Railsea by China Mieville was a delight both to my inner 12 year old who loves alternate (or possibly far future) worlds full of junk to salvage and monsters AND to my middle aged self who reads Moby Dick every year. To be fair my middle aged self also loves junk-filled alternate worlds, but you take my point.
The world here is a desert, and the Railsea is a complex web of train tracks. It is just above land through which massive Godzilla sized monsters burrow and cause mayhem. There are “islands” or continents which those monsters can’t penetrate and on which people live safely. The highlands extend into an upper atmosphere that is poisoned. Commerce takes place on the Railsea, with trains taking the place of boats. Giant moles (or moldywarpes) are hunted for their meat and various other extracts. The protagonist Sham is a doctor's assistant on a moling train. The captain of Sham's train is on a quest to capture a specific moldywarpe, “the color of aging teeth.” She is not the only captain seeking a similar beast. Others hunt a giant centipede or weasel. They call their quarry their philosophies. So, while this is on one level a loving tribute to Moby Dick, it is also a very funny meta-joke at its expense. It also has some very smart things to say about what happens when people get overly caught up in their ideologies to the point that people suffer.
That said, all the philosophizing and meta commentary is implied by the action. This is a book that doesn't stop moving once the action starts. Funny and thought provoking without being didactic or slowing down. One of the most fun things I've read this year. Mieville continues to climb my list of favorite authors.
Library Books, Rereads, Etc 2020 11/35