There was a time when we did not form all words as now we do, in writing on a page. There was a time when the word “&” was written with several distinct & separate letters. It seems madness now. But there it is, & there is nothing we can do about it. Humanity learnt to ride the rails, & that motion made us what we are, a ferromaritime people. The lines of the rail sea go everywhere but from one place straight to another. It is always switchback, junction, coils, around & over our own train-trails. What word better could there be to symbolize the rail sea that connects & separates all lands, than “&” itself? Where else does the rail sea take us but to this place & that one & that one & that one, & so on? & what better embodies, in the sweep of the pen, the recurved motion of trains, than “&”? An efficient route from where we start to where we end would make the word the tiniest line. But it takes a veering route, up & backwards, overshooting & correcting, back down again south & west, crossing its own earlier path, changing direction, another overlap, to stop, finally, a few hairs’ widths from where we began. & tacks & yaws, switches on its way to where it’s going, as we all must do.

  • excerpt from China Mieville’s Railsea 📚 💬

Railsea book cover npr