SYNOPSIS: Mortally wounded, Gideon Long stumbles upon a mysterious pool of water that grants him the power of immortality. Gideon’s would be murderer, Warren Groves, involuntarily becomes his partner in resurrection – partaking in a journey that will cross more than a century of American history and alter it along the way.
PROS: Audacious, genre-bending science fiction epic. Parsons successfully writes in the style of three unique genres and weaves together multiple narratives to form a stunning tour de force unlike any you have ever experienced.
CONS: Some questions remain unanswered.
VERDICT: I wouldn’t call this my favorite novel of 2012 just yet, but I can assure you it will be in the Top 5.
Shot by Sheriff Warren Groves during a botched train robbery, the cruel and selfish Gideon Long wanders in the desert in search of one final drink of water. What Gideon finds is salvation in the form of an otherworldly pool beneath the sun baked earth that grants him immortality. What begins as a bloody feud in the proud tradition of a Western pulp evolves into hard boiled detective noir as the decades pass and culminates in a near future dystopian thriller. The story unfolds in the narratives of three souls, bound together by the mysterious pool, as they warp the very fabric of reality.
Liminal States is the debut novel of Zack Parsons, editor of SomethingAwful.com. A novel such as this would be considered some of the finest work by a majority of established authors, making the debut nature of Liminal States all the more impressive. It seems to me that most authors go the entirety of their careers without ever penning something half as ambitious as this, and the risk is far exceeded by the reward.
Liminal States begins as a gritty Western set in the town of Spark, of the New Mexico Territory. Here we meet our three primary characters. Gideon Long is a man of considerable wealth and harbors no shortage of aspirations. A selfish and malicious man, Gideon holds in his heart desire for a married woman. That woman is married to Sheriff Warren Groves, a hardened frontiersman who embodies the noble spirit of the American West. Warren hides a dark past but his love for his wife Annie has tempered his fiery anger. Annie completes the trio. She is a woman who has married out of necessity and yet yearns for the luxuries of her youth. Readers will follow these three as they develop and interact over a century. The characters display genuine depth that only manages to compound with each additional part of the story. Even the scoundrel Gideon Long is not entirely unsympathetic despite his antagonistic nature.
The first part of the book, titled “The Builder”, showcases all the violence one would expect of a Western featuring an immortal grudge. The continuing hell of revenge is entirely believable and entertaining. Gideon and Warren are both aggressive and obsessive men, motivated by loss and hardship. Their relationship is best summed up with the question, “What happens when an immovable force meets and unstoppable object?” The second part of the book, titled “The Judge”, is a much more personal affair told in the first person perspective of Warren. This middle section was undeniably the strongest of the three. Here the world weary commentary adds a large dose of personality that I found somewhat lacking in the limited third person perspective of “The Builder.” The America of the 1950’s seems recognizable at first but it quickly becomes apparent that the course of history has changed as a result of the actions of Gideon and Warren. The final section, “The Mother”, takes place in a dystopian America during 2006 and the world is a much different place than the one that we are accustomed to. This is where all the loose ends come together and answers finally surface.
Weaving a cohesive plot from three separate fiction genres could not have been an easy task but Parsons manages to do it with style. Parsons nails the sentence structure, dialogue, terminology, and prose of each genre. Transitions between Western, detective thriller, and dystopian near-future sci-fi are flawless and ring of authenticity. Parsons navigates genre tropes without straying into the cliche badlands. Intricate and careful world building connect the dots between seemingly disparate eras, making for a satisfying and substantial read. Though some questions may remain with readers upon finishing the novel, I find it unlikely that anyone will feel short-changed.
Parsons links this all together with a clever multimedia experience that you can participate in by venturing to the Liminal States website here. The website is by no means crucial to your enjoyment of the book but it does offer some very interesting supplements to the reading material. A lot of work has been put into the project so I highly recommend checking it out.
Liminal States is a science fiction alternate historical epic of love and vengeance and more esoteric things besides. As far as debut novels go, you really can’t get much better than this. Parsons’ writing is technically adept and his breadth of ideas is boundless. Of all the books you read this year, Liminal States may just be the most ambitious and rewarding of all. No easy read this one, but if you commit to the book and delve into the additional material provided by the website, you are sure to be fulfilled.