For no particular reason, I’m going to do a series on steampunk starting with some Raw Feeds on proto-steampunk, works written before Tim Powers’ friend K. W. Jeter jokingly created the very term “steampunk”.
Raw Feed (2002): The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers, 1983.
This was an elaborate, intricate, action-packed mélange of Byron and Coleridge’s poetry, secret societies in Jacobean and Georgian London, time travel, lycanthropy, transvestism (the typical young girl disguised as a boy though, here, engaged in the atypical quest for vengeance for her dead boyfriend, killed by a werewolf), Egyptian mythology, literary studies, beggars, and gypsies.
From what I’ve read, this is the second of Powers’ secret histories (the first being The Drawing of the Dark) where he mixes history — cultural and political — with mythology to reveal the real story and motives behind famous events. The opening epigraphs of some chapters show this: a letter from Byron, where he remarks about how some thought they saw him in London when he was, in fact, in Greece; another epigraph has mention of the Italian physician, here the Egyptian sorcerer Romanelli, who talked the Pashah into massacring the Mamelukes — an event our hero Brendan Doyle aka William Ashbless barely escapes in his Mameluke disguise.
Standard Powers’ elements show up: magic described in physics terms, particularly in electromagnetic terms since the Anateus Brotherhood ground their boots to negate Romany and Fife’s spells; bodyswitching — a lot of bodyswitching here with Fife in his Dog-Face Joe incarnation forcing a lot of personalities to be evicted from their body; criminal undergrounds engaged in occult pursuits much like the hideous Horrabin clown here who mutilates people in his underground caverns; beggars; imbecilic immortals, and maiming. He uses a thriller format with scenes using not only his protagonist as a point of view character but also scenes built around his villains and minor characters. He often describes a startling or strange scene and then backtracks to give the setup for it. Humor shows up frequently, particularly, here, the ghastly dialogues with Horriban’s Mistakes in the basement of the Rat’s Castle. Continue reading