The Rise of Ransom City - Felix Gilman Felix Gilman is good. He’s definitely a writer on my watch-list (not in a sociopathic way of course), and there’s something about his writing that I find both enjoyable and satisfying. I generally lump him in with those writers I consider “prose stylists” though he’s not showy in any way, rather he just seems to know how to effectively turn a phrase. He also writes fairly dense (or at least long) texts, but they never seem to be weighed down by their size; things move along at the pace they need to move at, whether that be faster or slower at any given point, and they reach their destination in ways that satisfy. Finally his characters have complexity and their own voices and never come across as dull or flat.

_The Rise of Ransom City_ is a sequel-of-sorts to the thoroughly excellent [b:The Half-Made World|8198773|The Half-Made World|Felix Gilman||13045676]. It shares the same genre-bending alternate weird-weird west world of its predecessor as well as several key characters. The most important of these is our narrator and ‘hero’ ‘Professor’ Harry Ransom, Lightbringer, etc., etc., discoverer of the Ransom Process, creator of the Ransom System of Exercises, businessman, inventor, and visionary extraordinaire. To call Harry a con-man would be unfair, to call him a scientist would be inaccurate, to call him an inveterate dreamer would probably be just about right. The set-up for the novel is that it is a cobbling together of letters and drafts from Ransom himself by the editorial hand of one Elmer Merrial Carson, a raconteur, journalist, novelist and sort of Mark Twain figure in Gilman’s world. Readers of Gilman’s previous forays into the world of the Unmade West will not be surprised by the self-aggrandizing picture that Ransom paints of himself, though his earnest intention to tell the truth (albeit a truth coloured by his own perceptions and beliefs) is genuine. We follow Ransom as he details his obscure childhood in a small backwater town, his early interactions with the Line, and hints at the seemingly fortuitous discovery of what would eventually lead to his development of ‘the Process’. His early travels with the enigmatic Mr. Carver into the further reaches of the West in search of investors not only allow him to cross paths with John Creedmoor and Liv Alverhuysen (the main characters of the former novel), but also begin to lead Ransom into situations that will inevitably ensnare him in the more important events of the wider world and eventually draw upon him the unwanted attentions of both the Line and the Gun.

Throughout Ransom’s tale two mysteries prove to loom large (sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly): what exactly is the nature and purpose of ‘the Process’, and where, if anywhere, is the dreamed-for utopia Ransom hopes to create (the titular Ransom City)? In addition to this the origins and mysteries of the eldritch forces that embody both the Line and the Gun are also speculated upon (though never revealed), and with one possible exception the Folk remain the ambiguous and off-stage presence they have always been. In many ways the book leaves us with even more questions about Gilman’s world than we started with; really one could say that the book is composed primarily of enigmas and mysteries wrapped in the ambiguous words of an unreliable narrator. True to the traditions of this narrative mode we are not always told what we want to hear, and even those things we are told must be taken with a grain of salt. Digressions are frequent and mysteries are only revealed (if they ever are) slowly and almost by accident. This might be frustrating for some readers, but once you get a handle on who Harry Ransom really is sifting through his words does not become an onerous task. He also proves able to provide a valuable, if somewhat skewed, perspective on the events and people he comes across. Harry certainly grows as a character and his experiences and trials prompt his idealism to shift from the purely selfish & naïve to something more analogous to a philanthropic & hopeful melancholy.

I don’t think there’s much else I can say without spoiling the story…this book really is all about the journey and the little reveals that each new horizon presents to both Ransom and the reader. I still liked [b:The Half-Made World|8198773|The Half-Made World|Felix Gilman||13045676] better and I hope any further forays Gilman makes into this world reveal a bit more than they obscure, but all-in-all I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who loves well-written fantasy that involves complex characters in an intriguingly unique world.