Throwback Thursdays: The Half-Made Frontier

Welcome to Throwback Thursdays on the Tor/Forge blog! Every other week, we’re delving into our newsletter archives and sharing some of our favorite posts.

Following his spectacularly reviewed Half-Made World duology, Felix Gilman has now written a sweeping stand-alone tale of Victorian science fiction, arcane exploration, and planetary romance: The Revolutions. To celebrate the new book, we thought we’d go back to October 2010, when Felix wrote about how his first genre-blending book came to be. We hope you enjoy this blast from the past, and be sure to check back every other Thursday for more!

By Felix Gilman

The Half-Made World is a western, kind of. A western with monsters. I didn’t start with the intention of writing a kind-of-western, but it soon became clear that that was where Creedmoor belonged, so that was that. Also, I’d just written two long books about Great Big Cities and wanted to get outdoors for a while.

I made a frontier—not any frontier in actual human history, but something like the Frontier, or the idea of the Frontier, turned up to eleven. It was a western, so I gave them guns. Now they had a frontier and they had guns, so there had to be a war. That’s just the way things work.

The aggressor in this war is called the Line. It’s a metaphor for Industry and Modernity, one of those metaphors made literal and concrete and allowed to run wild, chewing up the scenery, which for me is at least half the fun of writing fantasy. It’s a nightmare view of the future, as seen by the people the future is about to crush. It’s crowded lightless cities, off on the horizon, with vast smoking factories that can out-produce your little town in a matter of moments, rendering you obsolete. It’s the enclosure of land and the leveling of hills and acid rain. It’s ruthless and acquisitive and amoral and vast and rich and powerful beyond comprehension. It’s tanks and trucks and rockets and poison gas and barbed wire and a variety of models of spying machines and flying machines, including all the gothic and bat-winged ornithopter-type craft that never worked in the real world but once seemed like they were going to. It’s the dark side of steampunk. It’s the First World War. It’s an aggressively expanding industrial civilization run by the half-mechanical half-demonic minds of thirty-eight train Engines of monstrous size, who communicate with each other across the continent through the clatter and din of industry like whalesong, and who do not value human life. And Creedmoor works for their enemies, who are even worse.

The book started with Creedmore’s voice. He was making fun of something and talking to himself, which meant that he was also talking to me. I think he had a name right from the first moment: Creedmoor. He’s an asshole. A genuinely bad man—a killer, a liar, a thief, and pleased with himself about it. He’s heading up the side of a hill. There is dust, sweat, hot red sun. He’s definitely armed and he is almost certainly wearing a hat, but it isn’t clear whether he is riding a horse or walking. Along the side of the road there are billboards with peeling posters. At the top of the hill there is a large building, probably a hospital, full of hardworking decent people. When Creedmoor gets to the top of the hill he is going to have to lie and cheat his way into that building. I don’t know why yet or what is going to happen when he did except that it is going to be weird and bloody. He is talking in his head, but not, on further investigation, to himself, but to something else—I don’t know what. I know I shouldn’t like him but I am starting to, sort of.

Some of this scene survives now, about halfway into the book, though there are no billboards and no hill and Creedmoor sounds less cartoon-Irish than he did at first, which should be a relief for all concerned.

When I sat down to write again the next morning there was a woman, getting off a train. It was a very big train, and there was steam. There was that hot red sun again, and dust. She was wearing white, and I knew that she was very clever and a very long way from home, and I knew her name was Liv.

Two characters, and a war. Everything else in the world opened out around them, out to the horizon, out to the frontier.

The Revolutions (978-0-7653-3717-7; $26.99) will be published on April 1, 2014. Felix Gilman can be found online at felixgilman.com.

This article is originally from the October 2010 Tor/Forge newsletter. Sign up for the Tor/Forge newsletter now, and get similar content in your inbox twice a month!