No, this was not the first moldywarpe he’d seen. Labours, as their playful groups were called, of dog-sized specimens constantly dug in Streggeye Bay. The earth between the iron & ties of the harbour was always studded with their mounds & backs. He’d seen pups of bigger species, too, miserable in earthtanks, brought back by hunters for Stonefacemas Eve; baby bottletop moldywarpes & moonpanther moldywarpes & wriggly tarfoot moldywarpes. But the great, really great, the greatest animals, Sham ap Soorap had seen only in pictures, during Hunt Studies.

He had been made to memorise a poemlike list of the moldywarpe’s other names—underminer, talpa, muldvarp, mole. Had seen ill-exposed flatographs & etchings of the grandest animals. Stick-figure humans were drawn to scale cowering by the killer, the star-nosed, the ridged moldywarpe. & on one last much-fingered page, a page that concertinaed out to make its point about size, had been a leviathan, dwarfing the specklike person-scribble by it. The great southern moldywarpe, Talpa ferox rex. That was the ploughing animal ahead. Sham shivered.

The ground & rails were grey as the sky. Near the horizon, a nose bigger than him broke earth again. It made its molehill by what for a moment Sham thought a dead tree, then realised was some rust-furred metal strut toppled in long-gone ages, up-poking like the leg of a dead beetle god. Even so deep in the chill & wastes, there was salvage.

Trainspeople hung from the Medes’s caboose, swayed between carriages & from viewing platforms, tamping out footstep urgency over Sham’s head. “Yes yes yes, Captain . . .”: the voice of Sunder Nabby, lookout, blurted from the speakers. Captain must have walkie-talkied a question & Nabby must have forgotten to switch to private. He broadcast his answer to the train, through chattering teeth & a thick Pittman accent. “Big boar, Captain. Lots of meat, fat, fur. Look at the speed on him . . .”

The track angled, the Medes veered, the wind fed Sham a mouthful of diesely air. He spat into railside scrub. “Eh? Well . . . it’s black, Captain,” Nabby said in answer to some unheard query. “Of course. Good dark moldywarpe black.”

A pause. The whole train seemed embarrassed. Then: “Right.” That was a new voice. Captain Abacat Naphi had patched in. “Attention. Moldywarpe. You’ve seen it. Brakers, switchers: to stations. Harpoonists: ready. Stand by to launch carts. Increase speed.”

The Medes accelerated. Sham tried to listen through his feet, as he’d been taught. A shift, he decided, from shrashshaa to drag’ndragun. He was learning the clatternames.

“How goes treatment?”

Sham spun. Dr. Lish Fremlo stared at him from the cabin threshold. Thin, ageing, energetic, gnarled as the windblown rocks, the doctor watched Sham from beneath a shag of gun-coloured hair. Oh Stonefaces preserve me, Sham thought, how bleeding long have you been there? Fremlo eyed a spread of wooden-&-cloth innards that Sham had lifted from the hollow belly of a manikin, that he should by now certainly have labelled & replaced, & that were still all over the floor.

“I’m doing it, Doctor,” Sham said. “I got a little . . . there was . . .” He stuffed bits back within the model.

“Oh.” Fremlo winced at the fresh cuts Sham had doodled with his penknife in the model’s skin. “What unholy condition are you giving that poor thing, Sham ap Soorap? I should perhaps intervene.” The doctor put up a peremptory finger. Spoke not unkindly, in that distinct sonorous voice. “Student life is not scintillating, I know. Two things you’d best learn. One is to”—Fremlo made a gentle motion—“to calm down. & another is what you can get away with. This is the first great southern of this trip, & that means your first ever. No one, including me, gives a trainmonkey’s gonads if you’re practicing right now.”

Sham’s heart accelerated.

“Go,” the doctor said. “Just stay out of the way.”

Sham gasped at the cold. Most of the crew wore furs. Even Rye Shossunder, passing him with a peremptory glance, had a decent rabbitskin jerkin. Rye was younger & , as cabin boy, technically even lower in the Medes order than Sham, but he had been at rail once before, which in the rugged meritocracy of the moletrain gave him the edge. Sham huddled in his cheap wombatskin jacket.

Crews scrambled on walkways & all the carriagetop decks, worked windlasses, sharpened things, oiled the wheels of jollycarts in harnesses. Way above, Nabby bobbed in his basket below the crow’s-nest balloon.

Boyza Go Mbenday, first mate, stood on the viewing dais of the rearmost cartop. He was scrawny & dark & nervily energetic, his red hair flattened by the gusts of their passage. He traced their progress on charts, & muttered to the woman beside him. Captain Naphi.

Naphi watched the moldywarpe through a huge telescope. She held it quite steadily to her eye, despite its bulk & despite the fact that she hefted it one-handed in a strong right arm. She was not tall but she drew the eyes. Her legs were braced in what might have been a fighting stance. Her long grey hair was ribboned back. She stood quite still while her age-mottled brown overcoat wind-shimmied around her. Lights winked in her bulky, composite left arm. Its metal & ivory clicked & twitched.

The Medes rattled through snow-flecked plainland. It sped out of drag’ndragun into another rhythm. By rock, crack & shallow chasm, past scuffed patches of arcane salvage.

Sham was awed at the light. He looked up into the two or more miles of good air, through it into the ugly moiling border of bad cloud that marked the upsky. Bushes stubby & black as iron tore past, & bits of real iron jagging from buried antique times did, too. Atangle across the whole vista, to & past the horizon in all directions, were endless, countless rails.

The railsea.

Long straights, tight curves; metal runs on wooden ties; overlapping, spiralling, crossing at metalwork junctions; splitting off temporary sidings that abutted & rejoined main lines. Here the train tracks spread out to leave yards of unbroken earth between them; there they came close enough together that Sham could have jumped from one to the next, though that idea shivered him worse than the cold. Where they cleaved, at twenty thousand angles of track-meets-track, were mechanisms, points of every kind: wye switches; interlaced turnouts; stubs; crossovers; single & double slips. & on the approaches to them all were signals, switches, receivers, or ground frames.

The mole dove under the dense soil or stone on which sat those rails, & the ridge of its passage disappeared till it rose again to kink the ground between metal. Its earthwork wake was a broken line.

The captain raised a mic & gave crackling instructions. “Switchers; stations.” Sham got another whiff of diesel & liked it this time. The switchers leaned from the walkway that sided the front engine, from the platforms of the second & fourth cars, brandishing controllers & switchhooks.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Other names besides [Herman] Melville’s will surely come to mind as you read this thrilling tale—there’s Dune’s Frank Herbert. . . . But in this, as in all of his works, Miéville has that special knack for evoking other writers even while making the story wholly his own.”—Los Angeles Times
“[Miéville] gives all readers a lot to dig into here, be it emotional drama, Godzilla-esque monster carnage, or the high adventure that comes only with riding the rails.”—USA Today
“Superb . . . massively imaginative.”—Publishers Weekly
“Riveting . . . a great adventure.”—NPR
“Wildly inventive . . . Every sentence is packed with wit.”—The Guardian (London)

Customer Reviews

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Railsea 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Holden_Clawfield More than 1 year ago
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Minihiki FerroNavy Has Declared the Document “RAILSEA” as work of Fiction Minihiki Ferro Navy Office of communication has declared the circulating document “RAILSEA” as a working of fiction. The incidents taking place are completely un-true. The document now being widely circulated claims to be a telling of the adventures of one “Sham Yes Ap Soorap” of Streggeye. Copies of the document are now banned. Anyone in possession of a copy is order to turn it over to the nearest Ferro Navy office. Where the best works of fiction make themselves believable by including true facts the Navy does stipulate the following items: There may or may not have been a member of the crew of the Mole Train Medes Sham Yes A Soorap. In the document “RAILSEA” he is portrayed as a citizen of Streggeye & as such Minihiki Navy has no record of him. Further inquires about his existence should be directed to the Streggeye console. (The blockade of the console is an unfortunate coincident & total unrelated to events in the document “RAILSEA”.) The train Medes did or does exist & is or was commanded by captained Naphi. The captain is register with the Streggeye Molers’s Benevolent Society. Her register philosophy is in fact a giant “white” or “ivory” mole. These are just the kind of facts that make the story interesting & believable. However the following items are strictly un-true & border on treasonous. There is no missing FerroNavy train. The Navy does not issue Letters of Marque to Pirates. There is no such thing as demi-salvage. This document “RAILSEA” has been release at this time to undermine support of new taxes and tariffs funding the building of the new FerroNavy Train “Moledoom”. Further discussion of the document are classified and not for public review.
erikschreppel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
China Mieville is one of those authors that you really can't catagorize. Some books are easier to explain than others. Railsea is not one of those books. I can't easily explain the plot, but I can say that Mieville is just an outstanding writer. And this book is no exception.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read a lot of books, but none of them have been nearly so enveloping as Railsea by China Miéville. What do I mean by "enveloping?"Well, let's take the ampersand for starters. Throughout the book (& this review, because I love it so much) China inserts the ampersand for each "and," & it's there for a reason - which is explained once the story is about 3/4ths of the way through. It's alternatively very, very cool & very distracting, but it works for what it was intended to do & is a constant reminder of how different things are.Also, there is the narrator. I'm not sure who exactly is narrating the book, but suffice it to say the narrator keeps things interesting. You know those books that jump around between three different sets of characters & always jump right when things are really heating up for the one that has you completely sucked into? The narrator acknowledges that is happening in a way - but still you have to wait & you may have to read a few short pages of the narrator musing on the state of the world in the process. It's very cool - that's all I have to say about that.This story is part Moby Dick, part Treasure Island, part Robinson Crusoe. There are characters with strange names, a strange world filled with dangerous creatures (I always thought moles were freaky). There's a strange caste structure & instead of sticking to a specific genre, China moves between Steampunk, Post-Apocalyptic, & Dystopia - mixing all three into a wonderful stew of adventure goodness.Before you dive into this unique, incredible story though let me warn you - it's taxing to the brain. I had to take several breaks before diving back in because my mind was having to work so hard to adjust to everything. This is classified as a Young Adult book, but frankly I haven't worked so hard reading a "Young Adult" book since I picked up Ender's Game.
lilibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In a futuristic take on Melville's Moby Dick, the medes an her crew are on a train in the tangled railsea that comprises their world, hunting a great white land mammal. One young crewman decides to follow freiends he has met and looks for what is beyond the railsea.
-Eva- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sham Yes ap Soorap becomes the Doctor's assistant on the moletrain "Medes" and gets to take part in a great moldywarpe hunt, which in turn creates a chance for him to help out some fellow orphans, and he may just have found the route across the great railsea to Heaven itself. An homage to Moby Dick, undoubtedly, since Captain Naphi has Captain Ahab's obsession in her hunt for the great mole Mocker-Jack, but more than that, it's an adventure tale of old, reminiscent of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, with some Oliver Twist and a dash of Mad Max added in for good luck. I particularly liked the segues between the points of view that are directed by a strangely archaic narrator who also has a wicked sense of humor and who remarks how numerous are the details of the great train and its functions, but how extraordinarily tedious it would be to describe them all (Moby Dick, anyone?). A derivative work, but at the same time a very typical Miéville in originality, and with some extra humor thrown in, it means that although it's not technically a YA book, it does allow a younger reader to be part of the sometimes bloody tale. It's not my absolute favorite in the Miéville oeuvre, mainly because although the world-building is good, it's not quite as luscious, as "treacly," as in his other books. It is, however a story full of battles and pirates and monsters and quests and friendship, and it is well worth the read when you have a hankering for a good old ripping yarn.Note: The ampersands may be tedious to read, but they do have symbolic value and deserve the trouble.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Solarix-Star More than 1 year ago
Pretty good. I found this book in a search for more stories with trains and hoped to be impressed by it. i was in some regard but at the same time felt a little bit of let down. Its worth a read but just be prepared for a little drop in how you might feel about train stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jilliver More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I have read by this author but I had heard some buzz about his books. I picked this one because of the title and description.  I liked the story and really enjoyed the steampunk setting. The  descriptions of the environment were evocative and interesting. I would like to see this as a movie. I found the characters a little stiff although I may have let the writing itself get in the way of understanding or identifying with the characters. This is a YA book but it still seemed a little anachronistic for early adolescents. Last, I am not too appreciative of new characters thrown in at the last minute to support some plot twist and the end was off putting. Overall, I liked this book more than the review might suggest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just wanted to rate it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is another top notch story from Mieville and well worth the purchase!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a wild and crazy take on Moby Dick that I wondered how Mievile could resolve it in an ending that paid off. Then he did it. A wonderful (as in full of wonders) read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Octoploid More than 1 year ago
I found this to be an interesting and enjoyable read—an original concept, a good story, and an easier read than many of Mieville's recent books. (I've seen it characterized as a Young Adult book, but I thought it had more in common with Mieville's adult works than his previous YA book, Un Lun Dun. I would say it could readily be enjoyed by either group). I found the setting to be absolutely delightful, and I would love to see another novel set here (though I wouldn't expect to). It kept me up late at night, turning pages. That said, I don't think it's Mieville's best book, either. Besides the main character, I thought the characters seemed kind of thin. The plot was interesting but perhaps not as exciting as some of his other books. Additionally, although essentially what I expected, the ending was a little bit of an anticlimax, and slightly odd and unsatisfying. All that said, on balance it is still a great book, and perhaps a good introduction to the worlds of China Mieville.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had expected a somewhat dry book, from other reviews, but this was as fantastically enjoyable as Mieville's other books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of his best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some one rated the book one star becasue they disliked the name of it. So i figured i give the book a five star rating to balnce out the injustice