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Felix Gilman

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Fiction and Excerpts [4]

The Revolutions (Excerpt)

, || In 1893, young journalist Arthur Shaw is at work in the British Museum Reading Room when the Great Storm hits London, wreaking unprecedented damage. In its aftermath, Arthur's newspaper closes, owing him money, and all his debts come due at once. His fiancé Josephine takes a job as a stenographer for some of the fashionable spiritualist and occult societies of fin de siècle London society. At one of her meetings, Arthur is given a job lead for what seems to be accounting work, but at a salary many times what any clerk could expect. The work is long and peculiar, as the workers spend all day performing unnerving calculations that make them hallucinate or even go mad, but the money is compelling...

The Rise of Ransom City (Excerpt)

, || This is the story Harry Ransom. If you know his name it's most likely as the inventor of the Ransom Process, a stroke of genius that changed the world. Or you may have read about how he lost the battle of Jasper City, or won it, depending on where you stand in matters of politics. Friends called him Hal or Harry, or by one of a half-dozen aliases, of which he had more than any honest man should. He often went by Professor Harry Ransom, and though he never had anything you might call a formal education, he definitely earned it. If you're reading this in the future, Ransom City must be a great and glittering metropolis by now, with a big bronze statue of Harry Ransom in a park somewhere. You might be standing on its sidewalk and not wonder in the least of how it grew to its current glory. Well, here is its story, full of adventure and intrigue. And it all starts with the day that old Harry Ransom crossed paths with Liv Alverhyusen and John Creedmoor, two fugitives running from the Line, amidst a war with no end.

The Story of a Victorian Group Who Tried to Travel to Space Using Supernatural Powers

People always ask where the ideas for books come from, and it’s usually a hard question to answer. Books don’t have just one idea, and the process of writing is an iterative one in which ideas come and go and don’t work out the way you initially expect. But I can identify at least one of the starting places for the current book.

I was sitting up at night feeding a baby and trying to read, and in a vague and sleepless way I was kicking around a half-dozen ideas for a new book, something science-fictional, or possibly some sort of Magical London Fantasy, why not, something with dueling occultists, when (in Alexandra Owen’s magnificent history The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern, which I had picked up for research on the latter idea) I read this beautiful sentence: “In September 1898 two respectable Victorians met in a private house in London for the express purpose of traveling to the planets.”

[Well. Did they now.]

All the Planets are But Rays: Victorian-era Magical Societies, Telepathy, and Interplanetary Space Travel

People always ask where the ideas for books come from, and it’s usually a hard question to answer. Books don’t have just one idea, and the process of writing is an iterative one in which ideas come and go and don’t work out the way you initially expect. But I can identify at least one of the starting places for the current book.

I was sitting up at night feeding a baby and trying to read, and in a vague and sleepless way I was kicking around a half-dozen ideas for a new book, something science-fictional, or possibly some sort of Magical London Fantasy, why not, something with dueling occultists, when (in Alexandra Owen’s magnificent history The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern, which I had picked up for research on the latter idea) I read this beautiful sentence: “In September 1898 two respectable Victorians met in a private house in London for the express purpose of traveling to the planets.”

[Well. Did they now.]

The Revolutions (Excerpt)

Check out The Revolutions, Felix Gilman’s tale of Victorian science fiction, arcane exploration, and planetary romance. Read an excerpt below and get the book March 1st from Tor Books!

In 1893, young journalist Arthur Shaw is at work in the British Museum Reading Room when the Great Storm hits London, wreaking unprecedented damage. In its aftermath, Arthur’s newspaper closes, owing him money, and all his debts come due at once.

His fiancé Josephine takes a job as a stenographer for some of the fashionable spiritualist and occult societies of fin de siècle London society. At one of her meetings, Arthur is given a job lead for what seems to be accounting work, but at a salary many times what any clerk could expect. The work is long and peculiar, as the workers spend all day performing unnerving calculations that make them hallucinate or even go mad, but the money is compelling…

[Read an Excerpt]

The Rise of Ransom City (Excerpt)

Check out this excerpt from The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman, out now:

This is the story of Harry Ransom. If you know his name it’s most likely as the inventor of the Ransom Process, a stroke of genius that changed the world.

Or you may have read about how he lost the battle of Jasper City, or won it, depending on where you stand in matters of politics.

Friends called him Hal or Harry, or by one of a half-dozen aliases, of which he had more than any honest man should. He often went by Professor Harry Ransom, and though he never had anything you might call a formal education, he definitely earned it.

If you’re reading this in the future, Ransom City must be a great and glittering metropolis by now, with a big bronze statue of Harry Ransom in a park somewhere. You might be standing on its sidewalk and not wonder in the least of how it grew to its current glory. Well, here is its story, full of adventure and intrigue. And it all starts with the day that old Harry Ransom crossed paths with Liv Alverhyusen and John Creedmoor, two fugitives running from the Line, amidst a war with no end.

[Read more]

The Half-Made World (Excerpt)

We hope you enjoy this excerpt from The Half-Made World, a fantastical reimagining of the American West influced by steampunk, the American western tradition, and magical realism. For another taste of this world, check out Felix Gilman’s short story “Lightbringers and Rainmakers.”

CHAPTER ONE

1889

THE DEPARTURE

One fine spring afternoon, when the roses in the gardens of the Lodenstein Faculty were in bloom, and the lawns were emerald-green, and the river was sapphire-blue, and the experimental greenhouses burst with weird life, the professors of the Department of Psychological Sciences met in the Faculty’s ancient August Hall, in a handsomely-appointed upstairs library, where they stood in a little group drinking sherry and saying their goodbyes to their colleague Doctor Lysvet Alverhuysen—Liv, to her friends—who was, against all reasonable advice, determined to go west.

[Westward, ho!]

Series: Steampunk Fortnight

Lightbringers and Rainmakers

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

We hope you enjoy this story, set in the same world as Felix Gilman’s new novel from Tor Books, The Half-Made World.

I.  The Incident in Wherever-It-Was

Hello May.

I haven’t written in a while and maybe it seems I only write when there’s bad news. Well, this is not the exception that proves the rule, if you know what I mean.

I lost almost all my business cards. If you got my last letter, you’ll remember I sent you one of them, so that you can see what your prodigal kid brother’s up to these days and maybe be proud, maybe just a little. If you didn’t get my letter—and who knows these days?—then they had my name, “Professor” Harry Ransom, “Professor” like that, in what they call “quotes,” because I always say I’m nothing if not honest, as best I can be, and at least I never claim to be anything I’m not. There were lightning bolts printed on either side of my name. Those cost extra. Under my name it said Lightbringer, then Licensed and then By Appointment, which weren’t exactly true but didn’t mean anything either way, as I saw it, and then below that Inventor of the Ransom Process for &c &c, which is true. A dollar for fifty at Tally’s Printers on Tenth Avenue in Melville City, and I bought two hundred-fifty, and in consequence went hungry for a week, and so did good old never-complaining Carver, my assistant, who I’m sure I’ve mentioned before.

Also I have lost my Apparatus, and my wagon, and Sasha (the horse), and just about everything else in the world I own except the white suit and my wits.

[If you got my last letter you’ll be thinking, Not again.]

Series: Steampunk Fortnight

The Illusion of Understanding Michael Moorcock

OK, quick, from memory, which Moorcock books have you read? More importantly, what have you not (yet) read? I’ve been a devoted fan for 20+ plus years and have probably read, rough estimate here, maybe a third of his output.  (I’m not even counting the music at all. Doesn’t sound like my sort of thing).  Probably closer to a quarter. Probably less. Possibly a lot less. Close to nothing, maybe, relatively speaking.

I’ve read the Corum books, all six of them (there are only six, right?).  Ditto Hawkmoon; also six.  I have a good handle on the Corum and Hawkmoon books.  I’ve read two of the Erekose books: the one with the elves, and the one with the ice.  I think there was a third but I could never find it.  Mother London and King of the City and Behold the Man and Blood and Fabulous Harbors and mumble-mumble-something-the-third-one. I read the Elric books, of course—but here I start to get nervous.  I read what I think of as the real versions, i.e. the ones that I read as a teenager, albeit not in the prehistoric before-I-was-born short story format but collected as novels, up to and including the closer Stormbringer (its cover was a weird and unsettling shade of green); and also (some?) of the subsequently published novels, i.e. Fortress of the Pearl and the one with the Nazis; but then I recently read one of the Elric new collections they’re doing these days and it bears almost no resemblance to any of the stories I remember, which is both disturbing and fascinating.  Is my memory at fault or are there somehow two Elrics?  And let’s not even get started on Jerry Cornelius. . .

[Read more…]

Series: Celebrating Michael Moorcock

Notes From an Emergency Meeting of the Institute for the Study of Cephalopod Progress

Recently, video footage surfaced documenting tool use among common octopuses. We at the Institute for the Study of Cephalopod Progress recently exchanged a number of missives to consider the implications for the American public. We present to you an excerpt of this exchange among members Felix Gilman, Jesse H. Bullington, Matthew B. Dyer and I.

I think the first question the public is going to want to know is what this documentation of octopus tool use may mean for human/cephalopod relations. Can you address this?

Respectfully,
Matt Staggs
Chairman
ISCP

* * *

Dear Sir, 

Speaking as a life-long professional Coconut-Carrier (Chartered) I am deeply concerned about competition from the octopus so-called “community.”  It is well known that the octopus will work for mollusks and they have low standards of professional craft. They will drive down wages and quality, and they have too many legs.  (Eight, or so they claim, if you can believe it!) 

It is with great regret that I must call urgently for tariffs upon the Ocean, or possibly some form of undersea bombing campaign.

Fingers yes, tentacles no!

Yours sincerely, 
Felix Gilman, C-C(C) (retired)

* * *

Dear Sir or Madam:

Speaking only on behalf of myself and all red-blooded American Homo sapiens, I say we can no more assume the cephalopod community means us harm than we can assume the recipient of any missives we may send is a sir and not, contrary to what any warhawk coconut-carriers may think, a madam. It seems that by simply seeking to care for his or her individual needs a single member of Amphioctopus marginatus has raised the ire of the entire right wing, fear-mongering horde—tariffs? Bombing raids? All for fear of competition? Clearly Mr. (or Ms) Gilman is opposed to the very same healthy competition in the marketplace that made this country great, and like some demented coconut baron seeks to maintain the human monopoly on what should be a free market.

All this because a single, brave cephalopod straightened his or her collar, ran a besuckered tentacle along his or her mantle, and dared to ring the doorbell at what certain individuals would prefer to be an invitation-only evolutionary dinner party. Is there any reason why the cephalopod should not be welcomed? “Too many legs,” is all the speciesist can come up with: Too. Many. Legs.

What happened to America? When did hatespeech become an acceptable mode of discourse? When did we stop feeding our love-squid and start feeding our hate-squid? Is there any reason, any reason at all, why we should not take to the beaches, the harbors, the aquariums, enter the water, and embrace our new friends? All we want is to love, and be loved, and to live, live, and occasionally dress up like a hermit crab with the aid of a coconut shell. When you get right down to it, isn’t that all that everyone wants? When did we lose our way?

I pray for this cruel, arid world. Love yes, fear no. Love yes, fear no!

Yours, be you sir or madam, sapien or cephalopod, sincerely,
Jesse H. Bullington, American

* * *

While I am sympathetic to Comrade Bullington’s red-blooded protests against Mr. Gilman’s economic solution, I believe it would be unwise to disregard the genuine reason the human race has to fear the rise of the tool-using octopus: revenge.

For hundreds of years, human fishers have been using tools to trap octopuses, haul them out of the dark depths of their home, and then plop them in a rickety boat. These fishermen then bite the octopus to death. Seriously. With their teeth.

The introduction of tools into cephalopod society can only mean that this cycle will be broken and then tragically reversed. Man-traps will await ocean travelers, fiendishly designed to bring the unwitting homo sapiens into the tentacled clutches of the octopus. Do we really believe that the octopus will not relish the opportunity to exact revenge upon mankind for the thousands, nay millions, of his brethren who have met a similar fate?

I support Mr. Gilman’s call for tariffs and bombing (perhaps even tariff-bombing?) because I am afraid of being bitten to death by an octopus. I had this fear before the advent of tool use in cephalopod culture. This fear has only grown in its aftermath.

Huddled in terror,
Matthew B. Dyer

* * *

Gentlemen, the ethics of interspecies coconut transport has been a matter of fierce debate ever since the topic was first broached by Mssrs. Chapman and Palin, over three decades ago. If those erudite minds could not resolve the issue to satisfaction, I have scarce faith that we will today. I’d like to move the discussion forward, instead, to focus on the cultural impact that the arrival of these clearly advanced octopus vagabonds may have on mainstream America. How can you see America changing? Will it?

Suspiciously,
Matt Staggs
Chairman
ISCP

* * *

Dear Sir or Viviparous Female,

How right you are! This is a question of culture. The ways of the octopus are not our ways.

The lot of a professional Coconut-Carrier has never been an easy one, and we are used to the derision of ivory-tower multiculturalists who think themselves our betters.  And yet has Mr. (or quite possibly Lady) Bullington ever handled a coconut? Ever picked one one up, moved it a little way, and put it down again? Would he (or she) even know how? How to lift, where to place, upside or downside?  I doubt it. 

The moving of coconuts is a complex and sophisticated matter, and central to everything that I, and I think most right-thinking folk, love about our wonderful Land-based culture.

Yet look at this shifty octopus fellow, caught on security camera, shirking his job.  Is that the sort of thing you want to see here, on this Land that we love so much?  Is that how you want our children learning to behave? Look how he dithers from side to side. Look how he kicks up sand.  Look how he curls up in his own coconut, sleeping no doubt on his long-suffering employer’s time. Look at all his horrible horrible little legs.

And it is not just a question of legs.  I also think that he looks sticky.

Spines! Spines! Spines forever!

Yours vertebrally,
Felix Gilman C-C(C), retired

* * *

Dear Mammal,

Further to our previous correspondence:

It has just been brought to my attention, by my good lady wife, herself a Coconut-Carrier of no small accomplishment, that increased octopus immigration may also bring with it a fashion for the worship of the Great Old Ones, the rising of R’lyeh, and the devouring of all human souls in the tentacled maw of Cthulhu.  Frankly I can see both sides of this issue.  I have no quarrel with a fellow who worships Cthulhu, so long as he carries his coconuts diligently and maintains the proper number of legs.  I myself worship Shub-Niggurath, as it happens.  Ia! Ia!  

I regard this as secondary to the issue of tariffs on ocean-based coconut-carrying services, on which matter I remain as firm and unbending as my beautiful, beautiful spine.

Yours,
Felix Gilman, C-C(C), retired

* * *

Did…did the chair really just use the term vagabond to describe those individuals who have historically endured a nomadic lifestyle for a variety of external reasons? These are not aquatic bindlestiffs in search of a federal teat, these are intelligent, motivated, and talented workers who are committed to contributing their unique skill sets to our (dry) world economy. It is my dear hope that one of the first things to change about mainstream America is the casual speciesism endemic to most debates involving our newest, and hereto voiceless, members of society.

Culturally, I predict a huge upswing in conversion to the myriad denominations popular among cephalopods. Said surge in conversion will, ideally, parallel a decline in the hostility and fear that has long been directed at such misunderstood and perfectly reputable institutions as the Esoteric Order of Dagon, the Reformed Church of Dagon, Mother Hydraism, The Open Door of Night, The Black Brotherhood, The Cult of Cthulhu, The Cthulchurch of Cthulhu, and Scientology. The coveted tax-exempt status, so long denied the majority of these so-called “apocalypse cults,” will inevitably follow.

In addition to a return (yes, return, contrary to what the revisionist historians would have you believe) to the values and faiths that made life on this planet great, I think we’ll see the inevitable new fashions crop up here and abroad. One need look no further than your local Etsy shop to see that the youth of America has already welcomed the cephalopod in terms of attire and accouterments. On a global level, as our new peers continue to rightfully assert themselves in society I would be very surprised if Milan, Paris, and even the streets of the Harajuku District were not soon teeming with last season’s R’lyeh fashions.

In terms of a radical change in culture, and coconut handling, I just don’t see it—this is the Conservatives’ doomsday scenarios in regards to President Obama’s election all over again. If a Democrat ascending to the presidency didn’t ruin this country I don’t see how an uncounted number of highly intelligent cephalopods simultaneously joining American society could have much of an impact—contrary to Gilman’s accusation that “the ways of the octopus are not our ways,” I say now and forever that their ways, in fact, were our ways, and, indeed, are our ways, and, undoubtedly, shall be our ways.

After all, is it not the way of Homo sapiens to stroke the livestock, to raise it in ignorance, and to establish a false dichotomy between the quadruped one keeps in one’s home and takes to the vet when it gets a tummy ache and the quadruped one enslaves, one imprisons, one slaughters for the sweet, sweet taste of its supple flesh? Are we really that different? Do those who seek justice for the long-suffering cephalopod look down on the howdy-folks-how-ya-doin-getcha-beer-and-a-bump-Joe-or-Jane-the-Plumber from an ivory-tower of multiculturalism, as Gilman would scare America into believing, or do we look up from a tower of carven coral far beneath the waves, forever longing for what is ours by right? Metaphorically speaking.

I ask you, America, to preserve all that made this nation great, and say yes to cephalopods.

Sincerely,
J.H. Bullington, All-American

* * *

In closing, gentlemen, do you have any advice to those living in coastal areas?

Safely inland,
Matt Staggs
Chairman
ISCP

* * *

Clearly the coasts are our first line of defense against the octopus menace.  Stand your ground, coast-dwellers! Don’t let Bullington and his ilk push you around! Stand up for yourselves! Yes, exactly—on feet

It seems to me that the obvious solution is a moat. But I leave the details to you.

Yours,
Felix Gilman, C-C(C), retired

* * *

While I still maintain that murder from below is the most likely outcome of the rise of the eight-armed menace, Monsieur Bullington raises a good point. There is much to learn about the religion of the cephalopod. I myself was raised Roman Catholic, so the idea of awaiting the resurrection of a dead and dreaming god, indifferent to my existence, is comfortably familiar. 

One could perhaps hope for peace between the octopus and man, seeing as how members of both species worship the Old One. Commonly depicted with both humanoid and octopoid characteristics, it seems only natural that the two species should work together.

And this is precisely the problem. The octopus recognizes that there is nothing natural about the Old One, at least not as we think of “nature.” So, with murder in their hearts, they come to the surface world. And the mighty Cthluhu doesn’t give a damn, because that’s just how he rolls.

One might then assume that I agree with Mr. Gilman, in that we out to worship other fishy fellows. One oceanic overlord is as bad as an other as far as I’m concerned. Whether Cthulhu or Dagon, I’m confident the fate of man remains the same. I have no interest in sucking down seawater or having my brain devoured by a cephalopod.

With fear as my guiding principle, I propose that the proper course of action is the worship of Nyarlathotep and his Master from Beyond, Azathoth. I find the prospect of madness much more pleasant than the almost certain death that comes with the return of Cthulhu. 

Matthew B. Dyer


Jesse Bullington is the author of The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. Matthew B. Dyer is a reviewer and author of short fiction. Felix Gilman is the author of Thunderer and Gears of the City. Matt Staggs is a book publicist and literary ne’er do well.

Series: December Belongs To Cthulhu