Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Half-Made World

Go To

The Half-Made World is a half-Cattle Punk, half-Weird West novel by Felix Gilman. In this reality, the West is partially uncreated and ripe for exploitation- but also hosts the 400-year old battle between the demonic Gun and oppressively industrial Line. Both sides have caught wind of a powerful weapon that could permanently destroy their opponent, and are racing to seize the one man who knows its location. Unfortunately for a newly-arrived psychologist from the East, this man happens to be one of her patients...

Was followed by a sequel, The Rise of Ransom City, starring the eccentric inventor Harry Ransom and his run-ins with Hill Folk, servants of both Line and Gun, the protagonists from the previous book and more.

This work contains examples of:

  • As Long as There Is Evil: As long as there's hatred and murder, there will be a Gun. As long as there's a drop of oil to be had, the Line will live on.
  • Bling-Bling-BANG!: All Guns are ornate and beautifully crafted, which makes them easy to tell apart from regular guns.
  • Bottomless Magazines: The Agents' Guns come with an infinite number of bullets. Justified, as they're actually embodied spirits.
  • Brown Note: Directly hearing the Engine's Song would drive listeners mad- or worse. Indirectly hearing it, via proximity to the Engines and other Line machinery, helps keep the Linesmen pale and sickly. A variation is used in the mind-bombs.
  • Byronic Hero: Deconstructed with Creedmoore. Lowry cynically notes that he seems to want to be admired both for his virtue and for his wickedness, but most of all for how romantically conflicted he is between the two.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: The Line and the Gun. The Engines. The Lodge.
  • Captured Super-Entity: The Hillfolk as a whole. It's strongly implied that they're much more powerful than they appear ( the Red Valley Republic only thrived for so long with their help, and they know the location of something that can end the threat of the Line and the Gun forever), yet many of them are also enslaved.
  • Child Soldiers: The Line used every available body in their final attempt to break the Republic. A ten-year old Lowry was among those forced onto the front.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: The Engines make a habit of this, presumably to discourage the Linesmen from harbouring any personal pride. At one point they authorise Lowry's Field Promotion on the grounds that he is "not significantly less adequate" than his dead predecessor was.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Creedmoor shoots Lowry without realizing it, and Lowry is never mentioned again. This anonymous death is exactly as Lowry had predicted.
    • In the sequel, The Rise of Ransom City, the narrator Harry Ransom mentions briefly that Marmion, Creedmoor's Gun, had been permanently destroyed during an off-screen battle.
    • In the same book, both Mr. Carver and Adela are unceremoniously and abruptly shot dead with little dramatic tension or buildup.
  • Eldritch Location: The unmade lands of the far West. Plants and animals and machines aren't wholly distinct from each other, time flows strangely, the sun and moon move in bizarre and unpredictable ways...
    • The hellish Lodge that the Guns call home.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Line and Gun are both horrifying. Agents of the Gun are more glamorous than the Linesmen, true, but they're also ready to murder everyone in sight with little to no compunction.
  • Fantastic Racism: Against the Hillfolk.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • The Hillfolk are clearly intended as Amerindian stand-ins, and magic ones to boot. However, they also take inspiration from The Fair Folk. The Hillfolk don't stay deadnote , are unnaturally gracile and pale (if a touch hairy), are vulnerable to iron, and would like to remind you to properly pronounce their names.
    • The East/North are Europe and Asia.
    • The Red Valley Republic is heavily based on the United States- for example, the Republic was a democratic nation founded on psudeo-Enlightenment principles- but its initial unification more closely resembles that of Germany or Italy.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: It depends on exactly how human you consider them, but Mr. Carver in The Rise of Ransom City is very likely part Hillfolk.
  • Hopeless War: The Line always wins and the Gun always loses. It's strongly hinted that that's exactly how the Gun likes it - it's the embodiment of lost causes and doomed last stands, so winning would be against everything it stands for. It also helps that the Gun can't be permanently defeated any more than the Line can, making their feud both a Hopeless War for the Gun and a Forever War for them both.
  • I Know Your True Name: Strange example. Names have power in the West. It's strongly implied that the "creation" of the world is less of an ongoing physical process and more caused by humans settling ever deeper in the wilderness. By naming something, you pin it down and define it; by defining it, you make it concrete and immutable. Hence, the further people travel into the West, giving everything around them a name like rose or deer or bridge, the more ordered and logical the West becomes.
  • In-Series Nickname: All Agents of the Gun who have made a name for themselves get cool nicknames. Abban the Lion, Blood-and-Thunder Boch, Procopio "Dynamite" Morse, the list goes on.
  • Invincible Villain: The Line. The Line always wins.
  • Machine Worship: Only lightly touched on in regards to the Line. They're described as worshiping their machines, the Engines especially, but nothing really resembling religion shows up in Line POV chapters, aside from offhanded references to blasphemy and "spiritual excellence."
  • Mind Rape: The effect of the mind-bombs.
    • The Goad that the Guns use to punish/"encourage" their Agents. Varies in severity from "really nasty headache" to "instant death".
  • Motor Mouth: Creedmoor tends to ramble when he talks. However, he's strangely taciturn in The Rise of Ransom City (aside from an Imagine Spot of how Harry thinks his confrontation with Knoll went).
  • Order Versus Chaos: The Line and Gun, respectively.
  • Out of Focus: Done spectacularly in The Rise of Ransom City: major world-changing events are taking place ( Liv and Creedmoor recover a Folk weapon that can kill Engines and Guns permanently, the Red Valley Republic is revived, the Line begins falling apart station by station) yet the main character only hears about these things secondhand, and we never get to see them happening "in person".
  • People Farms: The Engines only permit Linesmen to reproduce in their industrialized factory-farms. The book doesn't go into detail, but the consider the line "Father unknown, Mother irrelevant."
  • The Republic: The Red Valley Republic.
  • Reality Warping: A significant problem in the West. In many areas, exactly can and cannot exist isn't yet determined, and what does exist can find ways of giving physics the finger. This state allows the existence of... things... that are functionally like spirits. Unfortunately, humans exert influence over the spiritual. The personification and manifestation of our emotions led to the creation of the Line, Gun, and many minor spirits.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: John Creedmoor's Gun, Marmion, delivers these to him on a regular basis.
  • Resurrective Immortality: You can destroy the physical forms of Guns and Engines, but their spirits can't be killed and their bodies can always be remade.
  • Sanity Slippage: The West isn't good for Lowry's mental health, which declines steadily as he pushes further into uncreated lands.
  • Schizo Tech: The Line has attack aircraft, tanks, machine guns, telegraphs, electricity, and, of course, the Engines. Everyone else makes due with the equivalent of late 18th to early 19th century technology.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: As Agents of the Gun are modeled after folk heroes and famous outlaws, it's inevitable that a lot of them wind up as this. One, Gentleman Jim Dark, has robbed the same bank so many times that he poses for photos and signs autographs whenever he comes around, and that bank has made a fortune selling merchandise about him. The important thing to remember is that they're villains.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: You can destroy an Agent's Gun (although not the spirit it embodies) by smashing it or blowing it up, just as you would a regular gun. Once that's accomplished, the Agent is reduced to a normal human being and easily killed, tortured, or maimed. Averted by the Engines, which are extremely difficult to wreck.
  • We Have Reserves: The Line takes this view with not only its soldiers (46 deaths to kill one Agent of the Gun is considered exceptionally good work) but also its officers, who are demoted if they show any hint of pride or ambition and immediately removed from command if they fail their assigned task. If Banks is any indication, they usually shoot themselves afterwards.
  • You Are in Command Now: Lowry twice gets promoted this way.