31 July 2014

Books: Expiration Date By Tim Powers (1996)

Koot Hoomie "Kootie" Parganas is an eleven-year old boy who is growing up in Los Angeles in the 1992, but his parents won't let him do anything normal, as the parents worship the spirits of the dead Mahatmas and believe Kootie to be a great spiritual leader. As far as the boy is concerned, they’re crazy. So he decides to run away, but not before purposely breaking a plaster bust of Dante just to show his parents how angry he was. This one act of defiance will unintentionally set in motion major events that will change not only his own life, but everyone else's. 

Because within the bust was a box that contains a glass vial, and when the seal is broken on it, Kootie unwittingly ingests the ghost of Thomas Edison. However, because Kootie hasn't yet reached puberty, he isn't able to digest it. In its undigested state, the ghost of Edison will function as a helper to Kootie.

For Los Angeles is filled with ghosts who are basically just the moronic shells of the dead; fascinated by coins, palindromes, and chalk-drawn circles, and sometimes substantial enough to eat bottle caps and stones, they're easily trapped by acquisitive ghost-sensitives, who snort them to augment their own lives. There is a magical system surrounding these ghosts - their behavior, how they are ingested, how to catch them so that they may be ingested, and even a mysterious market where the bottled ghosts are bought and sold. In their ready-to-be digested state, they are known as "smokes" or "cigars".

Elsewhere, electrical engineer Pete Sullivan, pursued by ghost-sniffer/filmmaker Loretta deLarava, conceals himself behind Houdini's ``mask''; and a psychiatrist named Angelica Elizalde, having in a bungled séance, killed a patient by accident, and is seeking the ghost's forgiveness; and ex-child actor Nicholas Bradshaw's ghost continues to reanimate his own corpse.  Because of Edison's powerful personality, his ghost is particularly sought after by filmmaker deLarava (who is also pursuing the ghost of Pete Sullivan's father and Bradshaw, who “lives” under the name of Solomon Shadroe) and a one-armed ghost hunter named Sherman Oaks (who could be in the range of 130 plus years old).

As with previous books I’ve read by Powers, Expiration Date it is a characteristically weird ghost fantasy. It’s highly original with an often amusing scenario, which seems painstakingly researched, but also seems to be a bit overlong and totters off its wheels when dealing with some of its internal logic. Mostly, though, the book takes way too long to connect all the characters –even though it’s brilliantly executed in the way he does it. Yes the characters are interesting, but none of them, including Kootie (who sometimes acts like the eleven year old, and then acts like an adult. Even though the 84 year-old Edison ghost resides in the boy, I feel the ghost can’t account for everything), seem likable. Put the pacing kept me interested, even if I didn’t completely understand everything that was going on here.

Expiration Date is also the second book in Powers Fault Line series, even though this book is barely connected to Last Call –the only connection seems to the characters desires for immortality. Earthquake Weather is next, and supposedly will feature characters from the previous two.

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