The Rise of Ransom City: Tor Books, November 2012, 366 pages. The Rise of Ransom City is a loose sequel to The Half-Made World, and is Felix Gilman's fourth novel. The Rise of Ransom City reached the championship by winning its matches against Beautiful Monster by Jared S. Anderson & Mimi A. Williams, The Demoness of Waking Dreams by Stephanie Chong, and River Road by Suzanne Johnson.
The Rise of Ransom City is the fictional autobiography of self-educated inventor Professor Harry Ransom. It's set during the Great War between Gun and Line. Ransom and his assistant, Mr. Carver, are traveling through towns in the Western Rim in a wagon carrying their Apparatus, giving demonstrations of Ransom's Light-Bringing Process and seeking investors.
Professor Ransom's lighting process is not electricity, but something else with mystical components. The Apparatus makes Ransom's glass lamps glow without any connecting wires. Unfortunately, Ransom's Process is unreliable, and at worst, can be dangerous.
On the road, Ransom meets a young woman and an older man who he comes to know as Miss Elizabeth Harper and Old Man Harper. (Those who have read The Half-Made World, like me, will likely guess who these characters actually are). "The Harpers" are avoiding the patrols of the Line, and Ransom, who has his own grievances against the Line, allows them to travel with him.
By chance, Ransom finds out that Old Man Harper was a notorious Agent of the Gun. "The Harpers" are being pursued by both the Gun and the Line. Ransom fears for his life.
An Agent of the Gun attacks them in the town of White Rock. Old Man Harper tries to kill the Agent by blowing up buildings. The deadly Agent is destroyed when Ransom makes his Apparatus spectacularly explode. There are casualties. Afterwards, Ransom blabs about "The Harpers'" secret mission. "The Harpers" and Ransom go their separate ways.
Ransom takes a job on a riverboat. He uses the assumed name of Hal Rawlins because his own name has become too conspicuous. He maintains and mimes playing a player piano. Onboard he meets the Great Rotollo, a stage magician, and his wife the Amazing Amaryllis. The riverboat is sunk by a stray rocket from an Engine of the Line. Ransom becomes separated from the other shipwreck survivors.
A penniless Ransom walks to the metropolis of Jasper City. He searches in vain for his sister, whom he wrongly assumed was successful on Swing Street. He gets hired by the Amazing Amaryllis who is doing a magic show herself. Ransom lurks outside the mansion of tycoon Mr. Baxter. A curious newspaper editor interviews "Hal Rawlins" and in the story Ransom implies that he built the player piano. The woman who actually built the player piano, but had to pawn it, Adela Kotan Iermo, challenges Ransom to a duel. Their duel at dawn is fortunately interrupted by an invasion of Jasper City by men of the Line.
The Apocalypse Codex: Ace Books hardcover, July 2012, 255 pages, cover art by Mark Fredrickson. The Apocalypse Codex is the fourth book in Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series. The Apocalypse Codex reached the championship by winning its matches against Free Radicals by Zeke Teflon, Apollo's Outcasts by Allen Steele, and Quantum Coin by E. C. Myers.
Bob Howard is a computational demonologist working for an ultra-secret agency of the British government called the Laundry, which defends the realm from occult threats. For a project, Bob is assigned to Gerald Lockhart, who heads a small, special department.
The Laundry was investigating the Golden Promise Ministries of American televangelist Raymond Schiller. The Ministries held arena-sized evangelical gatherings in London. Schiller was invited to a breakfast meeting hosted by the Prime Minister. The Laundry, as part of British Secret Service, is forbidden to snoop on cases with ties to Prime Minister's office, but outside contractors Persephone Hazard and her assistant Johnny McTavish have no such restriction. It'll be Bob's job to monitor Ms. Hazard's and Mr. McTavish's investigational activities, but not to direct them.
Bob needs to be prepared for any eventuality. Lockhart helps Bob get a new passport with a diplomatic visa from MI5, and temporary tattoos that with blood magic can be used as telepathic communication devices
Televangelist Schiller returns to the United States. Persephone is provided a ticket to a weekend spiritual course at Schiller's compound near Colorado Springs. Persephone and Johnny travel to Colorado, and Bob rushes to follow.
Bob settles in at a hotel in downtown Denver. He uses the communication tattoos to find out what's going on, and manages to annoy both Persephone and Johnny.
Then everything goes to hell. Two possessed religious zealots with guns knock on Bob's hotel room door. Bob unintentionally kills them with an impromptu incantation. The men were zombies controlled by bug-like parasites. Meanwhile, Persephone runs away after seeing a classmate being "Saved" by ingesting one of these parasites in a communion service. Johnny is ambushed.
Bob reports to Lockhart and is told to return to the UK immediately. But Bob can't just leave Persephone and Johnny in this mess. And a huge winter storm is set to hit Colorado.
The Battle: This final match-up features The Rise of Ransom City, a steampunk fantasy set in an alternate world inspired by the Old West, going up against The Apocalypse Codex, an occult science fiction British spy thriller. These books are vastly different in setting, tone, and writing style. After reading the first 200 pages of each of them, I really want to finish them both.
The Apocalypse Codex has been building up to its weird conflict, ratcheting up the tension. There are horrific elements, such the alien parasites and the women held against their will by the Ministries. But also there are laughable situations throughout, such as Bob being questioned by USA customs at JFK, and Bob's sarcastic humor as narrator. I found it interesting that events were set in Colorado, where I live. At the point I had to stop reading, Bob and his charges, Persephone and Johnny, are each facing dangers, and the Golden Promise Ministries looks like a potential global threat.
The Rise of Ransom City has been rambling along, with Ransom having various encounters. I liked the old-fashioned story telling style, and the quirky details, such as Ransom's meetings with the otherly Folk. Harry Ransom is an interesting, eccentric character. It's funny that he can't use his own name because his big mouth started tales making it infamous. I enjoyed how Ransom and Adela went gradually from being opponents in a would-be duel to falling romantically into each other's arms.
But, in my opinion, the plot format of The Rise of Ransom City, as a fictional autobiography, didn't particularly help it in Battle of the Books. It was like I read several separate episodes in Harry Ransom's life. There was tension building up to the "Miracle" at White Rock, but afterwards Ransom and the plot took off in a new direction. Hopefully all will be tied up satisfactorily in the end, but I have to make my decision based on reading only a little more than half the book.
These two books reached the championship round because I enjoyed reading them. I'd recommend both of them. It was a good battle, but as far as which book I want to continue reading more, I'll go with the book that I think has greater plot momentum.
THE WINNER: The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross
The Apocalypse Codex wins Bracket Seven of the Fantastic Reviews Battle of the Books. Congratulations to Charles Stross as our newest Battle of the Books champion!
To see the completed bracket, click here.
I'll hand the Battle of the Books back to Aaron, who has a whole new bracket full of 2014 books. Stay tuned for more book battles to come!