China Miéville

When an author’s writing really sticks in your mind, it makes you want to keep track of what they have published lately.

Case in point:  In 2007 I was captivated by Un Lun Dun, which was the first book for young readers by British author China Miéville.  I was drawn into the world he created of modern London in parallel with an absurdist underworld in which discarded milk cartons and umbrellas come to life, and whose denizens are waiting for a special girl to fulfill a prophecy.   Plucky Deeba, who is not the “Chosen One” (but is her friend) has to persevere through a number of thrilling setbacks in order to defeat the shadowy forces of evil.  I thought it was a literary work of great originality and imagination.

In the ensuing years he has concentrated on adult science fiction and fantasy, picking up a few Hugo awards along the way.

Then last year Miéville aimed for a teen audience with the novel Railsea.  Once again he has vividly imagined an alternate world.  Trains of all descriptions do battle on a landscape heavily crisscrossed by rails.  Some of them, such as the moletrain on which protagonist Sham Yes ap Soorap is a doctor’s assistant, hunt the massive, dangerous and elusive giant moles who tunnel beneath the earth.  His captain is obsessed with a particular extremely large mole with unusual light fur.  (Any references to Moby Dick are strictly intentional.)  When Sham discovers an intriguing artifact that suggests there may be life beyond the railsea, he sets off on a quest of his own. 

Like Miéville’s earlier fiction, this book explodes with crackling writing, lots of action and memorable characters.   I hope younger readers are not put off by the rich vocabulary and stylistic quirkiness (such as using “&” instead of “and”).   Railsea is a fictional realm that is well worth visiting.

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