The Tim Powers series continues with the conclusion of his Fault Lines (so dubbed by publishers) trilogy.
Raw Feed (2002): Earthquake Weather, Tim Powers, 1997.
The conclusion of Powers’ Fisher King trilogy exhibits many of the same traits as the first two books — Last Call and Expiration Date. Like those books, it features Powers’ characteristic mélange of myth and secret history (though less compelling and resonant than the gambling of Last Call and the eccentric mixture of electricity and Thomas Edison and Harry Houdini that is Expiration Date: the bloodthirsty fertility cult of Dionysus, secret cults of vintners, San Francisco history (including the Winchester house and a local voodoo doctor), a secret Zinfandel (and Powers uses a variant of the Holy Blood and Holy Grail theory by having the Merovingians and Dagobert be part of a long line of Dionysus worshippers), and the occult meanings of some of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly Troilus and Cressida. (Though here Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities gets quoted a lot and, in a moment reminiscent of Powers’ friend Philip K. Dick, protagonist Scant Cochran remembers reading a different version of the novel.)
All of the surviving characters of Last Call and Expiration Date show up here, however briefly. Scott Crane, the protagonist of Last Call, seems different, more regal and distant but, then, he only shows up as a talking character at novel’s end since the whole plot of the novel involves resurrecting him after Plumtree kills him. (And, thus, Powers gives a slight hint as to how being a Fisher King has changed Crane.)
So do some magic items. The spear that Plumtree kills Crane with is the same one that he accidentally put through his foot. The .45 derringer that psychologist Armentrout has is the same one that George Leon was shot with in Last Call and that Sukie Sullivan used to kill herself in Expiration Date.
Again, Powers gives us exploitive parents (George Leon trying to posses his son Scott’s body in Last Call; deLarava using her stepchildren the Sullivans to trap the ghost of the husband she killed; Omar Salvoy, one of the many personalities in the Plumtree body, trying to use the fragmented personalities of his daughter (he leaped his intact personality into her body at the moment of his death; therefore, he’s more than a ghost).
Variations of incest again show up. Last Call ended with the marriage of adopted children Scott and Diane Crane to each other; Sukie Sullivan has incestuous longings for brother Peter which drive him away in Expiration Date; Omar Salvoy wants another body to impregnate his psychically dead daughter.)
Fragmented families show up. Scott must escape father George in Last Call and his playing in the card game at Lake Mead estranges him from his adopted father and sister; Peter Sullivan constantly thinks about the death of his father and sister in Expiration Date, and Kootie has his parents killed; Plumtree is a fragmented family in one body with a reconstruction of her mother’s personality, her various selves, and being possessed by her father’s ghost.)
Familes come together. The Cranes marry in Last Call; Peter and Angelica decide to marry and adopt orphan Kootie in Expiration Date; Cochran and Plumtree marry at the end of this novel.
Powers has said that this trilogy represents the season of the year. Last Call takes place in the spring. Expiration Date takes place in the fall around Halloween. This novel takes place in January. Summer works its way in at the end of this novel when Plumtree and Cochran marry during midsummer.
But it is the themes of guilt, shame, sacrifice, and loyalty which are strongest throughout this trilogy, particularly in this, the last part, not the least because my favorite character, Archimedes Mavranos, dies heroically (in the deepest sense of the word — with fear filled deliberation and determination) by giving his body so that its flesh could be used in Scott Crane’s resurrection. (And Fred the dog, from Expiration Date, inexplicably comes back with him — the only thing I can think of is Sherman Oaks aka Long Beach in this novel becoming the Fool before his death, and the Fool usually has a dog with him in Tarot decks.) Mavranos is the archetype of the loyal family retainer, the squire (the crew of the Sullivans and Cranes and Plumtree and Cochran is more than once referred to as the Fisher King’s army and family), but he was not always perfect. He almost deserted Crane in Last Call, but he realized that his wife and daughters love him for his integrity and loyalty, and, ultimately, he will not sacrifice that to save himself when resurrecting Crane with his flesh becomes necessary.
Many of the other characters are called upon to sacrifice here. All face physical dangers. Plumtree and Kootie face more possession too. Sacrifice and duty run throughout this trilogy. Ozzie gives his life in Last Call to save adopted son Scott. Angelica overcomes her fear to try to set things right in Expiration Date, and Peter also feels a duty to his dead father’s ghost in that novel.
All the novels deal with characters trying to right wrongs they have committed. This is not so true in Last Call but still there when Scott must save himself from inadvertently selling his body and soul at Lake Mead and also endangering Diane and her family. In Expiration Date, Angelica goes back to Los Angeles to deal with the consequences of her lethal séance, and Peter Sullivan goes back to try to keep his father’s ghost from deLarava. In this novel, Plumtree realizes, even though it was the Omar Salvoy personality that used her body (he tried to become the Fisher King in the same card game that Scott lost his soul in) to commit the murder, she must atone for killing Crane. As Mavranos almost succumbs to the temptation to abandon Crane in Last Call, Cochran almost succumbs to the temptation to implant his wife’s ghost in Plumtree.
There is a strong moral point to this novel, negatively exemplified in the character of Dr. Armentrout, a murderous doctor trying to escape, through supernatural means, the ghost of the mother he murdered (and, later, the ghost of a colleague he also murdered). He views shame and guilt as things to be sucked away, the psychic consequences of sin to be born by someone else (like Kooties braindead body). All his magic is bent towards avoiding those consequences. In Expiration Date, Angelica, also a psychologist, thinks that people should feel shame and guilt for what they have done — and it is shame and guilt which draw ghosts to people.
I did have a few quibbles here. Powers doesn’t outline a precise nature of the afterlife, the afterlife that ghosts pass on to, and he doesn’t provide much of an explanation why the Fisher King Scott Crane gets in trouble for not embracing one archetype of the Tarot deck in his being — death here also known as Dionysus. We don’t get a lot more sense of the magical logic other than that fertility cults often have a death and sacrifice side, a mythic acknowledgement that life must die to fertilize new life. (I did like the gift of forgetfulness that Dionysus offers and that Cochran, in relation to dead wife Nina — who just married him because he was marked by the god, her family being part of a Dionysus worshipping cult in France, takes it.) I also liked the Lever Blank peddling toy kids set based on the Tarot archetypes and how the representation of the Fool was inducing random madness in a whole generation. A nice throwaway bit.
Powers is a very skilled writer to mingle character, myth, the Tarot, literature, and secret history altogether in a fairly coherent trilogy with memorable characters and a strong moral point.