The Rise of Ransom City Hardcover – Nov 27 2012
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“On my being handed the book now in your hands, I promised myself - tacitly, of course - I'd only take a peek. But will you look at what's happened? Mr. Gilman's appeal promptly poured itself all over me, and I, by golly, in superb reciprocity, pored all over his pages from first to last. Is this not the joy in reading, no less in being? - enforced attention, the delightsome entrapment, a thorough-going filling and the rare repose of one's having been emptied -- utterly, gratefully - out?” ―Gordon Lish
“Felix Gilman has a sly wit and an assured hand. He is a fresh and original voice in fantasy.” ―Lavie Tidhar, author of Osama
“A fantasy that Mark Twain would have been proud to write. Felix Gilman's theme is nothing less than the Matter of America, the story at the root of the whole continent. Never has fantasy been darker, cleverer, more sly, or more touching in its refraction of our own world. I scratch my head in awe.” ―Francis Spufford, author of Red Plenty
“This sequel to The Half-Made World stands well alone; written like an old-fashioned memoir, it seamlessly blends whimsy with deadly seriousness.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Like The Half-Made World that came before it, The Rise of Ransom City brings us a re-imagined tale of America's Old West, mixing steampunk and magic realism to great effect.” ―Kirkus Reviews ("Best SF/F Reads In November")
“Gripping, imaginative, terrifically inventive . . . We haven't had a science fiction novel like this for a long time.” ―Ursula LeGuin on The Half Made World
“The Half-Made World takes the brutality of the wild west and twists it into an epic fantasy that left me staggered. It brings the sense of wonder back to fantasy by creating a complex and visceral world unlike anything I've read. This is a stunning novel.” ―Mary Robinette Kowal on The Half Made World
“Refreshingly unlike any other novel I've read. Felix Gilman writes like a modern-day Dickens drunk on rich invention and insane war.” ―Stephen Donaldson, author of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant on The Half Made World
“A much-needed breath of fresh air in dystopian fiction. Utterly compelling. Trembling with invention and adventure. Reads as if it's the love-child of McCarthy's The Road and Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Highly recommended!” ―Eric Van Lustbader on The Half Made World
“Felix Gilman's third novel is his best, and a somewhat stunning mix of Cormac McCarthy and Steampunk.” ―Jeff Vandermeer on The Half Made World
About the Author
FELIX GILMAN has been nominated for the John W. Campbell award and the Locus Award for best new writer. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Thunderer, Gears of the City, and The Half-Made World, which was listed by Amazon as one of the ten best SFF novels of 2010. He lives with his wife in New York City.See all Product Description
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The Great War between the Line and the Gun has been ongoing for two decades when Ransom sets out to make his fortune. Agents of the Line serve the Engines and know the secret of electricity -- an expensive secret monopolized by the Northern Lighting Corporation -- but Ransom has created an Apparatus that produces light without cost, based on ideas he acquired (or stole) from the First Folk. He calls it the Ransom Process, and it is a work in progress that he doesn't fully understand. The Ransom Process creates heat and light and magnetism but it also has unpredictable (and sometimes violent) impacts on time and gravity. In its later versions, it seems to attract phantoms.
In search of investors, Ransom travels with his mechanic (the secretive Mr. Carver) and, along the way, picks up two fellow travelers who introduce themselves as Elizabeth Harper and her father. We eventually learn that these characters are not who they appear to be. Ransom later meets a feisty woman named Adela who invented the player piano. Ransom's journey brings him into contact with both the Line and the Gun, as both forces (and others) would love to weaponize the Ransom Process.
The Rise of Ransom City is an odd but intriguing novel. I appreciated the relative absence of expository writing. It might not appeal to readers who need to be spoon-fed but I think it's refreshing to find a writer who doesn't feel the need to explain every detail of the world the writer has created. Felix Gilman thrusts the reader into the world as Ransom knows it. Ransom, writing his autobiography in the first person, assumes the reader lives in that world and therefore doesn't bother to explain much about it. The reader is left to puzzle out the background, a task that becomes possible as more information comes to light over the course of the novel. In that regard, having read The Half-Made World would be useful but not critical. The sequel stands nicely on its own.
The Rise of Ransom City incorporates a large dose of fantasy (or at least creates a world where the laws of physics as we understand them are a bit cockeyed) and a little bit of horror. There are echoes of post-apocalyptic fiction and of alternate histories. There are elements of steampunk and of westerns. The Rise of Ransom City is at various times an adventure story, a road novel, a romance, a political thriller, a comedy, a melodrama, and a twisted version of a rags-to-riches story. The novel's defiance of categorization is one of its most attractive features.
The book's success is largely due to the richness of Harry Ransom's personality. Part inventor, part philosopher, part con-artist, part adventurer, part dreamer, part schemer, Ransom is at times full of himself and at other times full of remorse. Often cowardly but occasionally brave, often confused but occasionally seized by a clarity of purpose, Ransom is engaging because, despite his all-too-common flaws, he is a good-hearted idealist who struggles (albeit with little success) to make the world better. His complexity is a welcome relief from the one-dimensional heroes who populate so many science fiction and fantasy novels.
Felix Gilman is an imaginative writer and a first-rate storyteller. In this wide-ranging story, Gilman pokes fun at religion by inventing one of his own (the Smilers), lambasts business tycoons, skewers the inclination of the judicial system to protect the powerful, and metaphorically comments upon Guantanamo-style interrogations. I'm not a fan of demons and spirits and supernatural characters of that sort, so I am happy to report that they play a relatively small role in the story (and the phantoms, at least, can be explained without relying on the supernatural). Ultimately, this enigmatic novel worked for me not just because the story is entertaining, but because it focuses on flesh-and-blood humans, with all their flaws, foibles, inconsistencies, and uncontrolled emotions. If I could, I would give The Rise of Ransom City 4 1/2 stars.
It turns out this book is rather tedious. Honestly, I wanted to like it, but it's just not that much fun. The first book (The Half-Made World) gave a great over-the-shoulder look at the world from Creedmoor's point of view, the whole curse/gift thing about fighting on the side of the Gun, and also mixed in bits of Liv's and one of the Linesman's experiences of the world and really fleshed out the world in a vivid way (and it's a pretty strange -in a good way- world...). It also stuck with characters who had a good view of the action.
This book, on the other hand, gives you a first-person journal/diary telling of what is probably a good story, but the narrator doesn't see most of the good parts. If you haven't yet, go read Half-Made World, and skip this one.
What we've got here instead is a steady paced, occasionally quaint, (mock-)memoir in which self-taught inventor and utopian Harry Ransom relates how his life-long aspiration to make a better world, preferably alongside fortune & fame, through the application of a free energy device has played out, while traveling from town to town on the Rim separating the made and unmade worlds, then ending up in booming Jasper City in pursuit of the initially lionized self-made man, investor Mr Baxter.
In the wake of an ill-fated demonstration of his Apparatus' working and resultant mayhem generating unsolicited rumours, the Ransom Process - mistaken, not without some basis, for a weapon or bomb of some sort - draws the unwelcome attention of both the Line and the Gun: "It operates by cycling power between one world and another - one time and another - one state of being and another - it drags some things with it" (p. 343).
Find out if he is able to evade his pursuers and realize his dream, or the unrelenting forces of War eventually destroy him as well.
Except for the last four chapters (pp. 321-63) assuming a grimmer tone befitting the oppressive hive-like milieau of the Line HQ at Harrow Cross, charming irony is also detectable here and there in the fluid prose. For instance, speaking of the editor of the memoir, one journalist named Elmer Merrial Carson's impressive eyebrows: "Throughout our conversation they bristled and flattened as he spoke so that they could express good humor at one moment, curiosity the next, fulminating wrath when necessary. Sometimes I felt I was conversing with the eyebrows and he was merely taking notes" (p. 193). To which the gentleman so depicted laconically remarks in a footnote: "Worse things have been said" (p. 200).
As the talented storyteller that Gilman is, elsewhere he exhibits a keen sense of being fully aware of his rapt audience: "It is very strange this business of turning flesh-and-blood people into words" (p. 28), or "No yarn of world's-edge adventure and daring is complete without wolves. If I ever got this far into a story-book without wolves I would demand my money back" (p. 91) - and accordingly, the reader gets exposed to a ferocious attack of lupi.
Given the limits of the memoir, that is the absence of an omnipresent narrator, we are offered only glimpses of brief recollection of other events - citing hearsay of Creedmoor's or Miss Alverhuysen's involvement - taking place in the Delta baronies, Juniper City, the revival of the Red Republic, etc., all of which may serve as a synopsis to be elaborated, hopefully, in the third installment of this steampunkish weird western saga of alternative America. You may also notice veiled references to what is uncannily pervasive in our real world, namely the bankster-military-industrial cabal/triumvirate or the mindless arms race.
One Laura Miller, staff writer for <Salon>, may well have captured the underlying message in her assessment, thusly: "It's possible to see [the novel] as a rumination on the hubris of the American Dream, if by "dream" you mean a form of individualism that holds it possible for a man to be all three things - rich, grand and free - at the same time...a diagnosis of the American character as alternately possessed by ruthless utilitarianism and nihilistic self-aggrandizement..." (quoted at the author's website)
The first 185 pages of this book relate Harry's childhood and his travels around the West, and I honestly found it a slog and thought of giving up more than once. Like too many fantasy sequels, it lapses into a tedious travelogue, its protagonist hiking about with no particular end in mind. Meanwhile, readers have no prior investment in Harry, whose role in world events during the first half of the book is at best peripheral. While he's rather amusing, he's not quite interesting enough to make up for having lost our previous main characters and storyline. Liv and Creedmoor do play a small role here, as seen through Harry's eyes, but they're understandably reticent with him and so we see almost nothing of their adventures.
Fortunately, the book does pick up in the second half: Harry stops traveling and becomes involved in world events, and I was engaged and interested again. Even the world seems more alive in the latter part of the book, and some interesting secondary characters step up to play important roles. Gilman displays his writing talent quite effectively, for instance, in a chapter that consists entirely of unattributed dialogue with 5 or 6 people present--and yet the reader can understand who is speaking and what's going on without trouble. And, to give credit where credit is due: I criticized the first book for only having one female character of any importance, but in this installment there are several and they're quite interesting.
Looking back on the whole work, then, it's more than competently written and the world is still interesting, but the choice of Harry as narrator is questionable. Not only is it difficult to switch from the movers and shakers to a relatively minor character partway through a story, but Harry's voice never quite seems to match his personality. He is supposed to be fast-talking and pompous, but comes across as rather too self-aware and regretful, almost ingenuous, as if the author was struggling to adopt his voice.
Overall, this one is worth reading if you liked the first book and are willing to push through the first half (or if you actually enjoy fantasy travelogues). For me, though, while it has its moments, it does not live up to the promise of The Half-Made World.
Like The Half Made World, this book has a unique brand of fantasy / steampunk / alternate history that isn't as easy to find these days. It's essentially a mirror of late-era Wild American West with flying copters and magical revolvers and fabric-of-the-universe-bending technologies powered by steam and coal and saw-toothed gears. It's really cool. But Felix Gilman doesn't stop there. His writing style is subtle. I wouldn't call it "simple" but it is very readable. Yet, the sentences blossom in your brain with great imagery. Gilman also has a great handle on the subtleties of dialog. For instance, Mr. Ransom often has a one-word reponse of "Well." and this gets used for humorous effect, for snark, or for sorrow depending on the situation and you feel his emotion each time. THAT is a sign of good writing, in my opinion. His descriptions do lean on the side of ambiguous, like some sort of recollection of a bizarre dream. Some readers enjoy "hard" description of things but you won't necessarily get that here. Personally, I think Gilman's choice was a good one. The writing style paints the world in a hazy, mystical sheen, evoking those Old West legends of Native American shamans and travelling salesmen who sold lead-to-gold potions and barely-scientific experiments into new technologies.
Rise of Ransom City makes numerous references to the first title and so I would recommend reading The Half Made World first (it's also a great book, so no harm done). That said, The Rise of Ransom City doesn't quite feel like a sequel in the traditional sense. It does not follow the same characters as the first book although you'll still see The Line and The Gun causing trouble wherever they appear in their own special way. Just like Half Made World was the story of Creedmoor and Liv and Lowry and only gave glimpses into the larger world, The Rise of Ransom City is the story of Professor Harry Ransom while also offering glimpses into the larger world. Fear not. Many loose ends are tied up in this book, but I would not complain if Mr. Gilman decided to write a third (or fourth, or fifth) title in the world of The Half Made World.