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?