Snowpiercer, Railsea and The Last Days of New Paris (R-072)

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Snowpiercer is a 2013 film starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton and a bunch of other familiar faces. It is based on the post-apocalyptic dystopian French language sci-fi graphic novel originally created by Jacques Lob in 1982. Nine years after Lob’s death Benjamin Legrand continued the story with ‘The Explorers’ and in 2000 with ‘The Crossing’. English translations were published after the release of the movie and reviewed by me in this dusty old post.

In the film the catastrophe that has transformed planet Earth into an unliveable frozen wasteland (largely unexplained in the graphic novels) is explained during the opening sequences as the unfortuante biproduct of trying to tackle global-warming by spraying a substance into the Earth’s atmosphere. Snowpiercer is a train which is in perpetual motion, carrying the last of humanity, around this frozen world. People are segregated in the back, middle or front of the train by a class system and the story is very much the age-old masses versus the classes storyline.

If you can accept this setup and just enjoy the ride then the film is okay. Just don’t scratch too hard at the sci-fi veneer or question any of the technology. It was nice to finally see the movie and find it to be an improvement on the graphic novels (rarely the case). Tilda Swinton’s performance as Mason, the governess of the train, is particularly entertaining, delivered as it with a thick Northern English accent.

Railsea by China Mieville reads like a cross between Moby Dick and the 1990 Kevin Bacon classic Tremors, and is not a million miles away from the world of Snowpiercer – although there’s lots more trains, lots more rails and far less snow. Set in a post-apocalyptic future Earth, the seas have been replaced the railsea – soft areas of earth where giant moles and other oversized creatures dig under the remains of lost civilisations and a vast carpet of interconnected railway systems.

Told mostly from the point of view of adventurous boy Sham Yes ap Soorap, Railsea is a story for readers of all ages and carries the same imaginative flair and eye for a well-crafted sentence as Mieville’s adult fiction. The book, perhaps by virtue of its broad intended audience, is more accessible than most of Mieville’s more baroque work, but no less layered and captivating.

It is also a book which delivers on the promise of something meaningful at the end of the characters’ quest. If Railsea was a film I’d be describing the great visuals at the end of the film and the brilliant choice of shots and scene composition.

China Mieville’s novella The Last Days of New Paris is by no means less imaginative but is steeped in Surrealist references and is therefore less accessible. It is written from two years within an extended alternate history of World War II in which the Allies and the Nazis have dabbled in dark arts.

The 1941 storyline tells the story of Jack Parsons an American who has an occult box which can change the course of the war. He intends to use it’s power to enervate the famous golem of Prague, but when he crosses paths with an enclave of Surrealists in Marseille, his plans go awry.

The 1950 storyline centres on Thibaut, a freedom fighter, who roams the streets of Paris where Surrealist manifestations and demons stalk. He meets an American photographer called Sam and they work to uncover a Nazi plot which could turn the war for control of the streets of the French capital and perhaps the whole war in Hitler’s favour.

The book was an amazingly enjoyable experience since I am an art fan in need of further education. I found a great reference for all the artworks and artists mentioned in this useful community post: Graphic Annotations of China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris.

A quick note on the format of my titles – I realised the redundancy in the way I am titling these rambles and so I will use the shorthand ‘R’ for ramble and then the number from now on. This will serve to differentiate them from my ‘single topic’ posts of which there are fewer and fewer. Or is it less and less?

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