Literature / Railsea
is a novel by China Miéville
, officially Young Adult
. However, the "young adult" part mainly means a lack of swearing, sex or graphic violence, rather than any lack of mindbendingness.
Sham ap Soorap is an unhappy surgeon's mate on the Medes
, a moling train than plies the lethal ground of the railsea and hunts the giant moldywarpes that live at the top of its food chain — especially Mocker-Jack, the huge blond moldywarpe that took Captain Naphi's arm. But when Sham is picked to search a wrecked train, he finds himself in possession of a MacGuffin
that various nasty people are looking for.
- Action Girl: Several, especially Naphi, Caldera, and Sirocco.
- Admiring the Abomination: Naphi's quasi-fangirlish (and rather disturbing) attitude towards Mocker-Jack. Her entire crew calls her out on it.
- Adventurer Archaeologist: Salvors, who make a living by scavenging the detritus of the Railsea. The most famous ones specialize in Lost Technology.
- After the End: Although thousands of years after, and nobody really remembers the details.
- Alien Geometries: Played with: the single, straight rail that leads to Heaven wholly defies the basic logic of the railsea, but there's nothing actually unnatural about it.
- Alien Sky: The sky over the railsea, where massive atmospheric beasts watch for prey from among the toxic clouds.
- Ambiguous Gender: Dr. Fremlo.
"So you going to be a moler's doctor, Sham?" Timon said. Sham shrugged. "Going to turn out like your boss? No one knowing if you're a man or a woman?"
"Shut up," Sham said uncomfortably. "Fremlo's Fremlo."
- And the Adventure Continues: The ending has the main characters going off to seek adventure on an even bigger scale.
- Animal Nemesis: Parodied. The town that Sham comes from expects every real hunter to have one. It is referred to as 'having a philosophy,' because not only do you need to have an animal nemesis, you also need to find some sort of symbolic or metaphorical meaning to your pursuit.
- Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: The railsea is filled to the platforms with various oversized, predatory critters, from man-sized leaping deathworms to burrowing owls big enough to wrestle trains off their tracks. Mocker-Jack, the giant mole that Naphi spends the book tracking down, goes straight into Kaiju territory.
- Berserk Button: Captain Naphi's philosophy is not yellow! That said, the trope is slightly subverted with the captain; she doesn't fly into a rage when people insist that Mocker-Jack is yellow, she instead makes very poetic speeches about all the shades of not yellow he is. Most other characters find this hilarious.
- Blue and Orange Morality: The angels are described as such. The railgoing ones are dedicated to keeping the tracks clean above all else. "All else" including whether or not there's still a train on the tracks they're about to roll through.
- Broken Ace: Naphi is supposedly one of the best moletrain captains out there, a rumor she can back up pretty damn well through badassery, but the more screentime she gets, the clearer it becomes that for all her skill and prowess, she's dangerously emotionally unstable.
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Most of the weirder creatures that seem mundane have weird names like the giant moles, birds, and some insects.
- Collector of the Strange: Salvors are this practically by definition.
- Cool Big Sis: Sirocco, the friendly salvor who frequently stops by to lend our heroes a hand.
- Cool Train:
- Many, especially the Medes and the Shroakes' exploration train.
- The Angels (at least, the ones that travel on tracks).
- Cue the Rain: After the Medes crew finishes battling the Siller.
- Derelict Graveyard
- Desert Punk: Takes place on an "ocean" that's a monster infested wasteland dotted with raised "islands" and crisscrossed with railways whose trains are treated much like ships — so, in a weird way, it manages to combine both this and Ocean Punk. The ending implies that the main quartet are leaping headfirst into the latter genre.
- Diesel Punk: Since it seems most technologies of the current era run off fossil fuels and everything has a mixed air of the idealized 1930's and 1940's both good and bad, this certainly fits.
- Drill Tank: Sirocco's vehicle, the railsea equivalent of a submarine. Complete with periscope!
- The Empire: Manihiki is somewhere between this and an unsympathetically-portrayed Eagle Land version of The Federation, a supposed democracy with a major gap between rich and and poor and a nasty imperialist streak.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: The ground outside the rock "islands", the "up-sky", oh and the lack of cover anywhere from the things below.
- Freak Out!: Naphi has a rather disturbing Freak Out scene after the mutiny against her near the end.
- Future Imperfect: Justified, as this takes place thousands of years in the future as well as after a series of massive cataclysmic events (the sky becoming poisonous, aliens visiting Earth, the railsea being created), so it makes sense that nobody in the book really knows much about our time. Even facts of geography have been twisted or forgotten, since the railsea and the remaining habitable islands are located on the long dried-up ocean floor, while much of what was once above sea level is now covered by the poisonous fog of the upsky.
- The home port of Sham and the Medes is known as Streggeye, aka Easter (egg) Island, watched over from its summit in the upsky by statues of local gods known as the Stonefaces.
- Mention is made of lost worlds located above the upsky boundary, such as the Nuzland (New Zealand) and Sowmerick (South America).
- "Oh shun, the vale of tears." Nobody remembers what oceans are.
- Ghost Ship At least a few of these, especially the wrecked trains.
- Ghost Town: Plenty of them in the background. Heaven is the most significant on-screen example.
- Giant Flyer: The denizens of the upsky, which also cross over into Starfish Alien territory. They're explicitly described as alien, too.
- Has Two Mommies: Caldera and Dero. And a mommy as well.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Captain Naphi near the end. She never recovers.
- Hidden Heart of Gold: Sirocco. Subverted in that she doesn't exactly act unnecessarily cruel to people, but she does act very aloof and "cool."
- Historical In-Joke: One of the gods is "Railhater Beeching." He's named after Dr Richard Beeching, notorious in Britain (perhaps unfairly so) for closing vast numbers of railway lines.
- The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Early on, Sham finds a salvaged tracker that he presents to Naphi, who later on uses it to tag Mocker-Jack. It turns out that the device works both ways, and a very annoyed Mocker-Jack is now homing into the Medes with the purpose of wrecking it once and for all. All according to plan for Naphi.
- Insistent Terminology: Mocker-Jack, Captain Naphi's Animal Nemesis, is not yellow. He's ivory. Also, the consistent use of "&" in place of "and", which gets discussed in one chapter.
- Last Bastion: Subverted — the controller and 'Heaven's Citizens' have turned into degenerate primitives and the Railsea dwellers are doing much better than they are.
- Last-Name Basis: Naphi and Sirocco. Their first names are mentioned maybe twice or three times in the narration, but no character ever actually says Naphi's first name, and the only time Sirocco's first name is spoken is by Sirocco herself when introducing herself to Sham. (Note: their first names are Abacat and Travisande, respectively).
- Layered World: Not literally. But it's common knowledge that the sky has two layers and the world has four.
- The sky is divided into the "downsky", which is basically normal. Then, two or three miles up, the downsky is suddenly replaced by the lethally poisonous "upsky", home to various unpleasant and gigantic alien flyers.
- The first layer of the ground is the underground "subterrestrial", home to all the tunneling monsters that inhabit the railsea. Above it is the second layer, the railsea itself. Above the railsea is the third layer, consisting of all the habitable islands and continents, and above those are the fourth layer: the highlands, high enough to jut into the upsky itself.
- Lemony Narrator
- Low Culture, High Tech: Played with. Though the dwellers of the railsea seem to be doing fine with their trains, primitive biplanes and advanced digital recorders/trackers, their lack of understanding of the world's nature, along with the generally strung-out cultures of the various rock-island civilisations and weird linguistics, gives off a general impression more reminiscent of, say, the Golden Age of Piracy than anything else.
- Mega Corp.: The world became the way it is now due to an apocalyptic trade-war between several of these.
- Misery Builds Character: Played fairly straight with Sham's character development. Completely inverted with Naphi, however, who suffers a complete mental breakdown & actually loses characterization.
- Moby Schtick: The plot involving Naphi & Mocker-Jack.
- Not So Stoic: Captain Naphi spends a lot of her screentime seeming deadpan & collected, if not slightly inconsiderate, but after the mutiny against her, she starts screaming & nearly crying, & even temporarily loses her ability to speak out of pure shock.
- Mask of Sanity: Her sudden emotional instability actually isn't sudden at all, as over the course of the book it becomes more & more apparent that she's not exactly sane.
- Ambiguous Disorder: It's clear Naphi is far from sane, but exactly how is hard to describe coherently.
- Obfuscating Disability: Naphi.
- Oh, Crap!: Sham on multiple occasions, the Shroakes on about an equal amount of occasions, & Naphi when she realizes she's being overthrown.
- The Proud Elite: Most of the Medes crew sees Captain Naphi as this.
- The Quiet One: Captain Naphi. She starts out only speaking to people when necessary, though after the Medes crew's mutiny, she very nearly stops talking altogether.
- Revenge Before Reason: What else to expect from a plot semi-based on Moby-Dick?
- Sand Worm: A whole ecosystem of them, of invertebrate, mammalian and even avian varieties.
- Sanity Slippage: Naphi — subverted, as it eventually becomes apparent that she'd been unstable the whole time, but was just having an increasingly hard time hiding it.