Excerpt from Felix Gilman's THE HALF-MADE WORLD

There is a positive buzz surrounding Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World, and I wanted to give you guys a taste of what the novel is all about. Thanks to the author and Tor Books, here's an extract for you to sample. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

A fantastical reimagining of the American West which draws its influence from steampunk, the American western tradition, and magical realism.

The world is only half made. What exists has been carved out amidst a war between two rival factions: the Line, paving the world with industry and claiming its residents as slaves; and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence that cripples the population with fear. The only hope at stopping them has seemingly disappeared—the Red Republic that once battled the Gun and the Line, and almost won. Now they’re just a myth, a bedtime story parents tell their children, of hope.

To the west lies a vast, uncharted world, inhabited only by the legends of the immortal and powerful Hill People, who live at one with the earth and its elements. Liv Alverhyusen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels to the edge of themade world to a spiritually protected mental institution in order to study the minds of those broken by the Gun and the Line. In its rooms lies an old general of the Red Republic, a man whose shattered mind just may hold the secret to stopping the Gun and the Line. And either side will do anything to understand how.


Creedmoor rode hard and fast, north and west out of the Delta Baronies, through the high cold passes of the Opals, north of Jasper City, across the heartland prairies through thick green grass, leaping fences and waterways, day and night. His horse died beneath him. Another was ready for him in tied to post at midnight in a little town south of Gibson that he never got a chance to learn the name of, because Marmion instantly said:

-- Move on.

That horse died too. Creedmoor thought he might die himself, that his old heart would give out, like a rat shaken in a terrier’s mouth. Every muscle, every joint, was constant agony. Marmion said:

-- Faster.

Men of the Line might travel that distance in the belly of their Engines, on soft leather seats. No wonder they were so bloody fat! But an Agent of the Gun couldn’t travel by Line, of course, he’d be sniffed out at once, by some damnable machine or snoop or other, and so it was the old ways for Creedmoor, the back-roads, the hills, by day and by night. He caught a glimpse of himself in a dusty window-pane, once, as he thundered down the Main Street of who-the-fuck-knew where, scattering women and children, and he was shocked by how old he looked, how red and lined in the face, how his grey hair was and how wild and ragged. It wounded his vanity. He always was a vain man.

-- You’ll kill me, old friend. I swear you’ll kill me at this pace.

-- Not yet. Faster.

He swung wide north around Kingstown Station, though it added two days to his journey, because he feared their spotlights and their search-parties and their tollbooths and checkpoints, especially in his rapidly advancing condition of decay and exhaustion. Therefore he approached the Doll House from the east, just north of Kloan, and so he happened to see the posters nailed to trees every half-mile alongside the road north of town, which were already fading and wilting like vivid blue-green flowers in the awful heat, but which still cheerfully promised the arrival in Kloan of Dr. Sloop’s Traveling Emporium of Physic and Patent-Medicines, that very morning, once and once only, special-featuring “Professor” Harry Ransome and His Ingenious Electrical Light-Bringing Apparatus. . .

-- Medicine. Physic. Lights and amusements. A fair. Drink. Showgirls.

-- No time, Creedmoor. Pass the town by.

-- I shall die if I ride another hour without rest.

-- No, Creedmoor. Too dangerous. We believe the enemy is present in this area. You may attract their notice.

-- Fuck the enemy. I need medicine, by which I mean drink. Put the Goad to me if you like.

-- One hour, Creedmoor.

-- No more. On my honor.

-- We will remember this.

* * *

There were few towns out here on the continent’s still-uncreated edge. None were more than twenty years old. Greenbank, which was a ways south-west of Kloan, was the biggest and the richest of them. Supposedly – if Creedmoor’s masters had not lied to him, which might or might not be the case – Dandy Fanshawe would be waiting there, worming in among the drifters of its bars and whorehouses. Abban the Lion and Drunkard Cuffee and Keane and Hang-‘em-High Washburn would scout the hills south of Greenbank. Together those five Agents – a mighty force – would be ready to meet Creedmoor once he emerged from the House and conduct him and the General away east.

There was Gooseneck, to the west, which was poor but it had a bank; and there was also World’s End, to the north-west, which was ugly and sickly but it had a mine.

And then there was Kloan, which had nothing special, except, apparently, Dr. Sloop, and his medicines, and “Professor” Ransome and his apparatus.

Kloan was a few long straight dirt roads lashed together roughly crosswise, with a lodging-house and general store and similar in the dust where they joined; a sprawl of small constructions knocked up out of tin and wood surrounded them. There was a market square with a kind of rickety stage which was no doubt the most exciting thing for miles around. It was peaceful and dull and drowsily drunken.

Creedmoor rode in slowly, smiling and nodding. He left his horse at a hitching-post and wandered into the market.

The whole rough mess of Kloan was dressed in sun-faded bunting, strung from the eaves of the big houses, nailed over the doors of lesser structures. All flounced up like a whore’s skirts. A soft and pretty touch for market-day! It implied a town where women had considerable say in the running of things, which struck Creedmoor as a most excellent and hospitable situation. The idling crowd was composed largely of farmers, but also of pleasant-looking young women. He turned to the young lady next to him and beamed broadly at her and winked. She went pink and hid her pretty face in her fan.

-- Most promising!

-- No, Creedmoor. One hour.

Kloan bobbed like a sinking bauble in a dull pond of flat brown fields. The fields were still but not empty. Hill-folk worked them, chained in gangs at the ankles, shuffling under the tuberous weight of black hair and beards. Probably their overseers were among the youths in the crowd or sprawled drunkenly on the dirt. The pretty young girl was arm-in-arm with a crop-headed barn-faced blacksmith-bicepped boy, who had the flat dull look of a young man handy with a whip. The first man Creedmoor had ever killed had been a slaver. He’d had passionate views on the subject once, when the blood was younger and hotter. Before turning to the Gun – after his days as a Smiler, after his days marching with the Knights of Labor – he’d been a passionate and committed Liberationist. He’d long since stopped caring.

Doctor Sloop was whooping and hollering up on the stage. He wore top hat and tails, even in Kloan’s awful heat; his face was red and his shirt was soaked with sweat and sweat ran from the ends of his long mustaches. One of his eyes was painted glass and it rolled, glaring madly at the blue heat of the sky one moment and down at the dust the next.

Sloop rolled his hat deftly down his arm and handed it to his bosomy showgirl; he rolled up his shirt-sleeves and let his wild dye-black mane shake free. “Oh let’s get down to business, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s take a look at Sloop’s Tonic Water. It’ll cure what aches ya; who here has aches and pains? It’ll give ya vigor; who here’s a strong man? Ah, I know, I know, Kloan’s men are strong, I’m not blind! But who’d like to be stronger? It’ll keep ya young. You pretty girls of Kloan; who’d let such flowers fade?”

-- How long must we suffer this absurdity, Creedmoor?

-- You’ll be sorry if my health goes and my youth and my vigor goes. When my eyesight goes and my heart fails out there in the dust one day.

-- You can be replaced. Besides, your health cannot fail. We will not let it.

-- Perhaps I have more faith in human science than in your will, my friend.

-- That is absurdity.

The crowd filled about half the square; the women with their parasols and fans, the men sweating red-faced in their shirtsleeves and suspenders. At the back of the square a single immense baobab tree curled out its broad dry branches and gave some shade. It was the most impressive structure in Kloan by far. The crust of obscene carvings on its trunk went all the way back to Fuck Mr. Howell for bringin us out here, Big John, 1875, and it looked to Creedmoor like it was Kloan’s greatest cultural achievement.

Creedmoor stood half a head above the crowd--Kloan’s men were short. The young men had a pretty good drunk on and sprawled on the hard earth with bottles and jugs, or sat in the branches of the baobab tree and hooted.

-- Pointless, Creedmoor.

Behind and to the side of Sloop’s stage, a clever-looking young black fellow in a sweat-stained white suit was working on a complex apparatus of tubes of colored glass and spools of copper wire and things that resembled cymbals and other things that resembled organ-pipes. Creedmoor imagined that this was “Professor” Harry Ransome. Every so often he stopped, scratched his head, and looked baffled at the obstinate refusal of his apparatus to do whatever it was supposed be doing. . .

-- Creedmoor, this is pathetic.

To keep his master quiet, Creedmoor struck up conversations with the locals. He sat on a log bench with the town’s old men and agreed with them that the weather was dreadful, that prices were outrageous, and Sloop was nothing special, not like the medicine-men of the good old days. Which was true; these days the Line’s factory-produced drugs flooded the markets of the heartlands and drove out the more inspired and entrepreneurial type of chemist, such as Creedmoor hoped Sloop might be.

They talked about the War. A pox on both sides -- that was the general consensus.

And gently Creedmoor steered the conversation to the House Dolorous:

“Ever heard of it?”

“Of course!” The old man on the bench next to Creedmoor rolled his eyes, as if to say: what hadn’t he seen, in his long life in Kloan? “I’ve been there. Not far north of here, as far west as any sane man goes. Friend of mine died there, as a matter of fact. You look well enough, sir, what do you need to go there for?”

“Maybe I’m just looking for work.”

“They don’t take just anyone. They’re unfriendly types, for healers. These are dangerous times, so who can blame ‘em?”

“That’s too bad.”

“They say there’s a Power watches over ‘em. They say it hates the war and if any man who strikes another man there that Power strikes ‘em right back.”

“A mothering Power! Who says that?”

“Everyone does. They do.”

“Men from the House? You know them?”

“They come through town every now and again.”

“Who does?”

“Men from the House. They go walking all over the country, looking for wounded and mad. You’ll see ‘em on the trails in these parts – a dozen men lame or mad walking, walking, one man of the House leading them, town to town and home to the House. Towns’ll pay to get rid of the mad folk, often enough. Or the old folk. Maybe it’ll be my time soon!”

And the old men started wheezing with laughter, and Creedmoor said

-- An idea occurs to me.

-- Yes, Creedmoor.

-- Our way in. Our disguise.

-- Yes.

-- Aren’t you pleased we came to Kloan? I’ve done my day’s work. Now it’s time for my medicine.

* * *

When Creedmoor rejoined the crowd the pretty girl had moved closer to the stage, and her boyfriend had put an arm around her. Creedmoor stood quietly behind her and admired the view.

Professor Ransome’s mysterious apparatus was still not cooperating, but Doctor Sloop and his hurdy-gurdy man and his feather-clad showgirl were putting on quite enough of a performance to hold Kloan’s attention. They strutted and clapped and roared and jiggled across the flat boards of the medicine-wagon’s stage. The backdrop behind them was a huge canvas painted with blue skies and clouds and soaring mountains and mighty forests sweeping horizon-to-horizon. Kloan and environs were flat as dirt from farms to cattle-markets and the panorama was likely the most exciting thing they’d ever seen. The showgirl shimmied before that painted world like a beautiful colossus. Sloop worked the crowd up into clapping and stomping and hooting like apes.

Then Sloop brought out the muscle-man.

Five-foot five and practically square, bow-legged, clad in bearskin and hairy-chested: the muscleman pranced and bounced and hefted two huge anvils that were surely hollow inside. “Ladies and gentlemen of Kloan,” Sloop screamed, “such are the benefits of Sloop’s tonic water!” The men in the crowd clapped and the women sighed and swooned.

-- Fools.

-- They know it’s horse-shit, my friend. They are only bored, and looking for amusement.

Sloop seized the muscleman’s hairy wrist and held his arm up in the air, to mild applause. Sloop had let the muscleman go on a little too long; the crowd was losing interest. Creedmoor clapped loudly and cheered. He favored Sloop with a wide encouraging smile. Out of the corner of his eye Creedmoor noticed the pretty girl noticing him. He noticed too her big blond boy standing possessively beside her, glaring. He smiled at them both.

“You sir,” Sloop said, pointing at Creedmoor, “you man of Kloan, will you come up and test your strength against my good friend here? Would you see first-hand what Sloop’s Tonic Water can do for a man’s vigor?”

-- No, Creedmoor. Do not draw attention.

But the pretty girl was smiling at him with interesting and interested eyes, waiting to see what he would do, and the dumb animal glare of her boy was intensely amusing; so Creedmoor laughed and stepped up onto the stage. He saw Sloop’s one good eye drop sharply to his gun-belt and to Marmion’s gleaming grip, and he began to think twice, but it was too late to back away.

From the stage Creedmoor could see all of Kloan and the flat land that stretched off into the haze of the uncreated west.

The stubby muscleman flexed into view, just under Creedmoor’s chin. He stank of whiskey and sweat. He posed his bulgy body for the crowd. He seized Creedmoor’s hand and they arm-wrestled. Marmion would lend Creedmoor no strength for such nonsense, and the muscleman trounced Creedmoor quickly. Creedmoor smiled and took it with good grace.

“That’s no man of Kloan!” The big blond boy was drunker than he’d looked. His sweaty face had gone from red to near-purple. His neck-veins bulged. “That old drifter’s no man of Kloan! Why don’t you try a real man, Sloop?”

Creedmoor offered the crowd a guileless and ingratiating smile. They looked back at him, and at the blond boy climbing the stage, with no hostility, only a bored curiosity.

-- Look there, Creedmoor.

-- What?

-- There in the door of the boarding-house; in shirt-sleeves and spectacles.

-- I see him.

A small fat man in the distance at the edge of the market, just by the boarding house. Pale-skinned but sunburned, soft-featured, in a dirty grey shirt, his blinking grey eyes fixed on Creedmoor; on Creedmoor’s belt; on Marmion. The man’s eyes flicked up and met Creedmoor’s, and he flinched and ducked quickly back indoors.

-- A man of the Line.

-- No uniform.

-- Nevertheless. As we said: the enemy is present.

-- This far west? No Engines run this far. He’s far from his Masters.

-- As we said: the enemy is present. The Lion and Fanshawe reported movements south of Greenbank. They were correct.

-- Are they on the same trail as us?

-- We do not know the plans of the Engines. They are mad. Creedmoor! Where there is one Linesman there are many. Go.

Creedmoor smiled and moved to the edge of the stage. “Excuse me, Doctor Sloop, good ladies and gentlemen of Kloan, it’s been a fine afternoon, but I must. . .”

But the stupid blond boy lunged out of the crowd and grabbed Creedmoor’s arm with a drunken crushing grip and would not let go. Creedmoor looked into the oaf’s dull eyes and saw there was no reasoning with him; so he flashed one last smile at the oaf’s pretty young lady, wide-blue-eyed in the shade of her green parasol, and he twisted the oaf’s arm--and there was a burning in Creedmoor’s blood and there was cordite and sulphur in his nostrils as Marmion’s dark strength flooded his veins--he twisted so that the big boy spun on his heels like a ballerina and went down on his back with a wet snapping sound and a limp arm flopping at his side.

Creedmoor shrugged and jumped down from the stage. The girl met his eye again and recoiled; his eyes were shot with blood and darkness and he was not smiling now, not at all.

The oaf had friends; they shoved through the crowd at Creedmoor and within seconds his thumb was in one man’s eye and another man was kneeling on the dust clutching his bleeding nose.

Behind him Sloop and the showgirl and the muscleman were frantically packing their clanking sloshing stock of Tonic-Water away for safety, and Ransome dismantled his apparatus.

The crowd cleared around Creedmoor and he broke into a run for the boarding house door, kicking up dust with his boots.

When the boarding-house door opened he shot the first man to come through it in the head; but the body was at once trampled down by two more men, both of whom were dull and pale and doughy and glassy-eyed in the way of the mass-manufactured men of the Line. To either side of the door the windows broke and the ugly muzzles of machine-guns poked through. Creedmoor lurched to a halt and turned on his heel back into the crowd as the guns opened up: the whir of the engine first and the chatter of the feeding-belt; a sound of threshing-engines and a gathering storm. He called out MARMION! and a dark rush of blood pounded through him and the world went grey, and he veered sideways and dove between bullets that swam past him in stately slow-moving procession. One scraped his leg, ripping his trouser, and the pain let loose another burst of black blood in his brain, but it was only a scrape, and Marmion knitted the flesh closed even as he ran. He ran thinking: I’ll need needle and thread to be presentably dressed for the House Dolorous. Then he dived for cover in the crowds of Kloan’s market.

The hideous machines churned up the crowd. Kloan was a peaceful town, out here far to the west of the war; its people had not the good sense to drop--so they made excellent shields for Creedmoor. He darted between an old woman in a lacy dress who went down in a bloody spray and a dumb young farmboy who shrieked like a girl as the bullets hit him; between the two Creedmoor fired a single shot that caught one of the Linesman gunners between the eyes; the Linesman’s mechanical weapon fell from the window still automatically firing and thrashing like an iron snake until the belt was empty.

They were men of the Line for sure, of course; no one else had access to such hideous machines.

One of the men in the boarding-house knelt in the doorway. The Linesman snapped open his black chrome-clasped briefcase and removed a dull grey lump of iron, the size of his fist, and he bowled it through the air toward the crowd and Creedmoor. Creedmoor, darting from behind a screaming gaggle of girls in blood-spattered dresses, caught it on the wing with one careful shot (time froze; the world became grey and cold and precise; Marmion guided his hand) a shot which sent it back like a billiard-ball into the boarding-house through the open door.

The boarding house immediately burst into flame. The curtains went up and the glass shattered and sparks and smoke poured forth from the windows. The shooting stopped briefly.

-- Was that a fire bomb? An unusual weapon for the Line.

-- Remember Log-Town, Creedmoor. They burned Log-Town.

-- How could I forget?

-- It might have been a noise-bomb. Or gas. You broke it, Creedmoor, so now it burns. Who cares what it was made for?

-- Now it burns. Who cares what it was made for? That should be your motto. I should have it engraved on your grip. Oh, look at it burn! That should keep them busy.

-- There may be more nearby.

-- What do you think they were doing here?

-- Spying. Establishing their hateful spying machines. Laying claim to territory that is not theirs.

Two more men, short, hunching, coughing, staggered out of the blaze, smoke streaming from shabby black suits and howling mouths, ugly stub rifles held loosely and rattling away.

-- Finish them. Smash their machines. Go.

* * *

On his way back from the boarding house--his clothes somewhat singed; mopping ash-dust and blood from his face with someone else’s neckerchief--Creedmoor stopped by the stage and what remained of Sloop’s medicine-show. The crowd was long dispersed from the square; even Kloan’s cow-slow folk had figured the score by then. Sloop was dead of a bloody chest-wound. The muscleman lay beside him with the back of his head open. Professor Harry Ransome was laying out the bodies and cleaning them up, but he up and ran at Creedmoor’s approach. His white suit was ruined, of course, and his apparatus didn’t seem to have fared much better, because the stage now was scattered with broken glass and wire.

-- Never know what it did now, I guess.

The showgirl was on her knees sobbing, her feather boa trailing in the blood and glass. Creedmoor paid her what seemed to be a fair price for two bottles of her dead master’s Tonic-Water.

-- It is grain-alcohol and curry-powder. I can sense it. You will be lucky not to go blind, Creedmoor.

-- Nevertheless.

The showgirl’s trembling fingers half-closed over the bills.

He said, “You keep your clothes very nicely, considering the rough country you travel in. Do you have needle and thread?”

The baobab tree was a blazing crown like some awful prophecy.

Over by the burning boarding house, half of Kloan’s folk were passing up buckets from the well. Mostly the women. Their efforts were not going well. The fire spread to another and another house; and meanwhile many of the men were eyeing Creedmoor angrily, nervously -- this interloper who had brought down horror upon them -- this dealer with devils, this Agent of the Gun. Some carried pitchforks and knives and hatchets; a few clutched old muskets; one or two had hunting-bows.

He could have killed them all. Of course he could. He had a demon in his hand. But what would be the point? Kloan was a pretty town. And besides one lucky shot might always end him. It happened, sadly, even to Agents of the Gun--only last year Red Molly had died in similar circumstances. Though she had of course been ragingly drunk.

Creedmoor’s horse was dead, slumped and bloody by the hitching-post to which he’d tied it. The animals nearby were panicking and screaming and rearing against their ropes. He took another, a roan, from over the other side of the square.

The men of Kloan edged closer, murder-minded. Creedmoor stared them down from horse-back. “Your town is burning. See; your women are fighting for it. Go help them, you fools.” And he spurred the horse ‘round and thundered out of town before Kloan’s folk--not so peaceful or simple any more!--could start shooting.

The war had been bound to come to Kloan sooner or later. Still, Creedmoor felt just awful that he’d been the one to bring it, and he rode out in grim silence. Naturally his master, sensing his mood, set out to worsen it.

-- We warned you, Creedmoor. You defied us.

-- I did.

-- Never again, Creedmoor. Next time you defy us we will put the Goad to you. You have a mission.

* * *

He went west into lands that were still peaceful; rough and hilly and broken but not yet marked by war. An hour later he’d put some good miles behind him, and the smoke was no longer visible.

He spied a fast rider in the distance, tearing out of Kloan along a route south-west of and near-parallel to Creedmoor’s own, raising dust.

-- Spare us embarrassment, Creedmoor. Keep this story from the newspapers.

Only a short detour was necessary to bring the rider within Marmion’s prodigious range--and Creedmoor did not miss. He never missed.

One shot. The rider silently tumbled into the dust.

Creedmoor shook his head.

-- Damn fool. Should have stayed home where they needed him.

-- The Line knows we are here. Get to work, Creedmoor.

Creedmoor began to scour the trails and backroads of the hills. Twenty-four hours later he picked up the trail of a procession – he could smell­ them – a dozen men and women, on foot, slow-moving, some of them wounded, scents of pus and bandages and iodine.

-- The House’s men. And the walking wounded. A harvest of the sick and the mad for the House Dolorous.

-- Yes. They will suffice. Finally we can begin. Faster, Creedmoor.

2 commentaires:

Jimmy said...

That was awesome. This book looks like its right up my alley. But I guess you can't go too wrong with demon guns! Just ordered it

Greg said...

I wasn't sure about this book when I saw it at B&N but after reading this excerpt I think I'll pick it up.