“Well, no one knows,” Caldera said, “but they’ve got a sense of the possibilities. What do they say where you come from? Streggeye, you said? What do you think? Were the rails put down by gods?” Her questions came faster. Were they extruded from the ground? Were they writing in heavenly script, that people unknowingly recited as they travelled? Were the rails produced by as-yet-not-understood natural processes? Some radicals said there were no gods at all. Were the rails spit up by the interactions of rock, heat, cold, pressure & dirt? Did humans, big-brained monkeys, think up ways to use them when the rails emerged, to stay safe from the deadly dirt? Was that how trains got thought up? Was the world an infinity of rails down as well as around, seams of them through layers of earth & salvage, down to the core? Down to hell? Sometimes storms gusted off topsoil & uncovered iron below. The most excavation-gung-ho salvors claimed to have found some tracks yards underground. What about Heaven? What was in Heaven? Where was it? (Railsea, p. 181)
Certain subjects will probably interest me until I die. The lengths to which we go to justify our beliefs and avoid being wrong is one of them. We cling so hard to our philosophies that we end up with mechanised arms, like Captain Naphi, or send our navys out to get hold of two children, the way Maniniki did.
Realizing that my childhood faith was not based on facts, had an immense effect on my ability to handle the thought of being wrong. Debating an issue is now merely fun. No longer do I see other people’s beliefs as something to be feared. Some of the lies I told myself are no longer necessary.
Lying to ourselves, even if we are not aware of lying, holds us firmly in our socially accepted places. Sham Yes ap Shoorap is a brave kid. He often needs to be prompted; but by asking himself difficult questions, he manages to defy conventions and seeks answers. Answers are sometimes only found in dangerous waters, and the metaphoric waters of the railsea are indeed dangerous. The Railsea seethes with life wanting to devour anything and anyone in their paths. One has the choice between being eaten by giant burrowing owls, giant moldywarpes, giant earwigs, giant naked mole rats, giant turtles, blood rabbits, tundra worms and so on. Being on the moletrain was one thing. Going from that to his handcart was quite another.
The Railsea‘s culture is post-apocalyptic. A huge war between rail-barons and other big corporations has caused environmental damage that has lasted long enough for cute creatures to mutate into threats for humans. The heavens are only seen as a smog cover containing angels. Yes, angels. And quite scary ones, too. Scientific knowledge has more or less died along with anything resembling healthy ecology for humans. Yet people keep on messing up the ground even more, especially when greed prompts justification. Greed is a fairly common motivator for destroying our habitat in today’s world. I suppose it always has been. I admit that my own attempts at being an environmentally responsible person are inconsistent, yet I keep on trying. George Carlin has a fitting commentary on the effect humans have on the Earth. Railsea seems a fitting vision of it getting revenge.
While Railsea is indeed a young adult story, it is also very much an adult story.
Railsea can be found at Amazon