11 August 2014

Books: Earthquake Weather By Tim Powers (1997)

Since this is a double sequel to Last Call (1992) and Expiration Date (1996), Earthquake Weather further enmeshes the reader into the multiple genres that make up the unique universe that Tim Powers has superimposed on the real world –many different ethnic folklores, Egyptian mythology, ghost stories,  a bit of nior detective here and there- and mix them up with a bunch of different story threads that somehow get connected towards the end.
Scott Crane (from Last Call) is the Fisher King and has somehow failed his land, allowing a new outbreak of the dreaded phylloxera louse to ravage the vineyards of California. There is not a lot that Crane can do about this, owing to his having been murdered. Worse, he was killed in the wrong way -- that is, not by a potential successor. The possible heir is young Kootie (from Expiration Date) who actually has the requisite unhealing wound in his side. Crane's chief acolyte brings the late King's family and decay-proof corpse in a partly miraculous pick-up truck to the magic consultancy run by Kootie's adoptive parents: Pete, who has Houdini's hands, and Angelica, formerly a psychiatrist and now an initiate into brujeria.

Also along for the ride is Janis Plumtree, who has a cadre of personalities that shifts like the sand in the desert when dealing with the unpleasant knowledge that one of her “voices” actually killed Crane. There’s the c on artist Cody, the nymphomaniac Tiffany, and several more and a ghostly outsider that was the cause of her problems to begin with, her own murderous father. Accompanying Janis is Ed Cochran, whom ever since a strange boyhood epiphany has had a special empathy with viniculture, which will prove to be of immense importance in this story. And then there is Dr Armentrout, a comic, albeit, sinister psychiatrist who has a nasty fondness for ECT or Edison Medicine prior to splitting off and consuming, like those sniffers of ghosts, the disordered parts of his patients' or victims' souls.

While Powers is never boring, the whole effort to resurrect Crane or transfer his rule to Kootie drags and slows the book down (plus, based on the pages left to read, you knew their first attempt was to fail). But even the plot is thin and the characters remain unlikeable as ever. And he spends, from my point of view, investing time in supporting characters and ideas that while creative and interesting, are sort of dropped in with little or no reason. In the end, I found the book plodding and unengaging, which may explain why it took so long for me to get through it.

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