Saturday, 3 October 2015

The A to Z of Railhead - C is for Cleave (by Philip Reeve)

It was only a year or so ago that I was bemoaning the general lack of space set science fiction for young adult and younger readers (although if you're a long time reader of The Book Zone you will know that I have been moaning about this for a good few years). However, in the last 18 months publishers have obviously decided that space is cool and marketable again (anything to do withh the forthcoming Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens?). In my opinion, Philip Reeve's Railhead is the best book so far (and by far) in this long overdue new wave of YA space opera (it's TRAINS IN SPACE. Need I say more? It was published two days ago and it is flippin' brilliant!)) and today I am honoured to be welcoming the great Mr Reeve himself to The Book Zone as part of the A to Z of Railhead tour. 

C is for Cleave

When I started to write Railhead, I wanted to write about a future that was worth living in - a positive vision to set against all the dystopias and apocalypses of recent fiction. So how did I end up starting in a dump like Cleave?

Zen's hometown was a sheer-sided ditch of a place. Cleave’s houses and factories were packed like shelved crates up each wall of a mile-deep canyon on a one-gate world called Angkat whose surface was scoured by constant storms. Space was scarce, so the buildings huddled into every available scrap of terracing, and clung to cliff faces, and crowded on the bridges which stretched across the gulf between the canyon walls - a gulf which was filled with sagging cables, dangling neon signage, smog, dirty rain, and the fluttering rotors of air taxis, ferries and corporate transports.

Well, maybe a hero needs to start out in some place where he’s not content. Otherwise, why would he go looking for adventure?

Between the steep-stacked buildings a thousand waterfalls went foaming down to join the river far below, adding their own roar to the various dins from the industrial zone. The local name for Cleave was Thunder City.

A few years ago, on my wife’s birthday, we went to Lydford Gorge, on the far side of Dartmoor. It’s a place about as unlike a futuristic industrial city as you could imagine. The river Lyd flows through the deep gorge. There is a famous waterfall called The White Lady, and a beautiful, mossy path leading up through the oak woods, beside the rapids. There’s also a spot called where the river plunges down into a deep chasm. Some previous landowner bolted metal walkways to the rock-faces so that sightseers could venture closer. The walkways are rusted now and maybe unsafe; they were certainly closed off the day that we were there. But looking at them from the higher path made me think about a whole city built in that way, jutting from vertical cliff faces, half drowned in waterfall spray. Ideas lie in wait for us in the landscape, and they’re not always the ideas that we expect.

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