Friday, February 08, 2013

[Lisa's Take] The Rise of Random City by Felix Gilman

After doing a lot of slacking with regards to reading last year, I’ve been working on getting myself back into gear this year.  To that end I’ve been eschewing TV and devouring books instead.  After a re-read of Lies of Locke Lamora, I felt invigorated and ready to recommit.  Woo!  (I exaggerate: a re-read of one of my favorite books was nice, but a trip to and from India totaling almost 60 hours of travel time, played a big role in forcing me to read.  Heh.)

Now, with that preface out of the way:

Maaaan, The Rise of Ransom City was a serious disappointment. I mean really.  The Half-Made World was one of my favorite books of last year – I loved the world, I loved the characters (even the unlovable ones) and I loved Gilman’s writing style.  I even made my “book shriek” noise when I saw the sequel on the shelf at Barnes & Noble; my excitement was that great.

So what went wrong with Ransom City?  To be honest, Gilman did his job a little too well.  Ransom City is told from the point of view of Harry Ransom, something of a mad scientist.  The format of the book is such that Harry is writing his memoirs in the form of a journal or letters, which an acquaintance of his then recovers, compiles, edits, and publishes (with a few revisions and footnotes).  Gilman manages to make Ransom’s character incredibly real… and therein lies the problem.  Ransom is young, ignorant of the world, egotistical, boastful, and generally not a very likable man.  Gilman captures that and portrays it masterfully, using Ransom’s memoirs to paint a vivid picture of a supremely dislikable man.  Ransom made me gnash my teeth and have deep frustration building in my gut – I took no pleasure in reading about his exploits, because his personality infuriated me so much.

It’s true, through the course of the book Ransom grows and starts to become an ever-so-slightly better person,  but it was nigh impossible for me to shake the negative impression I had of him.  It was with great relief that I finished the last page of the book and could put him out of my head.

I suppose that’s the bulk of it: Gilman did his job as a writer too well and made his protagonist too believably dislikable.  That was rough.  But there was another factor in why Ransom City was a disappointment.  When it comes down to it, the sequel didn’t live up to the excellence of the predecessor.  I didn’t get enough of what I wanted: weird west alternate history with altercations between The Gun and The Line and awesome spaghetti-western-style shootouts.  For all that Ransom meddled in the magic of the land, we the readers got few deep glimpses of the opposing forces set up in the first novel.  In a phrase: needz moar stand-offs.

So yeah.  Ransom City disappointed me.  That said, I will still be eagerly awaiting book three, with high hopes that we’ll get back to the excellence of the first book.

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