Sequel to The Half-Made World (2010), a sort of magic/steampunk Wild West yarn wherein two powers struggle for dominance: One, the Line, builds heavy industry while enslaving the population, while the Gun cultivates terror, violence and robbery.
The Line is ruled by Engines, cold, calculating, immortal cybernetic machines, while the Gun’s agents are controlled by immortal demon Guns. Only the West is dotted with settlements of free people and the mysterious, magic-powered aboriginal Folk. Previously, psychologist Liv Alverhuysen and a renegade Gun agent, John Creedmoor, traveled into the remote West in order to study those driven insane by Gun and Line—and, just possibly, find a clue to how they might be defeated. Here, the pair cross paths only briefly with the protagonist, first-person narrator Harry Ransom, part snake-oil salesman, part mad inventor and clearly inspired by Mark Twain’s writings. Harry has invented a sort of perpetual motion machine based on the “Process” that, he hopes, once perfected, will provide unlimited light and power for the free peoples. As Alverhuysen and Creedmoor continue their search for a weapon that can kill immortals, Harry drifts from town to town, trying to accumulate funds and perfect his Apparatus. Readers hoping for a continuation of the previous book will be disappointed: Harry’s picaresque adventures firmly occupy center stage and, while not quite as fascinating as Gilman evidently hoped, he’s still an intriguing character. What’s more troubling is the backdrop: It’s possible, for example, that the Engines were invented by humans in the distant past, which puts a dent in the Wild-West scenario, while it’s hard to imagine how any of the economies described here would actually function.
Thought-provoking, but lacking rigor in the construction.