book review: railsea

Photo Credit: Gastown Railyards by Evan Leeson

Railsea is China Miéville’s a story about a boy named Sham who is working on a moletrain. A moletrain is like a whaling ship, but in the world of Railsea, there are no seas like we know them, only the loose earth that terrifyingly dangerous creatures (like moldywarpes and antlions) burrow through. This earth is crisscrossed by an impenetrably tangled network of rails that require expert navigation and track switching. The trains navigating the railsea are hugely various, some powered by sails, some by steam, diesel or even fusion. Out in the dangerous earth there are islands and communities, and many wrecked trains to salvage. There’s also the upsky which is poisonous and filled with alien beasts that sometimes drop inexplicable bits to earth for people to find. It’s all kinds of awesome.

Sham begins the story as a mediocre doctor’s apprentice, serving a captain in search of her philosophy, a giant ivory mole named Mocker-Jack that took her arm. Miéville does this thing where this creature she’s hunting is explicitly philosophical at the same time that it’s a physical beast that could crush a train. It’s directly inspired by Moby Dick but is wildly divergent from Herman Melville’s story.

Strangely enough not everyone likes China Miéville’s use of language. It’s filled with words that are made-up but make sense and I am a fan. The book is published as YA and while the language is intricate and ornate, it will knock the right reader’s socks off. Comparison-wise, it’s got similar themes to Ship Breaker, but the language is less straight-forward. The plot is stronger and more direct than Mechanique, which had a similar kind of language/mood.

I loved the hell out of this book and am only sad it’s over and I’ll have to wait for Miéville’s next one.

book review: the pirates! in an adventure with whaling

My friend Jamie had recently told me about the Pirates! In An Adventure With… series. While I couldn’t find An Adventure With Scientists at the library when I remembered it the other day, I did find The Pirates! in an Adventure with Whaling (aka in an Adventure with Ahab), and I do love me some Moby Dick, so off I went.

The basic plot of the story is there are a bunch of pirates (known as The Pirate in Red, or The Pirate Captain or The Pirate With a Hook for a Hand) and they need a new ship. They go to Nantucket and buy a huge fancy one on credit (in order not to look silly in front of the Pirate Captain’s archnemesis) but then they need to raise the money to make the payments. So they sail to Las Vegas and try to do a variety show, and then they try a few other things (including actual piracy) before they turn their hands to whaling so they can get the reward Ahab has posted.

That summary only glances on the funniness of the book. It’s very Terry Pratchett-esque and doesn’t really have too much respect for reality in any form. It’s a light funny story (and in a small package, too – the hardcover book fits in a not-unreasonable-sized pocket) and I’ll gladly read more in the series.

book review: anna karenina

It had been probably ten years since I read Anna Karenina the first time. It felt different reading it now, as I suppose it’s supposed to.

The idea in the late stages that Anna creates this whole betrayal by Vronsky in her mind instead of accepting the way relationships change was more terrifying to me now than it was in the past. A lot of Levin’s problems and ways of dealing with them annoyed me more than they used to. I think I used to see him as some sort of idealistic hero, but on this reading his pettiness and wilful stupidity came out much more. All the bullshit around Kitty giving birth just made me want to punch him. We’ll see if I feel the same way ten years from now.

But yeah. I think this is one of those books that needs to be read. The only part of it that’s seeped into the zeitgeist is the first line, and it really needs the whole text to be at all effective (as opposed to something like Moby Dick, which most people know the first line of, but also the general idea of the story). Maybe I have a misperception about how pervasive Tolstoy is.