Book Review: The Revolutions (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, March 26, 2014
The Revolutions by Felix Gilman (Thunderer, Gears of the City, The Half-Made World) has a startlingly complex premise, quite reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, but can it stick the metaphysical landing of that much mental promise?
Setting out to weave a tale set in 1893, beginning on the night of the Great Storm in London, Gilman teases the strings of a grand narrative right before our eyes. Here we're introduced to Arthur Shaw, a young journalist and fiction writer, who is drowning in a sea of debt. The damage of the storm exacerbates his payment situation at work- the magazine he writes for owes him quite a tidy amount of back pay when they simply disappear. Shortly thereafter we're introduced to Josephine at precisely the same time Arthur is. The two begin a warm relationship which takes a fast track toward engagement, and she enters the narrator rotation just as the two take up with an occult crowd.
The Revolutions takes the Occult craze gripping the world at that time, and gives it an air of legitimacy. What if, in addition to the crackpot phonies, there were actually people with magical abilities? It's this latter crowd with which the two are mixed up, and in short order Josephine is non corporally trapped in the space/time vicinity of Mars; a Mars which may not be wholly uninhabited. Before Arthur can attempt a metaphysical rescue, war breaks out between the two magical societies, thrusting him into a brand of combat for which he is wholly unprepared.
Now, this may sound incredibly rollicking and intriguing, and on the whole it is quite compelling, but the execution is not up to keeping pace with the premise. Its slow, languid first hundred pages unfurl glacially, with little occult goings on, and without a compelling breadcrumb trail of mystery to entice weary readers onward. The pacing problems persist throughout the duration, though from the halfway point forward we've reached all manner of things fantastical, so it's easier to glean enjoyment from the ride.
Right from the outset I made allusions to Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, to which The Revolutions does not standup, but it is from the same imaginative family tree. Pacing might not be his strong suit here, but Gilman does excel at vividly breathing life into alien worlds. In that way he has deeply considered both the landscape and logic behind impossible forms of life as we would have once imagined them existing, in places which we now know they can or do not. The Revolutions is very much a throwback product of a now extinct vein of Victorian science fiction. While it might be that we've moved beyond being mystified by these Jules Vernsian style tales, a taste for the flavor lingers still.
It's for these reasons that I'm disappointed not to have enjoyed The Revolutions more. There are absolutely the blueprints of wonderful imagination forming the skeleton of this tale, but the musculature needed to spend more time at the gym. A patient reader will derive the most satisfaction from this book, though I think most readers may find the investment more weighty than the payoff.
The Revolutions by Felix Gilman hits store shelves on April 1st from TOR Books for $26.99.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.
Mania Grade: C-
Writer/ Artist: Felix Gilman
Publisher: Tor Publishing
Book Genre: Victorian Science Fiction
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages