Monday, November 5, 2012

Moby Dick meets steampunk

Do any of the following terms/concepts appeal to you:

Steam punk


De-constructing myths

rodents of unusual size

If so, you will enjoy China Mieville's Railsea.  Actually, you will probably enjoy it even if none of these terms appeal to you.

Mieville takes Herman Mellville's classic Moby Dick and transforms it into a philosophical steam punk dystopian adventure.  And it's a quick read to boot.

Railsea is the story of Sham ap Soorap, an inept doctor's assistant on the moletrain Medes.  The Medes transverses a ruined landscape on a seemingly endless network or rails, hunting giant moles and pursuing her captain's arch nemesis, a pale mole named Mocker Jack.  Sham's curiosity about the debris of past civilizations that litters his landscape, a chance discovery of an unusual photograph, and his dissatisfaction with the life of a mole hunter lead to a life-changing encounter with the Shoakes, an unusual family determined to find the End of the Line - a way out of the sea of rails that was their world.

Which is where the philosophical aspect of the book comes in.  Like all good literature, Mieville's book provides the reader with the opportunity to interact with important ideas.  As his characters wrestle with the big questions of the meaning of life, the validity of myths, the nature of reality and the question of identity, he gives us, his readers, a chance to see our world, our reality, from a slightly different perspective, as we recognize ourselves in the various characters. 

But don't get me wrong; just because it is thought provoking, Meiville's work is nothing if not an adventure story.  From encounters with mutant rodents, man-eating ants, and tortoises the size of houses to pitch battles with alien contraptions, all set against the backdrop that is part giant train set, part steam punk nightmare, this book will grab you like a giant, ravenous mole rat and hang on to you 'till you reach the very end, begging for more.

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