Tag Archives: 4 Stars

The Half-Made World

 

Author: Felix Gilman

I think the allure of Westerns comes down to two points: the mystery of the frontier and the simplicity of the white hats versus the black hats (though often those white hats are trying to wipe clean the tarnish of their past). 

It’s hard to capture the spirit of exploration these days.  There are few mysteries left to the surface of the Earth.  I can crack open Google right now and see any place on the planet.  Mention the name of an exotic culture, and I can find out most of what there is to know about them from Wikipedia in a few minutes.  How do you capture the since of vastness of the world that Westerns have provided to generations past when the whole of the world seems known?

In The Half-Made World, Felix Gilman solves the riddle.  Set, roughly speaking, in a parallel 1860s, the world exists on a continuum between the well-known, well-solidified East, and the mysterious, tumultuous West, where Creation itself is not yet complete.  In between is the vast frontier of the Half-Made world, stable enough for living, but plagued with Powers unintentionally called forth from mankind’s subconscious.

It would be easy to label Half-Made World as Steampunk.  After all, it’s got steam – in the form of the demonic Engines that rule the bureaucratic army that is the Line – and it’s got punks – the chaotic Agents of the Gun.  But to label it as such overlooks the fantastic (in both senses) elements.  The Line and the Gun are engaged in a Great War between mankind’s lesser attributes – as the Agent Creedmore put it, humans made the Gun out of their spite, and the Line out of their fear.

While Gilman solves the riddle of the frontier by making the world only half-made, our heroes are not white hats.  One might be, the Doctor Liv Alverhyusen, who is broken but ultimately recognizable as a civilized person.  But Creedmore, possessed of a demonic Gun and a certain joie de guerre, is complex but ultimately sympathetic.  The clear villain, Lowry, is a middle manager of the Line, proud and ambitious despite the Line’s distain for individualism.

All three are charged with recovering a General whose mind was nearly destroyed by a weapon of the Line.  But this General may know a secret would could forever change the balance in the Great War.

The book charges through at a bullish pace, but if you cling to, you’ll come to learn a lot about these conflicted characters as the evolve under the pressures of their missions.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the book feels almost unfinished (I’ll spare you the wordplay).  This isn’t quite fair, the story promised in the opening is the one that is closed.  But there’s a cliffhanger – a clear invitation to a sequel.  The story I wanted to see finished will carry on, probably for many books to come.

But, really, if the worst you can say about a book is that you want to read more of it, that’s hardly so bad, right?

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Lamb

Lamb

Author: Christopher Moore

Chris Moore is a very capable writer who skillfully mixes humor, fantasy, and truly deep emotional elements into very compelling novels.

Lamb is perhaps his most famous (notorious?) work, a story of Jesus’s childhood as related by his buddy, Biff. Biff tells us of their travels, their travails, and the growth of Jesus’s understanding of his role.

Some may have a reaction against such a premise, but despite Moore’s generally irreverent humor, Jesus comes off very sympathetic. Essentially, Jesus plays the straight-man to Biff’s goofy, lewd, or numskulled comedy.

The book in genuinely hilarious, yes. But interestingly, it explores some interesting philosophical terrain with shocking depth. There are a few lines that I’ve added to my own personal worldview as a result.  In particular (though I’ve been unable to confirm whether it is original):

The three jewels of the Tao:  compassion, moderation, and humility.  Balthasar said compassion leads to courage, moderation leads to generosity, and humility leads to leadership.

There are scenes that made me squirm – sexualized young teens, for instance – but these are few, and can be defended as appropriate for the book, both in terms of history and plot.


Ariel


Author: Steven R. Boyett

What happens when all technology suddenly fails, and magic, however reluctantly, comes to life in the world. Ariel is the tale of a young man and his smart-ass unicorn on a quest to fight the evil Necromancer of the ruins of New York City. Fast and gripping, but touching. The only significant drawback is the pages and pages and pages and … and pages about hang gliding, which are enough to convince you that hang gliding most be a sport accountants pick up when cranking Excel gets too hectic. But, really, focus on the smart-ass unicorn. Her name’s Ariel.

Ariel was recently re-released ahead of Boyett’s long awaited sequel (which he swore he’d never write), Elegy Beach.


Mistborn: The Final Empire


Author: Brandon Sanderson

Synopsis: In a fantasy world where ash rains from the sky and the majority of people are oppressed by nobles ruling under an immortal god-king, a young girl discovers vast powers within herself and joins a plot to bring justice to the downtrodden.

Brandon Sanderson was recently tapped to complete the Wheel of Time series after the unfortunate death of Robert Jordan. This piqued my interest. When a friend recommended the Mistborn trilogy, I decided to take him up on it.

And I’m glad I did. Epic trilogies are the bread and butter of fantasy, and Sanderson is starting his off with a bang. In the first several pages, I was concerned about the prose – it was a little literal, not highly imaginative. I took this to be a sign of the story to come, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The story is superb. The characters are rich, but fathomable. That’s an apt word, here, because one actually feels that there are depths to fathom – not de riguer in fantasy circles.

The magic system is sensible, complete, and compelling. One consumes metals to power a handful of effects, including the capacity to Push or Pull on metal objects, but only on the line between the mage and the object. I was most impressed with the physical astuteness Sanderson brought to the magic system. If you Push or Pull on an object much lighter than you, it moves. If it’s much heavier (or attached to something heavier, or Push or Pulled against it), you move instead. This makes for some fantastically imaginative and stirring action scenes.

The final books in the trilogy are already out. I will be picking them up soon, and reporting my thoughts here.