book review: the underwater welder

The Underwater Welder is Jeff Lemire’s story of being scared of becoming a father. It’s so good. The introduction to the book sets it up as “the greatest Twilight Zone episode that was never produced.” I like that conceit but that makes it sound a lot more self-contained than it was.

Jack and Susan are expecting a baby in the next month. Jack keeps running off to his work on the oil rig, as an underwater welder. We know something bad happened between him and his father at Halloween some year, and it’s keeping him attached to the loneliness of solitary work in the ocean instead of the flesh and blood people surrounding him. It’s an ominous and looming kind of story that pushed in on my chest as I read it.

Lemire draws the book with the same kind of scratchy style he used in Essex County, but here it feels different. Maybe it’s just all the water that makes the wobbly lines feel like they’re the distortions of seeing everything through bubbles. The big splash pages work very well, especially the ones with the floods of memories coming in like clouds of angular bubbles.

It’s a beautifully done book. Highly recommended.

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.