Things We Liked:Innovations made upon Moby Dick I Giant, Mammoth Killer Moles
Things We Hated:You already know the story I Some flatness to main characters
Something that seems to crop up from time to time in my circles of interest is this nautical pattern. I am not, for one reason or another, someone who thinks of themselves as been better suited on the high seas. Nor do I fancy myself, or any part of me for that matter, something akin [...]
Something that seems to crop up from time to time in my circles of interest is this nautical pattern. I am not, for one reason or another, someone who thinks of themselves as been better suited on the high seas. Nor do I fancy myself, or any part of me for that matter, something akin to Johnny Depp’s Performance in Pirates of the Caribbean. That just isn’t me, not even when I drink spiced rum. Yet somehow my favorite things all line up from time to time in the nautical realm.
The most recent example is the new book by China Mieville, Railsea. In his most recent foray into fiction, Mr. Mieville takes the concepts found within Moby Dick shakes things up a bit, gives them a decidedly fantasy feel, then sets them loose back into his narrative world. The results are mixed, but mostly well. Instead of the fiery Captain Ahab, we are introduced to Naphi. She has less of a temper, but the same blood-thirst as the old sailor. Instead of a sea filled with water and monsters, there is a vast ocean of rails, train rails. The ships are different types of trains and locomotive, anything that can ride the rails.
Our vantage point remains nearly the same, Ishmael is traded in for Sham. Moby Dick, is no longer a whale but a giant mole. Moles, in their various formats, take up the mantle as antagonists, goals, and finally the unthinking, murdering end to Captain Naphi. Seeing as the plot-line more or less follows the arc of Moby Dick, you probably already know the rest. If not, here are the major plot points:
Introduction of the narrator, our eyes and ears for the tale.
The Narrator joins up with the Captain of a vessel (sea-faring or train) who happens to have a vendetta against a great and terrible beast.
The beast is a murderous killing machine, will always be a monstrous, merciless killing machine.
The Captain’s vendetta is found later to be a debilitating affliction, whereupon he/she can not see reason unless it ends in the logic “This will slay the beast!”
Everything goes horribly wrong.
Hope is not snuffed out completely as the narrator gives hope.
Lo! The great beast is slain (or is he?).
The real downfall with this book is that the source material, Moby Dick, is so good. The term ‘Classic” has been bestowed upon Moby Dick and for better or worse, it will always remain that. That brings about a totally different point, that can relate to anything that is termed classic. People think of it as old and stuffy, they hold it to a higher standard and they want it to change their perceptions of reading, life or whatever they feel is most lacking in their world. The sad fact is that the term classic, kills everything that the work originally meant to set out to do.
In Moby Dick, each line is well crafted. There is a memorable or quotable scene pretty much every page. Living up to that, comparing favorably to that, is going to be near impossible from the get go. Mieville, achieves some success though. For the most part his main characters hold steady, you want Captain Naphi to succeed. You don’t understand her as humanly and as frighteningly as you do Ahab, but in this scenario, that really is not the point. The same goes for Sham. His involvement in the story is interesting. He is your viewpoint and ultimately his narration is what brings the whole of the story together. Maybe Mieville saw that too, as he uses him like the red stitching on a baseball to tightly sew up his rendition of the story.
Sadly, there are a few more characters that make this train go. They are the subplots the intrigue and the glue that work to hold the narrative together. While reading, the characters outside of Captain Naphi and Sham became the weakness of the story. They come off flat, cardboard, as though they would be happily inserted and used in any story. Mid-grade B actors that you see from time to time in films and thin, now how do I recognize that face?
Overall differences aside, this book is fun. Railsea doesn’t have the spontaneity of Kraken or Perdido Street Station, a few of Mieville’s other novels, but it certainly has the charm.