The Tim Powers series continues while I work on other things.
Powers writes few short stories because he finds them almost as much work as a novel with a lot less pay.
However, the ones he does are often high quality.
Raw Feed (2002): Night Moves and Other Stories, ed. Tim Powers, 2001.
“Two Men in New Suits”, James P. Blaylock — Very nice introduction by Blaylock about his long time friend and sometime collaborator Tim Powers. He talks about their initial meeting back in 1972 before either was a published writer and some of their adventures since then. Blaylock talks about Powers’ grace under pressure, his extensive Arkham House collection back in 1972, their mutual fondness for Fellini films and dwarves in their writing, and how they became involved teaching creative writing to high schoolers in Orange County, California.
“Night Moves”, Tim Powers — A story whose lyricism reminded me very much of Ray Bradbury, specifically his Something Wicked This Way Comes in that both stories have a variety of characters in a small town responding to the coming, on the wind, of something fantastical — perhaps their hopes will be fulfilled, perhaps something frightening is coming. For that matter, both stories do feature characters having their wishes filled — at a steep price. I liked the description of Roger and his neurotic girlfriend Debbie who, in some way, seems to be healed by the events of the story even though she is only affected by them because she insists on tagging along with Roger. At story’s end, she seems to have weaned herself from returning to her parents’ house whenever life gets tough. Powers keeps things vague here, just vague enough to suggest things without making concrete statements. For instance, it is never explained why Cyclops knows more about what’s going on than any character. (He also seems to lack any of the deep wished and compulsions that the other characters have.) It is Cyclops who suggests that Evelyn (or, perhaps, the combination of the ghostly Evelyn and her brother Roger) amplify the imaginations of others to create a closed off, pocket universe that can trap a person forever. The dry scrap that Cyclops notices and thinks resembles a little desiccated devilfish, the scrap that falls in a fountain at story’s end, seems to be Evelyn, an aborted fetus. It is memories that resemble (the smell of ether, the dragging from a horse’s stirrup) her abortion that she blots out of brother Roger’s mind. It’s never really said, but Roger’s constant contact with Evelyn must have created an unbearable strain on his parents who, after moving frequently to escape Evelyn’s presence, eventually abandon Roger. (I wonder if Powers is implying that getting an abortion and abandoning a child are manifestations of the same personality. How they know Evelyn — unless they, for some reason, named the baby before the abortion — is the child they aborted is not explained.) It seems that the parents, for reasons not clear, opt to stay in the pocket universe. They claim they “can’t go through it”, “it” seeming to be the way out. It’s not explained if they have meant Evelyn before. Evelyn resting at piece seems to be because Roger now knows who she is and why she died and that he can stop looking for his parents who aren’t what he expected. (They’re not rich, for one thing. Perhaps Powers is also implying their not worth having around.) It seems a fair guess that Catholic Powers is expressing his abhorrence of abortion in terms that resemble some pocket universe/purgatory C.S. Lewis might have created (or, maybe did — I haven’t read that much Lewis). If Roger’s parents are trapped in a pocket universe, it is like purgatory. I find it surprising, given the disapproval of abortion and the usually liberal views on the subject by fantasy and sf fans, that this story was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Powers’ notes say this story was originally created for — but not sold to — an anthology where each story was to have an accompanying map.
“The Better Boy”, James P. Blaylock and Tim Powers — This story may have been inspired by a tomato growing experience of Powers (Better Boy is a breed of tomato) and a remark by Serena Powers, Tim Powers’ wife, that his struggle to preserve a huge tomato from worms resembled Santiago’s struggle in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, but its tone and concern with the magic in everyday life is very Blaylockian. (I believe I’ve read an interview with Blaylock that finding the magic and numinous in everyday life is a thematic concern of his.) Powers, in his notes, also says that the air of goodness surrounding protagonist Bernard Wilkins, originally intended to be a parodic figure (the story’s plot was originally to be a parody of Hemingway’s novel) of the sort of customer found at a diner near Powers’ house, is all Blaylock’s invention. Wilkins does come across as a very sympathetic character. I found it interesting that some talk of “luminferous ether” and “ether bunnies” (pieces of crystal shaped like rabbit’s ears and designed to snag the luminferous ether and take tomato worms with them) was simply thrown in to get the story in a sf magazine, and the story was published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. It’s also curious that whether the ether bunnies would have worked is left ambiguous at story’s end. Indeed, it could be argued that there is no fantastical element in this story.
“We Traverse Afar”, James P. Blaylock and Tim Powers — Story about a somewhat shocked and embittered man coming to terms, around Christmas time, with the death of his wife nine months ago. Again, according to Powers’ notes, this is set near an old home of his and the encounter the protagonist has with a mock Jesus being rolled down the street and a homeless black couple is based on his own experiences.
“Itinerary”, Tim Powers — A slight fantasy about a man who seems to be caught in a short circuit of time, moving back and forth down time’s stream. Again, some of the details are from Powers’ own life. (His novels tend to be research intensive so, for his stories, he tends, according to his notes, to use his own experiences and settings near his home.) Here the furniture crowded attic of his protagonist’s childhood home is based on the attic of Powers’ childhood home.
“The Way Down the Hill”, Tim Powers — An excellent story that reminded me of Roger Zelazny (an immortal gets caught up in the intrigues of his fellow immortals) and Philip K. Dick (the simulacra version of Sam Hain and the mention of the immortals lack of empathy with the “ephemerals” — normal mortals whose bodies and culture the immortals leach of off). The ending is sort of up in the air. It’s not clear, in fact the protagonist narrator thinks it’s pretty unlikely, that the immortals will take the moral course and simply let themselves to expire rather than possess more bodies (thus this story involves the characteristic Powers’ theme of possession/body switching). However, it is clear the narrator will take the moral course and just let himself die. Dick himself read this story written in 1981 though Powers doesn’t record his reaction. The story had some trouble being placed because editors didn’t want another “we’d all be better off dead” story. Mention is made of a real James Blaylock story, “Wild Man of Tonga-Raza”, written in 1972 though now lost (at least to Powers). Blaylock’s story seems to be the same story called “Wilde Manne” in Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark. I couldn’t tell if the ballad, taboo to the immortals, “The Legion of Lost Children”, is real or not. If it isn’t, Powers got to use his poetic talents when he quotes from it in the story.
“Where They Are Hid”, Tim Powers — In his notes, Powers says this is his story most influenced by Philip K. Dick. Specifically, he notes the analogy that comes to Bondier’s mind about how the world might be like a diorama in a museum. However, I think this story owes more to Dick than just that metaphor. It features time travel, a device frequently used by Dick (who read this story and liked it though it wasn’t published until 1995), an unknown twin. (It seems unlikely that Dick, who profoundly felt the death of his twin sister when they were infants, would not have mentioned the matter to his friend Powers.) The rather left-wing alternate history where Wallace succeeds Franklin Roosevelt, who dies early in Stanwell’s created alternate history, sounds like Dick. There was also Dickian humor when Stanwell is described as the “secret ruler of the world” (which is true for the pocket timeline/alternate history he has created) inhabits an office of squealing chairs and broken intercoms. The lethal pile of garbage animated by souls whose life-lines have been cut short by Stanwell’s efforts, is reminiscent of the garbage animated by souls in Powers’ later Expiration Date. The title is from an A.E. Housman poem.