I wish I had half the skill Felix Gilman has.
Writers often take a position of humility. The Neil springs to mind, he of the thousand different heroes, all with justifiably gigantic contributions to literature. Douglas Adams adored PG Wodehouse. It goes all the way back. Dante’s Virgil was so named in honor of the poet. Even the earliest texts mention skilled orators and bards as their source material, writers who are lost to history.
I’m not one of those authors. I will go out and say Ayn Rand was a great writer with misguided ideas, or that Dickens was long-winded but noble. I don’t see any reason to flatter an author or downplay their achievements solely for readership or to avoid criticism. Just like imitation is the best sort of flattery, honesty is the best sort of appreciation.
So when I say Felix Gilman is freaking awesome, I mean it in every sense of the word. Reading one of his books fills me with awe. The imagery! The turning of a phrase! The way it weighs down one end of my bookshelf!
It isn’t hard to see Gilman’s steampunk wild-west America in our everyday, a place where the frontier of impossibility is constantly being consumed by relentless industry. The Line exists all around us, crushing us down. Its soot-stained smokestacks are the cubicles around us, its stunted men the 9-5 worker. Gun constantly seeks to undermine, representing the activists, the terrorists, the folks who disrupt. And yes, they’re constantly losing. Then there’s everyone else, just trying to get by with their crazy inventions and their own fascinating stories. Getting swept away by the tide of history. Sometimes, like our lead characters Liv and Creedmore, you’re given an opportunity to maybe make a change for the better.
Ultimately, I know it’s the world view. Good authors infuse their work with a point of view, an identity. Soul, if you like. And unless the reader agrees with that point of view just a little, the book is going to be difficult to like. Gilman’s work was recommended to me by one of my own readers. (Future that Never Was is DEFINITELY more Gun than Line though. Just saying.) I’m a little biased. But when you read something like this, its hard not to be:
“I have more enemies than I deserve,” I said. “I am fighting a losing battle, me against the world. The next century is at stake. Time is running out and my optimism is sorely strained.”
“Yeah?” he said. “I was young once too.”
Its nice to see one’s worldview put into words. The perfect words, words you could never have written, and on a second read-through that’s exactly what they are. Felix Gilman is sort of the writer for writers like me. The Shakespeare for cynical romantics, if you like. When no other writer can give you those chills anymore, he’s the man for you.