Reading a Tim Powers novel, like Medusa’s Web, is always accepting that while the author explains a lot of things, there is much he will not. His plots blend many genres, mostly speculative science fiction and fantasy, but they’re always set in the real world Los Angeles –which the author always paints as an area at war with its past and future.
“In the wake of their Aunt Amity’s suicide, Scott and Madeline Madden are summoned to Caveat, the eerie, decaying mansion in the Hollywood hills in which they were raised. But their decadent and reclusive cousins, the malicious wheelchair-bound Claimayne and his sister, Ariel, do not welcome Scott and Madeline’s return to the childhood home they once shared. While Scott desperately wants to go back to their shabby South-of-Sunset lives, he cannot pry his sister away from this haunted “House of Usher in the Hollywood Hills” that is a conduit for the supernatural. It is decorated by bits salvaged from old hotels and movie sets, and in its dark halls, Caveat hides a dark family secret that stretches back to the golden days of Rudolph Valentino and the silent film stars. A collection of hypnotic eight-limbed abstract images inked on paper allows the Maddens to briefly fragment and flatten time—to transport themselves into the past and future in visions that are both puzzling and terrifying. Though their cousins know little about these ancient “spiders” which provoke unpredictable temporal dislocations, Ariel and Claimayne have been using for years—an addiction that has brought Claimayne to the brink of selfish destruction.”
Like I said, in reading any Powers book, you enter a world of probabilities, where dimensions intertwine with reality, where the past and possible futures come together. Here in his world, magic exists and where classical mythology never went away. Though Medusa’s Web is more Gothic in tone, reminding me of B films made about old Hollywood and usually starring a faded actor and actress, it still retains much of Powers strengths of dealing with the weird and the odd, where the magic and the mythology become one. Much like Stephen King, who seems obsessed with the 1950s, Powers love of old Hollywood is evident in a lot of his books, and this rare stand-alone novel, he gives us a speculative novel where real-life movie people of the 1920s can interact with people from 2015.
My only issues with the book –beyond the fact that Powers only explains things when he feels like it -are some of the characters. Oddly, most seem one-dimensional. Scott, the sanest of them all, seems to have the inability to make proper decisions, even when given the solution, and I got frustrated at his lack of any real action. And Claimayne is the obvious villain from page one –you always sense that. You know he’s the crazy one which makes his arc sort of predictably boring.
Still, Powers weirdness can be intoxicating, and that is always a good reason to read a book by him.