From the category archives:

Felix Gilman Seminar

So I finally got around to making book for our recent event. I had fun devising an appropriate cover and table of contents page:

ransomcitywebcover
ransomcitywebcover2

Here’s the PDF. And here are mobi and EPUB versions. Those are zip files, not because the actual files are large – they’re not – but because WordPress apparently doesn’t ‘trust’ EPUB and mobi.

Speaking of untrustworthiness: when I made our last event book – Red Plenty – I got some complaints that the EPUB version was barfing in an unlovely fashion when read on a Nook. Sorry about that! I am an amateur! And Nookless, to boot. I tried to do better this time. Perhaps some Nook user will report back, one way or the other. If all is well, I may remake the Red Plenty stuff.

Here’s a thing. Call it: the view from your tintype. (We could make it a regular contest!) Can you identify the work I appropriated (that’s a fancy word for ‘swiped legally’, since it’s public domain)?

Throat-clearing:

1.

Never respond to reviews, they tell you, in the fiction-writing community, or at least my little part of it. This is probably good prudential advice, but also in its way quite satisfying; self-effacing and self-aggrandizing at once, in a Delphic sort of way.  One adopts a posture of: lo, there it is, the book, it speaks for itself or doesn’t, if there was more to say the book would have said it.  They don’t let you get away with that sort of thing at the day job.  Anyway this is now so ingrained in me that it actually feels vaguely transgressive to write this, like standing up to object at a wedding.

2. 

I am of course tremendously grateful to all of these very smart and thoughtful and talented writers for expending so much of their smarts and thoughtfulness on my books about Evil Trains; with particular gratitude to Henry Farrell for putting this together.  There’s more here than I can possibly respond to, and many interesting ideas that I need to spend more time thinking about.

3.

All the posters may well have read these books more recently than I have, certainly the first one, which is now ancient from my perspective; plus, they remember only the books that were actually written, whereas I also have in my head all the things that got cut, or were meant to go in but for one reason or another didn’t, and thousands of changes of mind.  It’s very strange to go back to them.

4.

Spoilers. [click to continue…]

Do not name these things

by Miriam Elizabeth Burstein on May 14, 2013

Mash-ups are everywhere these days: zombies keep finding their way into historical novels, and softcore porn into Jane Eyre. Making genres and modes collide is hardly a new thing; what is Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, after all, but dear rational Sherlock Holmes startled to find himself set loose in Bronte-esque Gothic? But Holmes vanquishes his Gothic surroundings, so that we are all back on familiar, if not entirely comforting (poor Sir Henry Baskerville…) formula territory at the end. By contrast, the vogue for zombified historical novels, vampirized Austen, and sexed-up Dickens doesn’t resolve the conflicts between genres and modes so much as play them up for all their worth: yes, ladies and gentlemen, honest Abe hunted vampires. [click to continue…]

Meanwhile, in Jasper City…

by Maria on May 13, 2013

In The Rise of Ransom City, Felix Gilman attempts a couple of tricks one really shouldn’t try at home. First, he shows rather than tells how history is made by economics, politics and changes in popular belief, not the bravery of heroes. Second, he keeps much of the plot-driving action off-stage. The narrator Harry Ransom is a charismatic storyteller with a knack for coming close to the action but never quite bending it to his will. He says at the outset that he’s changed history four times. But when he explains how, you realize Ransom’s usually a part of someone else’s plan or that it’s something he failed to do that changes how things turn out. It’s all quite subtly done and my first read-through was spent in a fog of mild frustration. It wasn’t until I realized that Ransom is more Forrest Gump than secret agent that I started to get along with this book.
[click to continue…]

Stories Behind Stories

by Henry on May 10, 2013

The Half-Made World and The Rise of Ransom City are tricky creatures. They object to being categorized. However much you might want to fix them to the corkboard (with a neatly typed label beneath, identifying species, and date and place of capture) they’re going to wriggle off their pins, if they haven’t already fluttered right back out of the killing jar. Books like this are not easily susceptible to chloroform.

The best I can do is to talk a bit about what they are not, and how (I think), they avoid a particular trap. Here, I disagree with Abigail Nussbaum, so you likely want to re-read her arguments again before you read mine. Also, I owe much of this to a long email conversation with Eleanor Arnason, (whom you emphatically shouldn’t hold responsible for what I say, though she equally emphatically deserves my gratitude). [click to continue…]

I

Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made World and The Rise of Ransom City tell a familiar story in an unexpected way. There is a fantasy world. There is a fantastic menace plaguing it. There is a magical weapon that could destroy that menace. There is a plucky hero, or heroes, who undertake to retrieve that weapon. There is a war that emerges from, enables, and/or complicates their efforts.

It’s a story we all know, which Gilman seems very much aware of; in his telling of it, he seems determined to confound the expectations that emerge from that knowledge. For one thing, our heroes are neither particularly plucky nor, until forced to by the most utter extremes of circumstances, particularly heroic. One of them, John Creedmoor, is in fact a servant of The Gun, one of the Powers whose defeat is the books’ business. A former idealist who bounced from one cause to another, Creedmoor took up the Gun’s service after realizing that he lacked the strength of character to commit to any moral cause (and certainly not any that might require him to stay firm in his beliefs in the face of mockery and humiliation). Throughout The Half-Made World, he needles Marmion, the spirit animating his magical revolver, who has endowed him with strength, healing powers, and longevity, over the senselessness of the violence it asks him to commit. But in the end he always carries out his masters’ orders—most memorably, the kidnapping of the young daughter of an industrialist, which is so bungled that the child dies before her father can even be approached for ransom. As The Half-Made World‘s villain, Lowry, astutely puts it, Creedmoor is the kind of person who demands “to be admired both for his loyalty and for his disloyalty [to the Guns], and for his oh-so-tortured indecision between the two.” [click to continue…]

The Half-Made World and The Rise of Ransom City are both rich books, full of pleasures for the reader; but the pair of them are also, to an unusual degree, in the business of being deliberately frustrating, of withholding from readers a set of expected pleasures that seemed to have been virtually promised us. I mean pleasures that are usual to fantasy – pleasures, even, that are usual to the implicit contract a plot makes between writer and reader. And it’s this I want to concentrate on a little, because it seems to me that what Felix Gilman holds back, what he refuses to deliver, is essential to the power of the effect he does create. (Spoiler alert, by the way. I can’t talk about what Gilman doesn’t do, in plot terms, without sometimes revealing what he does.) [click to continue…]

The Half-Believed World

by John Holbo on May 7, 2013

I was going to get started listening to Ian Tregillis, Bitter Seeds today. It’s book 1 of a trilogy whose conclusion is getting a boost on Boing Boing:

Milkweed began in 2010 with Bitter Seeds, an alternate history WWII novel about a Nazi doctor who creates a race of twisted X-Men through a program of brutal experimentation; and of the British counter-strategy: calling up the British warlocks and paying the blood-price to the lurking elder gods who would change the very laws of physics in exchange for the blood of innocents. These elder gods, the Eidolons, hate humanity and wish to annihilate us, but we are so puny that they can only perceive us when we bleed for them. With each conjuration of the Eidolons on Britain’s behalf, the warlocks bring closer the day when the Eidolons will break through and wipe humanity’s stain off the universe.

Sounds like fun!

But not today! Henry tells me I’m late to The Rise of Ransom City. Which is, come to think of it, probably similar, rock and hard place-wise. In this faux-19th Century America fantascientifiction alt-history, and the previous installment, The Half-Made World, Gilman’s human protagonists spend most of their time on the run, or watching for their chance to run, or just laying low, for fear of being crushed between sinister, inhuman, vaguely unworldly forces of Line and Gun. The Line is technological, but also demonic – demon trains, running on rails laid down by regimented, reduced human servants. And how long are such masters likely to need even such machine-servicing specimens as we humans can be made into? I listened to Audiobook versions of both books, so I can’t flip through to transcribe tasty quotes. I’ll just crib from Hermann Melville, The Confidence-Man, which is public domain and – eh, close enough: [click to continue…]

Gilman’s Claustrophobic West

by Lizardbreath on May 6, 2013

As an undiscerning, lowbrow reader, my reactions to books are heavily driven by plot; I expect competent prose, but what I’m usually looking for in genre fiction is a series of engaging events that wraps up neatly with a bow on the end. On the other hand, while both The Half-Made World and The Rise Of Ransom City are entertainingly written in terms of story and event, the structure of the setting is more interesting than anything that actually happens in either book.

The most obvious thing to be said about The Half-Made World and The Rise Of Ransom City is that they are fantasy Westerns, centered on a long-term war between the Line and the Gun: industrial totalitarianism against anarchic violence. The fantasy Western is a familiar setting for speculative fiction, from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series to Firefly, but Gilman makes it unfamiliar by broadening the setting beyond the stylized frontier/gunman/saloon/dusty cattle-drive world of a TV Western to include a range of other aspects of the nineteenth century American West, and putting those aspects together in a way that is very alien to my sense of what the American West generally represents. [click to continue…]

Felix Gilman Seminar Starting Monday

by Henry on May 4, 2013

As previously foretold here. The participants:

Miriam Burstein is an associate professor at Brockport. She previously participated in our seminar on China Mieville’s Iron Council. She blogs at The Little Professor.

Henry Farrell blogs here.

Maria Farrell blogs here.

John Holbo blogs here.

“Lizardbreath” is a pseudonymous lawyer, who likes writing about cake. She blogs at Unfogged.

Abigail Nussbaum is a programmer in Tel Aviv and the senior review editor for Strange Horizons. She blogs at Asking the Wrong Questions.

Francis Spufford is the author of several books, including Red Plenty, which was the subject of a previous CT seminar.