mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
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The Gun, the Engine: Here There Be Dragons. (78)

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman.

The Angel: "Fear Not."
His drawn six-shooters were named
Mysterious, Ways.

This book is so good it made me angry. I'm not used to envy, & I'm dripping green with it. There aren't a lot of things that make me go "damn, I wish I had thought of that first." Half-Made World is a glint in the eye of a very bad man, is the rustle of leaves that stir up delicious paranoia. It is a balm from the usual rush of Apocalyptic fiction-- rather, here we have universe not long out of Genesis; in fact, far enough West it is without form, & void; & darkness is upon the face of the deep. & the Spirits & Gods move upon the face of the waters. The book starts out very Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with one of his eponymous Generals; soon after it becomes a little bit Stephen King's Dark Tower series-- there is even some musing about a particularly beautiful rose-- & a little bit China Miéville. The book doesn't quite descend into the depths of the Weird that Miéville charts, staying rather tight & on point.

The narrative concerns to juggernauts of history, & the people caught between it. The Gun are terrorists, cut throats, anarchists. The Line are dystopian conformists, the crushing anonymity of industry. The Gun are the villain & anti-hero of every spaghetti western, The Line are the rapacious greed of "progress." Ah-- but make no mistake. They are very real, they are not totemic forces but rather Totemic forces. The Guns-- with diabolical names like Marmion & Belphegor-- are symbols of somethings, some otherworldly force of spite & malice & murder. They are the avatars in iron & wood & ivory, belching fire & death. The Guns are just that-- guns-- but more: they are an infernal lodge of creatures from-- Hell? an Evil Star? Nightmares?-- that speak in blasts, in the clattering of hammers, the whisper of whirling chambers. They Ride their agents like hateful loa, giving them speed, strength, healing, invincibility-- but demanding fell deeds in return.

The Engines are the god-machines of The Line; the Engines have names like Gloriana, Dryden, Fountainhead & their Song is too terrible for men to hear, or contemplate. They communicate through telegrams-- but you will never receive one. You will toil in obscurity at your desk forever, hunched & ugly, dominated by petty managers, tyrannizing in turn those beneath you in the hierarchy. You are condemned to be No Less Adequate than your peers. The Line will never stop; the Line will swallow the world-- their Engines are mad deities who kill with Noise & Poison Gas. They are ignoble, they water their gears with blood, & they are utterly uncaring. They are Duty, stripped of will. They make automatons of men, buzzing around, fat with cheap food, in cars & heavier-than-air machines.

In between them? There was the Red Republic, but that was crushed, destroyed. What can men do against the reckless hate of The Gun? & when any customer of the Line can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black-- well, the Republic fell, & its General went mad. Which brings us to our protagonist-- one of three, for we have an Agent of the Gun & a Linesman as well. Liv Alverhuysen is from the East, from the civilized world where things have been Made. She comes to the West by invitation, to the House Dolores, to help with the patients there. She is a classically trained psychologist, & has come to the Doll House to help with its patients-- it is a veteran's hospital & asylum. Of course it just so happens that one of her patients is the General, who knows of some secret, some MacGuffin that could set the world aflame & bring an end to the Line & the Gun.

With a lot of good books, you can enjoy it but feel free from jealousy, since it isn't what you'd make, given your druthers. Well, Half-Made World is following a lot of the paths my RPG campaign, Oubliette, walks down. I even have a Cult of the Gun & a Black Lodge! Ah, but Felix Gilman is a smooth operator. He paints a world where Chaotic Evil & Lawful Evil are duking it out, but in unexpected colours. Not only does he construct a calliope of many cunning pieces, puzzles & parts? But he makes it sing, he gets it swinging in perfect tune. Gilman focuses on the characters first, which anchors an otherwise fantastic setting, making the elaborate worldbuilding seem lived in, real, plausible. The Gun & The Line manage to be both menacing & seductive, & never spill over into preachy allegory. I thought it was absolutely wonderful-- I haven't been this excited about a book in a while.
Tags: books, gilman, haiku
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