Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

"No man can step into the same river twice, for the second time it's not the same river, and he's not the same man." -Heraclitus

Despite earning the 1984 Philip K. Dick Memorial Award for the best speculative fiction novel published in paperback form, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers is a relatively unknown work. Perhaps this fact is due in part to a lack of publicity or a readily available hardcover edition, but more likely this work was simply too far ahead of its time.

Sometimes called a work of science fiction, other times a tale of the macabre, 'The Anubis Gates' falls squarely in the realm of the fantastic. Brendan Doyle, a struggling 17th century literature
'expert' living in a modern California circa 1983, embarks on an
adventure through time and place to London of 1814. His method of timetravel? Ancient Egyptian sun god magic, by way of millionaire funding, of course.

Doyle meets literary heavyweights Samuel Coleridge and Lord Byron, and also comes to know his favored poet of the time, William Ashbless. His travels are not all chance meetings with prominent wordsmiths, however. Our faithful protagonist must pit his will to survive against
the malicious intents of a deviant clown and his rabid pack of beggars and thieves. Not to mention to machinations of ancient Egyptian necromancers, leaf sailing Lilliputians, and a body-snatching lycanthrope. Professor Doyle's belief in a more 'civillized age' is soon to be challenged.

The prose is Vance-like in its beauty and economy. Powers punches you in the gut, then kicks you while you're down, and the next thing you know it's 4am on a work night, and you still refuse to put the damn book down.

Tim Powers was a friend and accolyte of Philip K Dick, and while the Dick influences are evident in the dizzying pace of this story, Powers obviously owes a tip of the hat to H.P. Lovecraft as well for utterly creepy underground scenes. China Mieville would call this work a monster story. A monster story indeed; but sometimes the monsters are the ones wearing human skin.

Time travel is an oft-used, rarely mastered sub-genre of speculative fiction. At times the trope is tired, and it can be hard to get excited about such a rehashed proposition. The failures are many, including 'Timeline' by Michael Crichton, and 'Outlander' by Diana Gabaldon. However when the cliched premise of time travel is used in the correct way, sublime magic happens, as in such cases as 'Time and Again' by Jack Finney, and 'Replay' by Ken Grimwood.

'The Anubis Gates' by Tim Powers stands at the head of this particular class of fiction; a true masterpiece of fantasy.


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