The Tim Powers series continues with a little chapbook from William Ashbless, the shadowy figure who shows up in show many of Tim Powers’ and James Blaylock’s novels.
Raw Feed (2002): On Pirates, William Ashbless, 2001.
“Introduction“, Tim Powers — William Ashbless is the semi-legendary character originally created by Tim Powers and James Blaylock as a name for some parodies of modern poetry they submitted — and had accepted — to literary magazines. Since then the Romantic Poet Ashbless has shown up in several of Powers’ and Blaylock’s works (and others), most notably in Powers’ The Anubis Gates whose protagonist, Brendan Doyle, starts out as a would be biographer of Ashbless and, via time travel and bodyswitching, actually becomes Ashbless and writes the poet’s work from memory. Here Powers plays with the notion that Doyle aka Ashbless (and this is a supposition only a reader of The Anubis Gates would make) was somehow made immortal and really is the same Ashbless that is the ostensible friend of Powers and Blaylock in the twentieth century, an Ashbless who claims to not just share the name of the poet but be the Romantic Poet. Of course, Powers plays this straight and just mentions the latest disappearance and rumor of death of his friend Ashbless, scribbler and salt-and-pepper shaker collector. He doesn’t bring up the implicit suggestion that Ashbless here might be Ashbless of The Anubis Gates. Powers does describe Ashbless’ work as “crude . . . implausibly motivated, badly-rhymed, defective in craft”.
“William Ashbless: A Clarification“, James P. Blaylock — The joke continues as Blaylock, friend of the vanished Ashbless, sets the record straight on Ashbless, who he thinks was too kindly treated by Tim Powers in his preceding “Introduction”. Blaylocks blasts Ashbless’ obvious plagiarism. Ashbless, claiming he’s the famous William Ashbless, claims Coleridge and Matthew Arnold stole from him. Also mentioned is Ashbless’ poverty and failure to repay loans, and the bribery attempts to get Ashbless’ poetry collection a Pulitzer. Blaylock starts his piece with several mingled clichés to good effect.
“Slouching Toward Gayalou“, William Ashbless — A silly pirate story parody of no particular significance. Ashbless steals his opening epigraph from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (he corrupts a couple of lines) and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick — “Call me Fishmeal.” The story is full of blatant clichés, puns, allusions (Captain England rides a squid at the end rather like Captain Ahab being lashed to Moby Dick), contradictions (the sea around a tropical island is described as “icy brine”), improbabilities (England’s many-masted, elaborately-rigged, uneven-decked ship and the giant squid that shows up at the end). Ashbless no doubt had a lot of fun writing this homage to pirate tales.
“Those Two Liars“, William Ashbless — Ashbless confirms that, despite what Tim Powers and James Blaylock said earlier in their introductions to this collection, he’s still alive. He then goes on to accuse Powers and Blaylock of attempting to steal his work, bribe the Pulitzer committee, and generally threatens them with bodily harm. Powers, writer of secret histories, is intimated to have a secret history of his own by Ashbless. Continuing the allusions to Michael Barton’s The Incredible Search for Dr. Halsey (evidently a real ’60s UFO book) of Blaylock’s “William Ashbless: A Clarification”, it is hinted that Powers recent move to another Southern California location near San Bernardino may have been to hide something in the yard of the near home.
“Some Mysteries Unveiled at Last or What Really Happened“, William Hastings — I’m not sure if Hastings is a pseudonym for Tim Powers and James Blaylock or not (I suspect so). Hastings tries to set the record straight about the volatile William Ashbless and his acquaintances Tim Powers and James Blaylock. He notes that Ashbless, like a tornado, is best observed from afar and that Powers and Blaylock, students in the school of hard knocks, foolishly keep associating with him despite his violence and threats of violence against them. (The piece ends with Ashbless showing up at the door to find Blaylock — who has been hiding and working and living in a makeshift basement under the author’s crawlspace.) More dark hints are made about the trio’s connection to Dr. Halsey’s disappearance — something mentioned in most of the “non-fiction” pieces of this collection. A secret history of Pulitzer Prize corruption is also mentioned in passing. With this, the final piece in this collection, Powers and Blaylock, through the fictional Ashbless — and, I suspect, the fictional Hastings — put some touches on the latest installment in the paranoid, whimsical, and humorous of the mysterious William Ashbless. Powers and Blaylock do a nice job mocking themselves and making the jokes fit in with their lives.