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The Rise of Ransom City, by Felix Gilman - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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The Rise of Ransom City, by Felix Gilman [Dec. 13th, 2012|09:58 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Review copy provided by Tor.

I talked about the first one of these when it came out two years ago. I almost don't even want to say "the first one of these," because The Rise of Ransom City felt so different from The Half-Made World to me, and yet this is not a case where you can hem and haw about whether something is really blah blah whatever: this has some of the same characters slightly later in their timeline. This really blah blah whatever.

The tone, the style, the entire approach--all are completely different. And frankly, they're more to my taste here. For those of you who didn't click for the link to The Half-Made World: I found it excessively grim in its interpersonal relationships. The Rise of Ransom City, on the other hand, makes it clear that the way approximately nobody in The Half-Made World liked each other was a facet of that book, not of the world. I mean, there's still plenty of grim! Don't get me wrong, the battle between the Gun and the Line in this twisted version of 19th century America is still not filled with happiness and fellow feeling for the rest of humanity! But this is a somewhat more removed battle, and the people the main character continues to have relationships with are...not by any means perfect. But sometimes quite important to him on a human level, and hurrah for that.

This is the second book I've read in the last bit that was taking the format of 19th century memoirs for a fantasy novel, the first being Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons. The two are wildly divergent, since swan_tower was using a gentlewoman's travel memoir/natural historian model, particularly from a British Isles background, and Gilman is aiming more at the American West, a frontiersman sort of thing, but they have similar strengths in terms of letting protagonists filter and learn better. In the case of Gilman, there's almost more implied than told. The titular event does not appear on the page at all--which may frustrate some readers who might have liked to see it, but for those who have a horror of being obvious, having the story told in implication and with question marks remaining may be interesting and refreshing. Some questions from the previous work are answered, but more raised. Do you like that sort of thing? I like that sort of thing. I like middle books best of all. But it is not a universal taste, I get that. It's the main caveat I have here, though: if you don't like grim, if you don't like Weird West (even if it's not literally this world's West), and if you don't like memoir format/more questions raised than answered, then be wary of this book. If you do like those things or are willing to try them, I thought this had as clear a command of the material as The Half-Made World but was more accessible. I expect it probably would be even if you hadn't read The Half-Made World, although "who are these people and why are they important" will be answered at a different pace if that's the case.
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[User Picture]From: desperance
2012-12-14 04:17 am (UTC)
I like middle books best of all.

Hee. You are a rare creature, and to be treasured. It is seldom that the phrase "middle book" arises without the word "problem" attached.

Me, though, I'm with you. And didn't really realise it until I encountered the three-volume Lord of the Rings in the library in my mid-teens, when I'd only known the one-volume paperback before then. That was the first time I really understood the three-volume novel as a concept of pacing: and yes, fond though I am of beginnings, and satisfied though I was by that long string of endings, it's the middle that I love. Where you can build on the foundations laid, and not worry yet about the long weary drag towards conclusion. It's like life: the struggles of childhood behind you, the rigours of old age still ahead, you can focus on just being who you are and doing what you do. That's best.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-12-14 09:25 am (UTC)
The 3 volume Lord of the Rings is enough to convince me I'm a middle book person, though, and I'm not actually sure that's true. I suspect that I'm actually a mid-to-late series book person, where the early bits of the series have built up enough of a spear shaft that there's a lot of narrative momentum behind the inevitable bits when they occur. While in my own work I'm most concerned with endings and destinations, I feel like as a reader what I respond to most is the idea that actions have consequences, but also that life goes on (though ideally not interminably). The run from Memory to A Civil Campaign (now with bonus Captain Vorpatril's Alliance stapled on the end) is my favorite bit of Bujold's Miles books, for example. By some measure they're all middle books... But mature ones, with a lot of grounding and road behind them.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-12-14 01:33 pm (UTC)
Hmm. The thing is, Lois has structured that series so that she doesn't have to stick any particular ending more than any other ending. Each volume contributes to the arc of what these people and places are doing, but not in the way where we are in suspense about how Miles or Barrayar will "end." Each one needs a volume ending, but that's not the same thing as books that are trying to build a different kind of series arc and then have to live up to the whole thing. One of the reasons I love middle books in the other kind of series arc is that I don't have to worry about them sticking the landing yet.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-12-14 06:40 pm (UTC)
Hrm. The endings of the individual volumes in the Miles series do need to be stuck, as it were... but I guess I see them as more intermediate payoffs, rather than The One True Neat And Tidy Ending? I mean, that sort of thing is satisfying when people pull it off, but mostly they don't.

I guess one of the things I like about middle books is the fact that they tend to be full of cool intermediate stuff (The Entmoot! Wormtongue!) and that they are also setting up more cool stuff for later (Eowyn!) in fairly concrete ways. First books tend to do their setup in a much more wide-open mode, while final books usually need to wrap things up instead of creating new and interesting possibility spaces.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-12-14 08:32 pm (UTC)
I don't think they're One True Neat And Tidy Endings, either, but I don't expect that there will be some future Vorkosigan book that provides that. I don't think Lois is building towards that. I think she's done very different things with expectation structure, so that we expect Cordelia, Miles, Ivan, whoever, to do different things rather than escalating things.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-12-14 10:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, for sure. That's not what Lois is doing at all - I was just contrasting the mode she's been using with with a more linear series structure.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-12-14 01:25 pm (UTC)
I have read The Two Towers at least twice as often as the other two volumes. So yes, that was a thing for me also.
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-12-14 06:35 pm (UTC)
I feel like the fact that The Two Towers contains the most traditionally 'adventure-based' bits of the Lord of the Rings is relevant here. I mean: Entmoots! Wormtongue and Rohan and Eowyn! Helm's Deep!

I know that Helm's Deep and the orc-crushing weren't as much of a big deal for you as they were for me, but as a whole, the bits following the breaking of the Fellowship (well, the bits that weren't about Frodo and Sam slogging through the Dead Marshes) were what made the Lord of the Rings work for me when I was a kid. I mean, Eowyn vs. the Witch King was always my favorite bit, but that's built on the foundation of The Two Towers.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-12-14 08:34 pm (UTC)
Right, exactly. If Eowyn had not been Eowyn in The Two Towers, the Witch King scene would not matter to me. I know this because there are various briefer versions of that kind of linguistic twist in prophecy in various myths, and they don't really do much for me. It's not the "not a bro" part that makes that scene good, it's the whole package deal.
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