The next book on the top ten list sci-fi is The Half-Made World, by Felix Gilman.
I loved this book.
Gilman creates a world in which two forces try to shape the unmade portion of the world, one that sounds a lot like the American West. The story itself follows three narrative lines, two of which converge. One follows a psychiatrist from the Old World, another follows an Agent of the Gun, and the third follows a Linesman. The three are pursuing a former General of the Republic, a thirty-year episode of democratic/egalitarian government in an otherwise violent, mostly fascistic history of the region.
The idea of being unmade is fascinating – he populates this American western style region with a series of sort of political/ideological embodiments – the Line is the fascist potential of technology (even the old-style industrial tech, which for most technophobes is a sign of the good stuff, unlike that nasty digital tech), the Gun is a demonic possession of humans by our worst instincts – lying, violence, no desire to create community or family), old-style Europe (staid, already constructed). The Republic represents what’s good, but he doesn’t make that representation mindless – instead, he has Liv and Creedmor and the General (upon arriving at the last remnants of the Republic, a place called New Design far beyond the made lands, populated by the remnants of the Republic’s army) find out just how messed up a place can be when the ideology refuses to change – New Design is just another kind of fascism.
The hope lies in the Hillfolk, with whom the General made a deal when he was on the run. They have the ability to resurrect themselves, and they literally are part of the land, somehow. We get very little explanation of how that works, and the novel sure as hell does not tie itself up nicely at the end (Liv and Creedmor, no longer possessed, have gone on with the knowledge they received from the General to try to find the Western sea, and perhaps remake the land from scratch, from a different model, the Gun is recruiting someone to hunt down Creedmor, the Line is fearful and thus vengeful, and New Design is a shell of its former glory). Instead, this sort of ends like Mieville’s stuff, but not as statically, with the forces of democracy – or more likely possibility – on the run, with meager resources even if the folks who are carrying hope are brave and skillful.
These novels reminded me in some ways of Stephen Donaldson’s Unbeliever series…