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The Half-Made World, by Felix Gilman - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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The Half-Made World, by Felix Gilman [Oct. 16th, 2010|04:10 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Review copy provided by Tor.

So. The Half-Made World is not an alternate Old West per se: it's inspired by the Old West rather than trying to recreate it, and the landscape is its own rather than ours. The Old World countries are echoes you can see if you squint at them sideways, but they have their own names, their own hinted histories. This is a secondary-world fantasy with the tech levels of late 19th century America, rather than a 19th century America gone wrong.

...unless it isn't, unless it's something else completely, post-apocalyptic science fiction with oddly explained or unexplained tech not fully understood by those who possess it. I mean, it might be. The Gun and the Line: they are not much given to explanation. They are more given to orders.

The Gun and the Line are the two main opposing forces in this world, but there are others, and they are no nicer. I think the thing that stood out for me as I kept reading was that The Half-Made World does not seem to be a book that believes in people in units of greater than one. There is no functional relationship in this book, no pair of people whose bond is strong and good and worthy, no group a person could trust or even be willing to join for a dinner expedition. And if that sounds grim, well. It is a bit grim. More than a bit. Not in the supernatural bits; that part didn't bother me. In the way the humans, when they weren't being all that influenced by the supernatural bits, weren't any better to each other than when they were.

I think that The Half-Made World does some very interesting things with being inspired by the Old West instead of by most of the things secondary-world fantasy tends to take as genre-standard, but the level of human grimness it requires is not going to be for everyone. Also its ending requires a certain tolerance for Insert Sequel Here.
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Comments:
From: zwol
2010-10-16 11:02 pm (UTC)
To some extent it seems to me that the Matter of the Old West does not believe in people in units of greater than one. You don't have to crank it all the way up to 11 the way it sounds like this does, but it's either a loner or a very small group of people who *could* be working alone.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-10-18 01:52 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. See, I think the small core group is a bigger deal in some Westerns. The family, in particular. The brothers, or the parents with their brood of sons (and perhaps a daughter) against all comers. And here, no. Not even that. No families, no romantic units, no nothing.
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From: zwol
2010-10-18 04:34 pm (UTC)
Those are still ... atomic units? Not molecules, not remotely proteins.
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From: zwol
2010-10-18 04:41 pm (UTC)
I need to walk back from that a bit, because it occurs to me that sometimes the small core group is a whole town, or at least a whole ranch.

Maybe what I'm really latching onto here is the "against all comers" part. The notion that the default interaction with outsiders is suspicion, with hostility on deck. That seems different only in degree from the thing you describe in The Half-Made World.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-10-18 06:32 pm (UTC)
I think it's interesting that the default in many Westerns is suspicion, but I don't think it's really a difference in degree from no functional relationships at all. If the white major characters in a traditional Western are eating lots of beans and cornbread and not really borrowing anything culinary from the Chinese railroad workers, that's culturally significant, but not at all the same as reading a book in which the author has pointedly engineered characters not to eat food.
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[User Picture]From: porphyrin
2010-10-17 03:25 am (UTC)
If you are lending this out, I would be interested in reading it.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-10-18 01:32 pm (UTC)
For you, always.
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