Like the highly recommended The Last Page (hc, 2010) [ISBN-13: 978-0765325160] by Anthony Huso, todays book is the first in a planned duology - first hint of a new trend ?
Before I go into details let me say thank you to the people at Tor/Forge for sending me a copy of The Half-Made World (hc, 2010) [ISBN-13: 978-0765325525] by Felix Gilmann.
The world is only half made. What exists has been carved out amidst a war between two rival factions: the Line, paving the world with industry and claiming its residents as slaves; and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence that cripples the population with fear. The only hope at stopping them has seemingly disappeared—the Red Republic that once battled the Gun and the Line, and almost won. Now they’re just a myth, a bedtime story parents tell their children, of hope.The Half-Made World ... Hmmm ..... A disc world? A planet unveiled half? Something like Cockayne hidden from the rest of the world?
To the west lies a vast, uncharted world, inhabited only by the legends of the immortal and powerful Hill People, who live at one with the earth and its elements. Liv Alverhyusen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels to the edge of the made world to a spiritually protected mental institution in order to study the minds of those broken by the Gun and the Line. In its rooms lies an old general of the Red Republic, a man whose shattered mind just may hold the secret to stopping the Gun and the Line. And either side will do anything to understand how.
After reading 479 pages divided in prologue, three books subdivided into 52 named and numbered chapters and an epilogue, I can tell you that the described world is half-made. But I still don't know whether it is a disc world or not. To be honest the answer is not important.
The known part of the world is definitely earth-like. The unknown part is something in progress. There is oxygen to breathe and a kind of light. Vague, constantly deforming elements. The picture of a sandbox for gods came up in my mind.
The "unmade" part is the habitat of the legendary and mysterious Hill People - beings, who are living in balance with their surrounding and who are long living (immortal?) and powerful.
You should definitely reflect on yourself when you reach the "unmade" world within the story because it sets thoughts in motion which will lead you far beyond the story. I know what I'm talking about. Just in this moment while writing these lines concepts like Dune, Arrakis, Mordor, Grey Havens, Protozoa, Avatar, The Word for World is forest, Birth of life, aftermath of the big bang come up in my mind. It is eerie and fascinating at the same time ...
I'm sorry I have been nearly lost in my thoughts.
Let's turn the view to the known part of the world. A world injured by war and exploited by ruthless inhabitants. The world is divided and ruled by two main factions. In between you find Swiss like neutral "islands".
On the one side there is the LINE:
Imagine a regime like in Orwell's 1984 full of ruthlessness, greed and totalitarianism enriched with a steampunk version of Sandworm on rails, Harvester, Thopter and more.
On the other side there is the GUN:
A cult led be daemons who rule with fear violence and terror. Anarchy is the law. They use people as semi marionettes. a daemon connects to a person and inhabits a weapon. They use thought control to rule and act like a part of the brain. In case the medium does not follow the orders it will be mentally punished. But there is also a sweet, bittersweet venom. The daemon takes care of the body he controls which means healing, long life and supernatural powers (like running the whole day without a rest, keep the body warm when it i freezing).
Finally there are a few neutral territories like the area where the House Dolorous (there is a deeper meaning) has been founded. It is a hospital at the end of the known world which takes care of the victims of the Great War and
the ongoing conflict between LINE and GUN.
Now you have a first impression of The Half-Made World and the "unmade" half including the main factions.
Don't expect page long description of the world, the machines and so on. Felix Gilman delivers the exact amount
of description to set your imagination "machine" in motion and he does it in a catchy prose.
So far one could think that is a steampunk novel enriched with mystery and magic. I will destroy this impression with the three missing pillars of the story: Characters, storytelling and the story itself.
The world, the characters, storytelling and the story itself are like the legs of a table. If one fails the rest fails too.
The whole story is told from the POV's of the three main characters. The whole story? Nearly the whole story. There is a small part told from "the subject of desire". What? Don't worry. I will explain.
Based on all information I delivered so far you will not be surprised when I tell you that there is a LINE character, a GUN Character and one in the beginning neutral character. I mean neutral in the sense of not belonging to the LINE or the GUN.
Dr. Lyvset Alvershuysen - Liv for her friends - is a doctor of the new science of psychology and a member of the Koenigswald Academy. She is well educated but suffers from traumas ( you will get to know them but in the book) in the past. Furthermore her beloved husband, Dr. Bernhardt Alvershuysen, died recently. A bunch of reason to "escape" her current life. The final cause to leave Koenigswald Academy is a letter from House of Dolorous. Director Howell jr. invited Bernhardt to work for the House. Liv decided to go there instead of her requested but dead husband.
It will be a long and exhausting travel and she does not know anything about one patient of House Dolorous:
the absent-minded General Orlan Enver.
Many years ago the General built the Red Valley Republic- a third faction between the LINE and the GUN.
For twenty years "the Republic had been an island of peace and sanity." [p. 10]
The LINE and the GUN needed ten years, a period which is known as the Great War, to finally defeat the Republic. The fall of the Republic ended with a last battle where the last Republican army has been slaughtered.
The General has been seriously injured (mind and body) but survived the battle.
Orlan Enver, the forgotten General lives wihtout memory in House Dolorous until the LINE and the GUN found out that he bears the secret of a weapon which can destroy them both. That turns the General in to the subject of desire.
It took some time until the GUN found out where to find the General. The GUN reactivated Creedmoor, one of their top agents and set him in motion. Target: House Dolorous.
Creedmoor tried to escape the GUN but he could not resist the bittersweet venom I described above. He has an ambivalent relationship to his daemon. It is love and hate with a trace of disobedience. He appears like the "lone gun man" as described in the wild west mythology. You will understand him and his motive when he reveals parts of his past.
When an agent of the GUN is on the run the LINE is not far away. They do not really know the location but they observe the GUN agents. And they know Creedmoor. The GUN set Sub-Inviligator 3rd Grade Lowry in motion to follow Creedmoor. Lowry is absolutely obedient and never complains. He has more in common with a machine than a human being. I can't withstand. I must give you a short description of Lowry's office:
"Not only was his office small, but a tangle of pipes and cables poked through its walls at roughly head height, carrying important fuels and heatin and cooling fluids from one part of the station to another, clanging and steaming and occasionally dripping warm acrid water onto the back of Lowry's neck." [p. 41]
This is the origin point of the story: Three completely different individuals with different objectives on their way to the same place: House Dolorous
The travel to House Dolorous is just the first highlight of the book .....the rest you need to discover on your own .....
It is the story of Liv, Creedmoor, Lowry and General Orlan Enver.
It is a story set in a fantasy world full of western , steampunk, adventure, magic and mystery.
It is a story of love, hate, fanaticism, anarchism, convictions, beliefs, tyranny, religion, the status of individuals in a society, flora and fauna versus industry.
It is the story of four individuals trapped by their inner and outer daemons and the reasonableness of their existence.
I would say the core of The Half-Made World is the search of ourselves, our identity in a complex world.
Partially it reminded me of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
This all is written in a dark, compelling and thoughtful prose which baits you with the first line and you can't escape until the end.
There are passages which consist of inner and/or outer monologues/dialogs which could, I emphasize could be extremely boring. But especially in these passages Felix Gilman shows his masterly storytelling talent.
The Half-Made World belongs to the best books I read in 2010. There is only one really, really small thing which hindered me to declare it to my 2010 top read: The End
As I told in the beginning, The Half-Made World is the first part of a duology and I'm 100% sure that I will understand the end of The Half-Made World as soon as I have read the second book. Until then it is for me a half-made story (world).
It happens not that often that I feel a bit exhausted after writing a review. But I won't let you go without some last famous words:
Don't miss to read one of the best fantasy books in 2010
This is fantasy for the mind and the heart
The Half-Made World will reverberate in your mind for weeks