Literature: Railsea

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 & 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 Caldera, Naphi & Sirocco.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist
  • After the End: Although some time after, & nobody really remembers the details.
  • Alien Sky: The sky over the railsea, where massive atmospheric beasts watch for prey from among the toxic clouds.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Dr. 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.'
  • 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.
  • Brother-Sister Team: Caldera & Dero Shroake.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Most of the weirder creatures that seem mundane have weird names like the giant moles, birds, & some insects.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: The Manihiki army
  • Cool Big Sis: Sirocco, the friendly salvager who frequently stops by to lend our heroes a hand.
  • Cool Train: Many, especially the Medes & the Shroakes' exploration train.
    • The Angels (at least, the ones that travel on tracks).
  • Derelict Graveyard
  • Desert Punk: Takes place on an "ocean" that's a monster infested wasteland dotted with raised "islands" & crisscrossed with railways whose trains are treated much like ships so in a weird way it manages to combine both this & Ocean Punk. The ending implies that the crew of the Medes are leaping headfirst into the latter genre.
  • Diesel Punk: Since it seems most technologies of the current era run off fossil fuels & everything has a mixed air of the idealized 1930's and 1940's both good & bad, this certainly fits.
  • Drill Tank: Sirocco's vehicle
  • The Empire: Manihiki is somewhere between this & an unsympathetically-portrayed Eagle Land version of The Federation, a supposed democracy with a major gap between rich & poor & a nasty imperialist streak.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The ground outside the rock "islands", the "up-sky", oh & the lack of cover anywhere from the things below.
  • Ghost Ship At least a few of these, especially the wrecked ones.
  • Ghost Town: Plenty of them in the background. Heaven is the most significant on-screen example.
  • Has Two Daddies: Caldera & Dero. & a mummy as well.
  • 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, & 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.
  • Last Bastion / Lost World: Subverted - the controller & 'Heaven's Citizens' have turned into degenerate primitives & the Railsea dwellers are doing much better than they are.
  • Lemony Narrator
  • Low Culture, High Tech: Played with. Though the dwellers of the railsea seem to be doing fine with their trains, primitive biplanes & 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 & 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.
  • Moby Schtick: The plot involving Naphi & Mocker-Jack.
  • More Predators Than Prey: Lampshaded in the narration.
  • Not So Safe Harbour: Bollons
  • Obfuscating Disability: Naphi.
  • Sand Worm: A whole ecosystem of them, of invertebrate, mammalian & even avian varieties.
  • Scavenged Punk
  • Scavenger World
  • Schizo Tech: The "modern" trains run off diesel, but they share the tracks with various analogues powered by steam, clockwork, "hermetic engines", sails & rhinos.
  • Shout-Out: To Roadside Picnic (with the incidental mention of the name Strugatsky) & Thomas the Tank Engine (with the top-hatted god named That Apt Ohm - a Significant Anagram)
    • There is also a Shout-Out to the 1969 film 'The Bed-Sitting Room', in which Mrs Ethel Shroake (of 393A, High Street, Leytonstone) is the closest surviving successor to the throne of Great Britain.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: Multiple examples. The first one is when Sham escapes from the pirate train Tarralesh when it gets shot to bits by a Manihiki wartrain. Said assailant reappears to chase down the Medes at the climax, only to be vaporised by a rail angel. With the angel now hot on their tracks, Sham & Sirocco decide to lure in Mocker-Jack with a two-way tracker, which eventually culminates in the philosophy & the angel fighting & plummeting down a chasm.
  • Terraforming: The railsea used to be an actual sea, before a great company war in aeons past drained it up to lay tracks over.
  • Transplanted Humans: It is mentioned at least twice that the humans of this world come from another & at one time had space travel.
  • Treasure Map
  • Unnecessarily Creepy Robot: The "Angels" both flying & on rail; they are portrayed in an almost 'demonic' fashion & feel very creepy in both description & the Railsea dweller's fears.
  • Unrobotic Reveal: Naphi, when her "prosthetic" arm gets damaged & starts bleeding, revealing that she was Obfuscating Disability all the time.
  • Whole Plot Reference: As previously mentioned, it's a really weird version of Moby-Dick.
  • Word Salad Philosophy: Captain Nathi spouts one of these when it's revealed that she still has both arms. Vurinam notices.
    "That don't even bloody mean anything!" he despaired. "It's complete bloody gibberish!"
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The crew of ''Tarralesh are government-sanctioned privateers, not pirates. This stops mattering when they refuse to hand over Sham to the Manihiki ferronavy.
  • Zillion-Dollar Bill: It turns out that the nameless Mega Corp. that built Heaven (along with all of the railsea) were charging the trainsfolk with usage fee, & their feral descendants are living with the prophecy that the users will one day return to pay the accumulated debt of many, many lifetimes (with interest).