Welcome to the future. A world brimming with technology, running on data networks, androids ('motoriks') and bioengineering; a galaxy of planets watched over by god-like A.I.s, tasked by Old Earth to look after humanity. A place where K-Gates and network rail speed you across the galaxy in a matter of minutes, on trains that sing and talk and think and feel.
Zen Starling is a railhead: he loves to ride the trains, station to station, planet to planet. He’s just a petty thief, a nobody really, so why is he suddenly being followed? Who's after him and what do they want? Taken onto a part of the network he never knew existed, Zen meets Raven, an enigmatic figure who gives Zen a job: steal a small box from the ruling family’s luxury, high security train.
But – of course – things don’t exactly go according to plan. From the preparations for the heist, entrance onto the train, and the explosive consequences – in more ways than one – Zen is about to uncover a lot more than he bargained for. What's in the box? Who is Raven? Who can be trusted?
This book is brilliant. I mean, sentient trains, anyone? What else do you need? Every train has its own character and its own foibles, and Philip Reeve’s world-building is exceptional – there is so much to discover, for us and for Zen, and it all fits together perfectly. I don’t want to say too much about the story – much better to discover it for yourself – suffice to say there are plenty of different elements to get your teeth into. The set-up reminded me a little bit of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, a government spread across the planets, the different layers of citizen, but Railhead is much more sci-fi and much less Western than Firefly.
Once there was a boy, Raven tells us… We all like to know the truth, but what if, this time, the truth will destroy us?
I loved Railhead. In fact, I think I might go and read it again.