Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Felix Gilman

The Half-Made World
Gilman crafts a superb synthesis of dystopian literature, dark fantasy, satire, western and some would argue steampunk, but I would argue that it uses some the witty anachronism of said genre without any of its clich├ęs. Mixing the horrors of world war one with the creation myth of the wild west ( and Australia’s outback) he comes up with some thoughtful metaphors with the struggle between the Line, the Gun, and the Republic. Each of these is abundantly realized and imagined and don’t act as props for the author to present ideas. The main adventure and backstory provide meaty and pleasing reading while the ideas bounce in your head. It’s hard to compare Gilman to Mieville or Jeff Vandermeer as his writing is so much clearer and well placed, but his imagination and ability to present an upside down portrait of the world very similar.

Thunderer:I enjoyed Gilman’s Half Made World and I am happy to report that I found his sensibilities fully formed on his debut novel. Much stock has been made of the author admitting in an interview that he was inspired to write by China Mieville, but anyone expecting to dismiss Gilman as a rip off or wanting carbon copy cloning of Mieville will be disappointed as Gilman is a writer with a more varied palate. While his inspiration channels horror, science fiction, pulp, and surrealism into baroque monstrosities, Gilman writes in clear headed and fluent prose that resembles magic realism. This isn’t to say he is more adult and more boring, for darkness and weirdness is very much present alongside sense of wonder fantasy constructs and surreal set pieces. I found the darker moments more so as Gilman makes his characters live and breathe increasing the stakes. Gilman writes mythic fabulism with smart narrative turns and an amazingly assured voice for a first time author. The final third plays with reality in similar way to vintage Moorcock and Borges and gets me excited for the sequel, even though this book feels beautifully self-contained.
Gears of the City
Gilman follows up his impressive debut with a book that layers on excesses and shows such brazen ambition that it should be a loud messy failure. Like Moorcock’s Cornelius Quartet, and Hal Duncan’s Vellum a twisting series of timelines, genre, and realities is presented that should reduce the narrative to collage but as in the last half of the Thunderer the author retains a consistent narrative energy that holds the story together in ways that those two mentioned(and wonderful) books don’t. Like Duncan and Moorcock, Gilman also uses the multiverse theme to present essays on various genres so cyberpunk, high fantasy, new wave science fiction, gothic surrealism, steampunk(definitely more from the reality of 19th century ruled by filibusters and other men with guns than Sherlock Holmes and penny dreadfuls), and war stories coexist. An ambitious fantasy that sags a little in the middle, but comes back in a big way and is what I wish the movie Dark City had been like.

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