Medusa's Web by Tim Powers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is my first Tim Powers novel, which I bought after reading Cory Doctorow's recommendation on Boing-Boing. Actually, "recommendation" is an understatement. Doctorow's recommendations are stoked with the heat of religious fervor (his byline "Medusa's Web: Tim Powers is the Philip K Dick of our age" may not contain any exclamation marks, but by now most readers unconsciously insert three) and I've learned to be cautious to the point of skittishness when he shills for an author. Still and all, if even a street preacher hits enough of the right notes -- and Doctorow does, beginning with Dick and moving on to Old Hollywood, House of Usher, occult histories and parallel realities fighting for domain -- I will stop in my tracks and give due consideration to The Product on offer.
Comparing Powers to Dick is, occasionally, apt. Like Dick, Powers' concern with character takes a second place to the preeminent concern with environment. Powers' Hollywood is a locale where addiction is the norm -- in this case, the desired "high" occurs when occult dabblers enter a two-dimensional spectral plane, resulting in temporal disruptions of increasing violence in the Here And Now. There are hapless virtuous types and their opposing villains, and mysterious agents roaming the back alleys, but I found the emotional drama surprisingly thin. I didn't particularly care how things turned out for the protagonists, but it seemed clear from the outset that Powers did -- he was straining for resolution. And this is where he departs from the phildickian template.
I read to conclusion because I was curious how -- indeed, if -- Powers was going to manage this feat. As the book wound up the environment became increasingly harrowing, and though I remained apathetic to the characters' fates I easily imagined the shock of discovering myself in a similar environment, flailing wildly to find purchase in some larger, grounding reality. So: we return again to Dick.
Powers achieves a resolution of sorts. Readers who care about the characters will care about the finale. I didn't, on both scores. But Powers' evocation of environment was persuasive enough that I'm curious to read (a little) further. I found Hide Me Among The Graves and Three Days To Never on the sale table. I'm not sure which I'll reach for next -- if you have recommendations, I'm all ears. In the meantime, stay tuned for more.
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