Teaser Tuesday: “Railsea”

So this week I’m reading Railsea, by China Miéville, author of several of my favorite books, including Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Kraken.


The Little Engine That Could


Apparently China Miéville likes trains (and who doesn’t?), because like his book The Iron Council, this book mostly takes place in and around them. The difference is that while The Iron Council was followed a single train that rolled on a track it laid down as it went along through various wastelands, Railsea takes place in a world where the “oceans” are made of loose earth through which things like monstrous moles, badgers, and ant-lions burrow, and which are crisscrossed by thousands upon thousands of train tracks, which tracks are maintained by angels that may or may not be aliens and are plied by trains that like the whalers of yore (I swear I am not making this up) hunt said monstrous moles, badgers, etc., trains that salvage other trains that have been wrecked, trains that are operated by pirates … You get the idea. Speaking of pirates:

“I’m going to untie your hands & mouth, let you sit up,” he said. “Your end of the deal is you’re not going to be a pain in my arse.”

He put down a bowl of food & loosened Sham’s bonds, & Sham began to shout even as the dirty cloth left his mouth. “What the hell are you doing my captain’s going to find me you’re going to pay for this you crazy pig,” & so on. Sham had hoped it would sound like a bellow. It came out more like a loud whine. Robalson sighed & tugged the gag back on.

“Now is that being not a pain in my arse?” he said.

No, no it is not being not a pain in your arse.

The astute reader will notice that everywhere the word “and” would have appeared in that paragraph, an ampersand (&) appears instead. This quite frankly drove me crazy for most of the beginning of the book, until I got to a chapter where the author very kindly explained why the book was so liberally littered with “&s” and the “ands” were absent. In order that it might not also drive you, the potential reader of Railsea, crazy, I decided to include a little extra Teaser Tuesday tidbit so that you might understand from the get-go what is going on. To wit:

THERE WAS A TIME WHEN WE DID NOT FORM ALL words as now we do, in writing on a page. There was a time when the word “&” was written with several distinct & separate letters. It seems madness now. But there it is, & there is nothing we can do about it.

Humanity learnt to ride the rails, & that motion made us what we are, a ferromaritime people. The lines of the railsea go everywhere but from one place straight to another. It is always switchback, junction, coils around & over our own train-trails.

What word better could there be to symbolise the railsea that connects & separates all lands, than “&” itself? Where else does the railsea take us but to this place & that one & that one & that one, & so on? & what better embodies, in the sweep of the pen, the recurved motion of trains, than “&”?

An efficient route from where we start to where we end would make the word the tiniest line. But it takes a veering route, up & backwards, overshooting & correcting, back down again south & west, crossing its own earlier path, changing direction, another overlap, to stop, finally, a few hairs’ widths from where we began.

& tacks & yaws, switches on its way to where it’s going, as we all must do.

& after that, I had no more problem with all the &s.

Meanwhile, speaking of getting to where it’s going, I’m down to the final few pages on this round of editing on Father’s Books. That of course means it’s very hard to find teasers that aren’t spoilers, but here’s a little snippet that isn’t too spoilery, as long as I’m judicious with where it starts and where it ends.

“What do you want from me, Richard, that you didn’t just shoot me? Surely a bullet in the back is what I deserve.”

What did he want? Richard considered it. “I want to know why.”

“Why? Such a big question in such a small word. After all the detective work that led you here, you must have some idea.”

Sadly, Richard does not, in fact, have any real idea why.

But he’s about to find out.

2 thoughts on “Teaser Tuesday: “Railsea”

  1. Oh I thought “Kraken” was fantastic! It was a great story that surprised me multiple times. “Kraken” was the first China Mieville book I read, but far from the last.


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