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The Half-Made World

Posted on Sunday, July 10, 2011 in Books, Review

I recently finished a novel by Felix Gilman entitled The Half-Made World. It features an extremely well-constructed world with just enough ambiguity to add some mystery to the whole thing. The setting is an interesting combination of Old West meets Steampunk, we are presented with an on-going conflict between the forces of the Gun and the Line. Those two monosyllabic words are invested with deeper meaning as the story progresses.

But this being a conlanging blog, let me discuss the use of language in Gilman’s work. To provide some background, the Gun are spirits that inhabit weapons which give their bearers powers to heal themselves of wounds but also to be even better at raining down death on others. Of course this power comes at a cost, most prominently in the Gun being able go use the Goad on its servants. The Line are also powerful spirits inhabiting machinery and industry. They are manifest, not as weapons but might sprawling Engines that crisscross the landscape pulling more and more land under their influence.

As you might guess from that last paragraph, Gilman makes good use of capitalization: the Gun, the Line, the Goad, the Engines. The voice of the Gun, heard inside one of the main character’s heads is “like metal scraping, like powder sparking, like steel chambers falling heavily into place.” The Song of the Line is like the hum of machinery or the throbbing of an engine.

There is some conlangery at work in the novel, albeit at a very rudimentary level in connection with the mysterious Hillfolk. When the hospital director speaks about the Hillfolk, we get an inkling of their phonology: “He barked, ‘Ek-Ek-Kor! Kek-Rek-Gok!’…Their names, insofar as it is meaningful to name them, were Kek-Kek, Kur-Kur, Kona-Kona.” When Creedmoor calls out to the Hillfolk, we get a list of other languages existing in the half-made world: “He spoke again, in a different language, guttural and choking; and again, in a deeper and harsher tongue that Liv recognized as Dhravian, and he boomed out the words yet again in the nasal Kees-tongue.” We also discover that the female spirit’s names Ku Koyrik which looks like it means “hound of the border”. She was the wife of Kan-Kuk, the Hillfolk companion of the General.

In the end, not a lot of conlanging in The Half-Made World, but the I found the novel a page-turner and well worth the read. There’s a sequel in the works, and I’m very curious to continue to discover what the Gun and the Line have in store.