15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Harry Ransom made a brief appearance in The Half-Made World, as did his light-making apparatus. In the follow-up to that novel, Ransom's goal is to build the city of the future, with parks and tall buildings, where freedom and democracy reign. The Rise of Ransom City, Ransom's autobiography, recounts his travels and exploits, his successes and (more often) failures. As you would expect, the stories told in this novel and in The Half-Made World overlap, but only slightly.
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The Half-Made World, the book that Ransom City is a sort of indirect sequel to, is excellent. Gripping action, great characters, nice vivid writing style. I enjoyed that book a great deal, so getting this one was sort of a no-brainer.
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
although I think it's less effective as a stand-alone novel if you have missed the background context provided in The Half-Made World. Not unlike other readers, I'm also a bit disappointed that good ole Creedmoor - albeit a shadow of his former self being bereft of Marmion's power - and Miss Alverhuysen (sounds a Dutch name to me in the real world) together make only an episodic appearance, roughly a year after where the story concluded in the first book.
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)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This book was great. It expands on Gilman's 'Half Made World' in ways that were both fresh and familiar.
The narration within the narration could have been left out but it worked. When I think of the main character, Harry Ransom, the one word bubbles to the surface: plucky. No matter how badly things go for him, he always dusts himself off and goes on. His story is entertaining. His narration maintains an even keel regardless of the gravity of the events around him. He unintentionally becomes a third player to The Gun & The Line conflict.
The Gun and The Line. That's what I wanted this book to be about. I kept wanting Ransom to get out of the way so I could take a look deeper look into the mythology Gilman has been constructing around these two forces. Any time an 'Agent of the Gun' was even mentioned, I'd start mentally salivating. When I turned to the chapter 'The Wounded Engine', it felt like Christmas eve. You know you're getting a gift and savoring that anticipation can be so sweet, but damn it you still want whatever's in the box!
I hope Gilman continues explore the frontier he has created.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Margaret L Moats
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Tedious. Could not finish it. The previous book by Gilman had plot, unexpected twists, and characters I grew to care about. This just oozed with anger and darkness.