20 July 2014

Books: Last Call By Tim Powers (1992)

Tim Powers is a great writer, even though I’ve only read a few of his books. He has a brilliant mind and wonderful, twisted imagination. He’s like the Philip K Dick of fantasy writers, taking the reader on a wild and warped journey into a world of dark fantasy, but instead of what some might consider the traditional tropes of the genre –wizards, warriors, sword and damsels in distress- we get a very real world where things like magic really exists.

One of the pleasures, of course for me, in reading Powers is that he sets his books in SoCal, mostly in Santa Anna and Anaheim where he grew up. So he uses a lot of landmarks and freeways in his tale, which makes his fantasy world a little more realistic.

But that being said, what drives me nuts about him is how he explains very little about the workings of his universe. Yes, his universe is ours, but one slight eschew, I guess. I’m given the impression he thinks his readers are clever enough to figure out what he’s writing about without giving a backstory on every aspect.

Which is why I borrowed this to explain the premise of Last Call:

“The basic premise is that Bugsy Siegel built Las Vegas in order to become a living avatar of the Fisher King, but that he was prevented by doing this when a French mystic named Georges Leon assassinated him, stole his head from the morgue, tossed it into Lake Mead, and set about turning his sons into mindless soldiers in his mystic army by conducting dark rituals involving a handpainted Tarot deck that could drive you mad. One of Leon's sons survives, though he loses his eye to his father's violence, and his dying mother smuggles him away from his father and tosses him, blindly, over the transom of a passing yacht on a trailer. He is found by a professional gambler, Ozzie Crane, who raises Scott as his foster son, and later adopts another girl, Diana, and raises her as his foster sister. From Ozzie, Scott learns of the gambler's mysticisms and superstitions: fold out your hand when the smoke gathers in the middle of the table or the drinks in the glass start to sit off-level, lest you buy or sell more than what is in the pot. Twenty years later, Scott -- now a professional gambler -- ignores Ozzie's pleas to stay clear of a game played on a houseboat on Lake Mead ("You want to play on tame water? Are you crazy?") and finds himself playing a queer sort of poker with 13 players and a deck of Tarot cards, playing (he later learns) against his own biological father, who has taken over the body of the game's host, and who is using the game to steal the bodies of more people so that he can attain true immortality.”

Yeah, but the book is not told that straight forwardly. It also features everyday superstitions, with Sumerian and Egyptian religious doctrine, the Tarot and Carl Jung's archetypes, and the Arthurian mythos, so you can see he does not tell a simple story of the Fisher King. It’s frustrating at times, but because never sure who is the madman and who is the sage in his books, the reader is dragged along on a bizarre, at times terrifying and often hilarious ride. You end up not being able to put the book down. 

While I was searching to see if Powers had a Twitter feed, I stumbled upon a Youtube audio of the author talking about his relationship with Lester Del Rey, and how Powers kept confounding the publisher because he wasn’t complying with wishes of Del Rey to produce books that were, I guess, marketable. In listening to it, you get the sense that Tim Powers has tapped into some weird and wonderful aspect of the human condition that most other author never seem to see. 

In one final note, I had acquired Last Call at a Goodwill Bookstore in Upland about 2 or three months ago, and then about a week ago I found Powers Earthquake Weather at The Book Shelf here in La Verne. I’ve discovered finding a Tim Powers book used is pretty rare, so I grabbed it, not realizing that Earthquake Weather is the third book in a loose trilogy in which Last Call is the first book. This sent me on a search for Expiration Date, the second book in what is called The Fault Line series.

Like I said, finding a used version is hard. Even as hard as finding a brand new edition, as Barnes & Noble does not carry his backlist anymore (at least at the Glendora or Montclair locations). And while the LA Library system carried Last Call and Earthquake Weather, it does not have Expiration Date with in it. So, after a futile search for it locally, I’ve ordered a used version through Alibris. 

And this, my friends, is why I have no more adventures.  

No comments: