Book Review: The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

Hi all!

Though I’ve reviewed a few books that didn’t pan out like I hoped, one of the things I enjoy about writing reviews is getting a chance to read things I might not have picked up for myself initially. I tend to wear blinders sometimes, focusing on those writers and genres I would normally pick up or consider picking up for myself. In the second half of 2011, my friends at Tor Books threw me a curve ball that I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy. Turns out I actually did!

The Half-Made World from Felix Gilman merges many genres to define its world, yet does so effortlessly. Sure, there’s a little steampunk, a bit of a Western vibe, a pinch of fantasy, and a smidge of alternate history, but it’s not like Gilman put them all in the blender and set it to puree. Each element is gradually introduced, from the psychologist Liv Alverhysen to John Creedmoor, an agent of the Gun and to Linesman Lowry, an agent of the Line – each of the three is seamlessly woven together around a single mysterious character, Liv’s patient – The General – and whatever secrets his addled mind may be hiding…

Quite honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. Like many adventures, it begins with the three main characters starting out their journeys and ends in an explosive way when those three paths meet. And yet the way world elements are introduced, through flashbacks of the main characters, exposition in characters we meet along the way, and then through children’s books read along the way and snippets of conversation, it all seems so natural and organic that it gently tugs you along towards the conclusion.

The larger organizations of the Line and the Gun were quite intriguing to me and I only caught glimpses of their philosophies as the story progressed. The Line was easiest to figure out as the embodiment of progress. In this case, it was the railroad line and the Engines that drove things forward. The Gun was a bit more difficult. I believe the Gun falls on the side of rugged individualism and the Western spirit.

Beyond that, each side had an intriguing “spiritual” aspect that spoke to its agents in various ways. The Line almost seemed a bit like George Orwell‘s dystopian 1984, with the individual suppressed in favor of the larger machine. And the Gun, though I’m not a big fan of Westerns, hit me something like the lone gunman approach of many Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s.

The characters’ relationships with these disembodied leaders also varies a bit. A Linesman doesn’t dare question orders, just plowing forward at any cost. And Agents of the Gun seem to have a back and forth conversation with the “demons” inhabiting their namesake weapons. It was almost like the “devil on your shoulder” approach talking you into doing things you don’t believe you should.

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman is a tough book to pin to any one genre, but I think it should be enjoyable to anybody who likes their fantasy and science fiction with a bit of a philosophical bent. Now I’m going to have to see what else Gilman has written!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Book Review: Ganymede by Cherie Priest

Hi all!

In the decades I’ve been reading (nearly 40) and the nearly five years I’ve been reviewing books, I would never in a million years have predicted that these words would go together: Steampunk, Civil War, submarines, and zombies. And yet, Cherie Priest‘s novel Ganymede manages to pull them all together in a coherent and lively tale.

Andan Cly is an airship captain with a past. He’s smuggled guns, goods, and sap – a substance with some seriously undesirable long-term effects even if it does get you high. It’s worth a ton of money, but Cly wants to put it far behind him and try to stay on the straight and narrow. He’s working to change his ways, all for the love of a woman in the Seattle Underground. As such, he takes a job for a man who’s done some good for Seattle despite his shady sideline activities so he can afford to stay put for a while.

Josephine Early on the other hand isn’t planning on going anywhere. She just wants the Texans and the war out of her city of New Orleans. And as a Union spy, she’s well positioned as a brothel owner to hear things and pass them along to her allies among the pirates and the Union army. It just so happens that one of those secrets was about a submerged vessel at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain that could change the course of the war and give the North a fighting chance. The only problem is finding a pilot skilled enough, talented enough, or crazy enough to get it out of the lake, down the Mississippi, and into the Gulf under the noses of the Texans.

Turns out Early and Cly had a bit of history together from a decade before and Miss Josephine is desperate enough to send a telegraph to the pirate with an enticing offer and not much detail. When Cly gets the message, he figures he might as well do two jobs while in New Orleans… And when they get together, the sparks fly again. From the time Cly gets the telegraph to the end of the book, the heat between them and memories each has of the other provides some great romantic tension to the story. But that’s only part of the story. Priest manages to work in pirates, airship battles, zombies, and voodoo into the tapestry of her alternate history of the Civil War.

I was intrigued from the first few pages of Ganymede and it held my interest throughout. For some reason I’ve avoided the whole Steampunk movement in literature so far, but after getting a taste of Priest’s world, I’m going to have to start reading her Clockwork Century series to see what I’ve been missing. Ganymede follows the two earlier books in the series – Boneshaker and Dreadnought – but is a standalone novel in that setting. Boneshaker won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction and was also nominated for both a Hugo and a Nebula.

Ganymede is on bookstore shelves now and I’d encourage you to give it a read. Whether you’ve been on the fence about the whole Steampunk movement or have known about it a while, Priest’s writing style makes it easy to slip into the clockwork world Early & Cly inhabit. For more about Cherie Priest, you can also check out her website at CheriePriest.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Syfy’s Riese debuts October 26 on Syfy.com

This one seems to have sneaked up on me… Riese will be an online series presented at Syfy.com.  It has some fun names in it… Christine Chatelain plays the lead character – Riese. Chatelain played the Invisible Man’s descendant Clara Griffin on Sanctuary a couple of years ago as well as appearing on Supernatural and Fringe.  Amanda Tapping (SanctuaryStargate SG-1) narrates the series, which also stars Sharon Taylor (Eureka, Stargate: Atlantis), Ben Cotton (Harper’s Island), Allison Mack (Smallville), Ryan Robbins (Caprica), Patrick Gilmore (Stargate Universe), Alessandro Juliani (Battlestar Galactica), and Emilie Ullerup (Sanctuary). It’s a heck of a cross-section of current and past fan favorite actors and actresses from science fiction and superhero television.

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According to IMDB’s summary – “Riese, a seemingly random wanderer, is being hunted by a terrifying religious cult, The Sect. Traveling from nation to nation for years, she is accompanied only by a wolf, Fenrir. Together they must evade the assassins sent by the Sect – who’ll stop at nothing to complete the task they failed to achieve many years ago…” The series will air on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting October 26, 2010 to air seven to eight minute episodes online at Syfy.com.

The fact that it’s Steampunk is very interesting – it will be the first series I know about being based in such a world. As they say in the press release – “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy that features anachronistic technology and design elements, often from Victorian-era Britain.” It showed up in a recent episode of Castle where they were tracking a murderer down who liked to live-action roleplay in a Steampunk club in New York City.

Here’s the full press release and a short teaser from Syfy

SYFY.COM WILL PREMIERE RIESE: KINGDOM FALLING, CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED, AWARD-WINNING STEAMPUNK DIGITAL SERIES, BEGINNING TUESDAY, OCTOBER 26

NARRATED BY SANCTUARY’S AMANDA TAPPING
Stars Christine Chatelain (Sanctuary), Ryan Robbins (Caprica), Sharon Taylor (Stargate Universe), Ben Cotton (Harper’s Island), Alessandro Juliani (Battlestar Galactica) and Allison Mack (Smallville)

NEW YORK – October 13, 2010 – Marking a major expansion of its original content, Syfy.com will premiere the award-winning, steampunk digital series Riese: Kingdom Falling beginning October 26, on syfy.com/riese every Tuesday and Thursday, it was announced today by Craig Engler, Senior Vice President/General Manager, Syfy Digital.

The critically acclaimed Riese: Kingdom Falling is distributed by Fireworks International, the television and digital distribution arm of ContentFilm plc. Each episode runs approximately seven to eight minutes.

Narrated by Amanda Tapping (Sanctuary), the 10-part series stars a cavalcade of talent from the world of popular speculative drama including Christine Chatelain (The Bone Collector); Sharon Taylor (Stargate Universe); Ben Cotton (Harper’s Island), Allison Mack (Smallville); Ryan Robbins (Caprica); Patrick Gilmore (Stargate Universe); Alessandro Juliani (Battlestar Galactica) and Emilie Ullerup (Sanctuary).

The series will also be available via Sony’s PS3, Microsoft’s Xbox and Amazon.

Said Engler: “We saw Riese and thought they had done just an amazing job, and then we were able to give them some resources and bring Amanda on board to really help them take the series to the next level. I think new and existing fans will love the relaunch of the series on Syfy.com and enjoy all the new additions.”

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy that features anachronistic technology and design elements, often from Victorian-era Britain.

Riese: Kingdom Falling won the Streamy Award for Best Cinematography in a Web Series with a further three nominations for Best Sound Design, Best Foreign Series and Art Direction. The series was shot in Vancouver, BC, created by Ryan Copple and Kaleena Kiff, and produced by Galen Fletcher and Nicholas Humphries.

ABOUT RIESE: KINGDOM FALLING

Eleysia is a dying kingdom where resources are dwindling and compassion is fading. Distrust and anxiety have clouded people’s minds, causing a regression into primitive ways of thinking. People have grown restless, almost feral. Rituals and mythology have resurged, and the darker side of mankind has begun to reveal itself.

Riese (Christine Chatelain), a wanderer, travels across the decaying lands of Eleysia with her wolf, Fenrir. Marked as a heretic by religious group The Sect and the new Empress, Amara, Riese must evade their assassins and discover their true intentions for Eleysia.

Riese is the Crown Princess of Eleysia, forced to flee into the wilds after her family was slaughtered. She will soon serve as a catalyst for a disparate group of supposed heretics, the Resistance, launching them into civil war.

About Fireworks International

Fireworks International is Content Film’s international television and digital distribution division with over 3,000 hours of high-quality and commercially appealing programming including an extensive slate of major drama series, non-fiction entertainment, kids live action comedy and drama series, TV movies, mini-series and special event programming. Recent additions include comedic drama series, REPUBLIC OF DOYLE, primetime drama series, THE BORDER and heart-warming family drama series, HEARTLAND; non-fiction primetime documentary specials HUNTING THE LOST SYMBOL and I KNOW WHAT I SAW; U.S. tween comedy THE ASSISTANTS; high definition multi-platform thriller series VALEMONT, GIRL NUMBER 9 and Sci-Fi thriller, RIESE; new children’s programmes HALF MOON INVESTIGATIONS, FAMILY BIZ as well as the classic anime series, ROBOTECH; plus over 200 U.S. network mini-series and TV movies; and specials including the Annual U.S. PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS show. This new product is combined with the large and valuable Fireworks library catalogue, which is complemented by a raft of formidable television shows including Gene Roddenberry’s ANDROMEDA, MUTANT X and RELIC HUNTER.

Syfy is a media destination for imagination-based entertainment. With year round acclaimed original series, events, blockbuster movies, classic science fiction and fantasy programming, a dynamic Web site (www.Syfy.com), and a portfolio of adjacent business (Syfy Ventures), Syfy is a passport to limitless possibilities. Originally launched in 1992 as SCI FI Channel, and currently in more than 96 million homes, Syfy is a network of NBC Universal, one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies. (Syfy. Imagine greater.)

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