On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one's death and the other's glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea-even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she's been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict--a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible--leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.
From China Mi�ville comes a novel for readers of all ages, a gripping and brilliantly imagined take on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick that confirms his status as "the most original and talented voice to appear in several years." (Science Fiction Chronicle)
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May 15, 2012
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Excerpt from Railsea by China Mieville
A meat island!
No. Back a bit.
A looming carcase?
Here. Weeks out, back when it was colder. The last several days spent fruitlessly pootling through rock passes & in the blue shadows of ice cliffs, late afternoon under a flinty sky. The boy, not yet bloodstained, was watching penguins. He stared at little rock islands furred in huddled birds plumping their oily feathers & shuffling together for comfort & warmth. He'd been giving them his attention for hours. When at last there came a sound from the speakers above, it made him start. It was the alarm for which he & the rest of the crew of the Medes had been waiting. A crackling blare. Then from the intercom came the exclamation: "There she blows!"
An instant frantic readiness. Mops were abandoned, spanners dropped, letters half-written & carvings half-whittled were thrust into pockets, never mind their wet ink, their sawdusty unfinishedness. To windows, to guardrails! Everyone leaned into the whipping air.
The crew squinted into the frigid wind, stared past big slate teeth. They swayed with the Medes's motion. Birds gusted nearby in hope, but no one was throwing scraps now.
Way off where perspective made the line of old rails meet, soil seethed. Rocks jostled. The ground violently rearranged. From beneath came a dust-muffled howl.
Amid strange landforms & stubs of antique plastic, black earth coned into a sudden hill. & up something clawed. Such a great & dark beast.
Soaring from its burrow in a clod-cloud & explosion it came. A monster. It roared, it soared, into the air. It hung a crazy moment at the apex of its leap. As if surveying. As if to draw attention to its very size. Crashed at last back down through the topsoil & disappeared into the below.
The moldywarpe had breached.
Of all the gapers on the Medes none gaped harder than Sham. Shamus Yes ap Soorap. Big lumpy young man. Thickset, not always unclumsy, his brown hair kept short & out of trouble. Gripping a porthole, penguins forgotten, face like a light-hungry sunflower poking out of the cabin. In the distance the mole was racing through shallow earth, a yard below the surface. Sham watched the buckle in the tundra, his heart clattering like wheels on tracks.
No, this was not the first moldywarpe he'd seen. Labours, as their playful groups were called, of dog-sized specimens constantly dug in Streggeye Bay. The earth between the iron & ties of the harbour was always studded with their mounds & backs. He'd seen pups of bigger species, too, miserable in earthtanks, brought back by hunters for Stonefacemas Eve; baby bottletop moldywarpes & moonpanther moldywarpes & wriggly tarfoot moldywarpes. But the great, really great, the greatest animals, Sham ap Soorap had seen only in pictures, during Hunt Studies.
He had been made to memorise a poemlike list of the moldywarpe's other names--underminer, talpa, muldvarp, mole. Had seen ill-exposed flatographs & etchings of the grandest animals. Stick-figure humans were drawn to scale cowering by the killer, the star-nosed, the ridged moldywarpe. & on one last much-fingered page, a page that concertinaed out to make its point about size, had been a leviathan, dwarfing the specklike person-scribble by it. The great southern moldywarpe, Talpa ferox rex. That was the ploughing animal ahead. Sham shivered.
The ground & rails were grey as the sky. Near the horizon, a nose bigger than him broke earth again. It made its molehill by what for a moment Sham thought a dead tree, then realised was some rust-furred metal strut toppled in long-gone ages, up-poking like the leg of a dead beetle god. Even so deep in the chill & wastes, there was salvage.
Trainspeople hung from the Medes's caboose, swayed between carriages & from viewing platforms, tamping out footstep urgency over Sham's head. "Yes yes yes, Captain . . .": the voice of Sunder Nabby, lookout, blurted from the speakers. Captain must have walkie-talkied a question & Nabby must have forgotten to switch to private. He broadcast his answer to the train, through chattering teeth & a thick Pittman accent. "Big boar, Captain. Lots of meat, fat, fur. Look at the speed on him . . ."
The track angled, the Medes veered, the wind fed Sham a mouthful of diesely air. He spat into railside scrub. "Eh? Well . . . it's black, Captain," Nabby said in answer to some unheard query. "Of course. Good dark moldywarpe black."
A pause. The whole train seemed embarrassed. Then: "Right." That was a new voice. Captain Abacat Naphi had patched in. "Attention. Moldywarpe. You've seen it. Brakers, switchers: to stations. Harpoonists: ready. Stand by to launch carts. Increase speed."
The Medes accelerated. Sham tried to listen through his feet, as he'd been taught. A shift, he decided, from shrashshaa to drag'ndragun. He was learning the clatternames.
"How goes treatment?"
Sham spun. Dr. Lish Fremlo stared at him from the cabin threshold. Thin, ageing, energetic, gnarled as the windblown rocks, the doctor watched Sham from beneath a shag of gun-coloured hair. Oh Stonefaces preserve me, Sham thought, how bleeding long have you been there? Fremlo eyed a spread of wooden-&-cloth innards that Sham had lifted from the hollow belly of a manikin, that he should by now certainly have labelled & replaced, & that were still all over the floor.
"I'm doing it, Doctor," Sham said. "I got a little . . . there was . . ." He stuffed bits back within the model.
"Oh." Fremlo winced at the fresh cuts Sham had doodled with his penknife in the model's skin. "What unholy condition are you giving that poor thing, Sham ap Soorap? I should perhaps intervene." The doctor put up a peremptory finger. Spoke not unkindly, in that distinct sonorous voice. "Student life is not scintillating, I know. Two things you'd best learn. One is to"--Fremlo made a gentle motion--"to calm down. & another is what you can get away with. This is the first great southern of this trip, & that means your first ever. No one, including me, gives a trainmonkey's gonads if you're practicing right now."