The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was the December book for my SF book club. I might not have gotten around to it if it hadn't been. I know I wouldn't have finished it.
The Half-Made World is Western Steampunk in a world nothing like ours. As the title indicates, the world isn't even fully formed. There are two major forces battling it out for the a recently formed portion. Into this mix comes Liv Alverhuysen, a psychologist who just wants to make people better. She's come to the edge of the world to treat people hit by weapons devised by the Line, the dominant force taking over the world by building railroads to traverse it. She's kidnapped by John Creedmore, an agent of the Gun, the chaotic faction opposing the Line. She's not the main target, though. Her patient, who served as a General in a third force that was wiped out, is Creedmore's goal. The senseless old man has the secret of some weapon locked away inside his mind.
A lot of the narrative is spent on travel, and the destination isn't always clear. I felt the strongest part of the narrative is when the characters settle down in a place, even if just temporarily. When they're traveling, the narrative meanders, seemingly going nowhere. I found myself wishing those long passages had been summarized. The descriptions are creative and unique, but I didn't feel they justified the narrative space. The book made me impatient.
It didn't help that I felt no connection to the characters. I liked Liv, and any time when she affected the narrative was a high point. Unfortunately, that wasn't often. She spent most of the book being dragged around by one force or another.
Creedmore, though, is your typical swaggering antihero found in Westerns. He's careless with human lives, selfish, sleeps around, and is often just as compelled as Liv. He resists Marmion, the entity that gives him his power, but he refuses to let go of it. For all his swaggering, he's just the Gun's pawn.
Lowry is a Linesman who's also assigned with unlocking the secrets inside the General's mind, and he's just as helpless as the rest to affect the narrative. He has the Engines to order him around, and they enforce strict discipline. Failure isn't tolerated, much less even thinking about rebellion.
I might've forgiven the book's pace if I'd felt a sense of closure at the end. Instead, it sets up the next book, without ever resolving the question of what the General knew.
There are those who like the plodding narratives, the antiheroes everyone loves to hate, and not knowing whether the author even knows where they're going. I'm not one of them, though there are clearly plenty. This book is popular and well-liked.
And so, I conclude that this book simply wasn't to my taste. It wasn't poorly written, it just failed to engage me.
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