Gears of the City imagines an impossible urban landscape

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Gears of the City, the new novel by fantasy author Felix Gilman, is set in an infinite city whose geography is beyond mapping or comprehension because it rearranges itself.

"It spans all of human history," Gilman said in an interview. "It's full of gods, or energies, or hauntings—depending on how you look at them—that power it and reshape it."

The book follows the adventures of Arjun, an innocent and rather lost but well-meaning pilgrim who first came to the infinite city in search of his god, who has mysteriously gone missing. Ten years have passed since his search began, and he's still looking.

"He's had a lot of scarifying and weird experiences in the meantime, and he is less innocent, more dangerous to those around him," Gilman said. Arjun is now one of an elite inner circle who can travel through the city's secret routes, from age to age.

"So the book draws on weird or fantastic or grotesque elements from all sorts of sources, from straight-up fantasy to surrealism to horror to SF," Gilman said. "The world-building —I hope—should feel convincing without ever being entirely comprehensible. And never entirely comfortable."

Gears of the City is the unplanned sequel to Gilman's first novel, Thunderer. Unplanned because when Gilman wrote Thunderer he didn't think he'd get the chance to write a sequel. So in Gears of the City, he went back and explored some of the ideas that he couldn't fit into the first book.

"There were things that in the first book—notably the mountain at the heart of the city—that were really just vague, portentous gestures," Gilman said. "I didn't know how they worked or what they were, just that they felt right. In Gears I got to develop them. Other ideas I got to subvert, to play over in a different key."