The Half-Made World came to my attention on Amazon’s best of 2010 list. I am always interested to see the Western (Cowboys & Indians) genre mixed with the fantastical. Felix Gilman’s novel fits in this space, though he’s not writing about our world. It’s an alternate Steampunk world, with two competing forces. The Agents of the Gun are demonically half-possessed Gunslingers, somewhat like the Marvel character Ghost Rider, transformed by the Gun they carry into fighting the armies of the Line. The Line is based on technology for this world: railroads, super-trains, planes, factories, telegraph machines, etc. Some kind of A.I. behind the Line is hinted at through the communications to Linesman Lowry, the main antagonist. The Line wants to expand into new territories in the West, and they have Borg-like efficiency when they move into a new area.
The plot centers around a man known as the General, who we meet in the very first chapter. He belongs to a third faction called the Republic, who want to carve out their own freedom away from the Gun and the Line. The General is defeated and loses his sanity to the terrible bombs from the armies of the Line. It seems that the General had a secret kept by the aboriginal Hill People, who have a facility with magic. The Hill People supposedly gave the General a secret to a weapon that could destroy both the Gun and the Line. Both the Gun and the Line get word of the General’s secret and dispatch forces to retrieve the MacGuffin—the General and his secret. Liv Alverhuysen, a psychiatrist who travels West, eventually takes care of the General in a remote hospital. The hospital has an enchanted spirit that attacks any who demonstrate violence, making it very hard for both the Line and the Gun to kidnap the General.
I found the Agents of the Gun, who have increased reflexes, senses, stamina, etc, to be utterly fascinating. John Creedmore is the primary Gun character. He’s a sweet-talking con man who served the Gun for decades, but he is summoned out of retirement for a near-impossible suicide mission. Creedmore drinks, gambles, beds wild women, and takes on dozens of Line soldiers on his own. The whole tapestry of the various Agents and their Lodge is something I wish we could know more about. There is a great scene early on where Creedmore has a “remote conference” with his fellow Gun Agents via a huge roaring fire. There were many variations of these agents—again, I see similarities between all the incarnations of Ghost Rider that Jason Aaron created during his run. I could read a whole book just about these Agents and their past adventures.
I was thoroughly involved with this novel right up until the last section. The other main characters, Liv and Lowry, were interesting as vehicles to explore different parts of the world. But no one felt as alive or exciting as Creedmore and the other Agents. I was totally rooting for them to obliterate the Line. I try to stay away from reviews or spoilers, and was somewhat disappointed at the cliffhanger ending. Obviously things will continue in another book, but I was hoping that the General's mystery would be resolved. I am sure I will read the sequel when it comes out. Nuff Said!