Author: Philip Reeve
Release Date: 4/1/16
Reviewed by: Emily
In the distant future, people live on many planets spread throughout the galaxy and are transported by the K-Bahns: trains built by the elusive Guardians that allow people to travel among planets in seconds along the Great Network. Young Zen Starling is recruited by Raven, a mysterious man whose train rides a secret rail system, to sneak aboard the Emperor’s train and steal a simple box. Zen lands in something far more dangerous than a free trip across the galaxy when he gets tangled up with the Guardians, the ruling families of the Great Network, and an ages-old secret about the origins of the gates.
I’m a huge fan of Philip Reeve’s books- he’s an incredibly original science fiction author. One of my favorite things about the book is that the trains have personalities. They have thoughts and can control themselves. The trains are the center of the Railhead world. The government is based on who has control of the railways, and the entire economy depends on people being able to travel across the galaxy on the trains. In contrast to many futuristic science fiction stories where life is overwhelmingly automated, these integral pieces of technology are very human. They have their own lives and histories, friends and homes.
Then there’s Nova. She’s a droid, working for Raven, but she doesn’t see herself as separate from humans. In fact, she says, “I am human… I have a processor for a brain instead of a lump of meat, and my body is made of different substances, but I have feelings and dreams and things, like humans do.” Nova joins Zen on his heist, and the two begin to build a friendship. There’s also these unnerving creatures called Hive Monks, which are humanoids made up of a mass of cockroaches. The Hive Monks are searching for the Insect Lines, train lines that they believe leads to a world for bugs. Even these masses of bugs have dreams and desires.
This is where Railhead really shines: it questions what it means to be human by presenting the audience with multiple complex situations and lets us draw our own conclusions.