Thursday, June 30, 2011

In the past few days (and especially since my computer died), I've been reading Tim Powers books. I really enjoy his mix of history and fantasy. The historical bits give a sense that he's done a tremendous amount of research into the times he's writing about, whether it's 1529 (THE DRAWING OF THE DARK) or 1987 (THREE DAYS TO NEVER). The fantasy bits feel right, too. Of course getting the history right helps the fantasy too. As he says in an interview in the Guardian:
One advantage of rooting his stories in the real is, he hopes, that readers will be more likely to suspend their disbelief. "It gives a lot of real-world lumber to support my crazy supernatural business. I'm always very aware of the risk that a reader will blink and say wait a minute this is all made up crap, isn't it?" he says. "But if I talk about carriages and shoe buckles and George III and commerce between London and Amsterdam, the reader will be a little more tilted towards thinking this is happening in the real world. If I wrote about the magical kingdom of Ding Dong and the lost prince and the dark lord, I would have ceded a whole lot of territory as far as plausibility goes. There is a speed bump to credulity, when you ask readers to take seriously things like ghosts and vampires, and I want to make it as low as possible. I want to be able to have them go over it without any kind of jolt."

Where he lost me on both books was the endings. Some novelists have a talent for weaving multiple threads that all come together at the finale. Not so much Tim Powers, not in these two books. The characters and the worlds are well wrought, and Powers' powers of invention is strong. But the endings fizzled a bit.

(I'll try not to spoil anything, and I won't tell you whether Harry Potter finally gets to hook up with someone, but if you're thinking of reading these very fine books in the next few months, go ahead and read them first.)

THE DRAWING OF THE DARK gives an occult reason for the 1529 assault on Vienna by the Turks. Vienna must hold out until October 31, or the West will fall to the East! Yet, for some reason, the finale occurs about two weeks earlier. It's sort of Plotting 101 that if you "set a clock" on the action, the finale should reach its climax just as the clock is about to strike. That's the moment everything should come together.

In THREE DAYS TO NEVER, two spy groups are trying to get their hands on a Device, while a father with a Past and a daughter with an Ability are caught in the middle. As you might expect from the title, the Device has apocalyptic powers. But you only find that out in the last five pages of the book, and then it isn't so much explained as nodded at. You don't know what the Big Bad was or what it would have done; and you don't know what the heroes did to stop it. C'mon. If the jeopardy is going to be The End of the World, then we should know that by midway through, don't you think? And at least one of the heroes ought to know it by what screenwriters would call the beginning of Act Three.

Damn it, where are his editors? Because surely he is not so famous a fantasy author that he no longer has to listen to his editors?

Now I'm not saying these are bad books or that I didn't enjoy reading them. I'm just a little disappointed in the endings. After all the world-building and mythology-construction that Powers is so good at, I hope for a better finale.

THE ANUBIS GATES didn't have this problem. DECLARE definitely didn't have this problem. I think I need to go read some more Tim Powers.



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