Tim Powers's latest novel is Hide Me Among the Graves, and it is a fine example of the work of a much-beloved author, and a spooky ride through Victorian London to boot. In Hide Me, Powers retells the lives of pre-Raphaelite sculptor Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his siblings, notably the poet Christina Rossetti. Powers is justly famed for his secret histories, fictionalized accounts of real historical persons that turn the coincidences of their lives into deep mysteries to be plumbed for stories. Here is a near-perfect example of how well this trick works, especially for Tim Powers, whose special gift is to be able to write about superstition and the supernatural in a way that literally raises the hairs on my neck and puts gooseflesh on my arms, though I am as staunch an atheist materialist as you will ever meet.
Here, the spookiness revolves around two ancient vampires -- one of them having started her life as Bodicea -- who haunt London, and whose bite and blood grant poets and painters access to surpassing beauty and art. These two beasts are working to destroy London, to call down an earthquake that will kill everyone in the city, and their plan requires the blood and cooperation of the Rossettis, who are -- at times, and always motivated by access to the numinous -- willing accomplices to this plan. As a variety of personages fictional and real chase each other through the superstition-steeped cobbles of London, and through the ancient and haunted cloacae that run beneath the streets, we're exposed to a dreadful and terrifying Victorian world. Read the rest
I just got through re-reading Tim Power's World Fantasy Award-winning 1996 novel Last Call, which is truly one of the triumphs of modern fantasy literature. Powers, one of Philip K Dick's three proteges (the others are James Blaylock and KW Jeter), is a tremendous writer, and his whole catalog deserves your attention, but even against the field of standout Powers novels, Last Call stands out further.
Last Call's premise, at its core, is that Bugsy Siegel built Las Vegas in order to become a living avatar of the Fisher King, but that he was prevented by doing this when a French mystic named Georges Leon assassinated him, stole his head from the morgue, tossed it into Lake Mead, and set about turning his sons into mindless soldiers in his mystic army by conducting dark rituals involving a handpainted Tarot deck that could drive you mad.
One of Leon's sons survives, though he loses his eye to his father's violence, and his dying mother smuggles him away from his father and tosses him, blindly, over the transom of a passing yacht on a trailer. He is found by a professional gambler, Ozzie Crane, who raises Scott as his foster son, and later adopts another girl, Diana, and raises her as his foster sister. From Ozzie, Scott learns of the gambler's mysticisms and superstitions: fold out your hand when the smoke gathers in the middle of the table or the drinks in the glass start to sit off-level, lest you buy or sell more than what's in the pot. Read the rest
Colin sez, "Renovation is this year's World Science Fiction Convention and will take place in Reno, NV from 17-21 August. Boing Boing's own Cory Doctorow and many other SF writers, editors, publishers, artists, musicians, film-makers and more will be there along with well over 3,000 fans. Want to get up close with Tim Powers, George RR Martin, David Brin, John Scalzi and the rest? This is your chance
!" Read the rest
Welcome to the second half of the 2010 Boing Boing Gift Guide, where we pick out some of our favorite books from the last year (and beyond) to help you find inexpensive holiday gifts for friends and family. Can you guess who chose a Sarah Palin book?
A reader writes, "Tim Powers, James Blaylock, and K.W. Jeter, all Cal State Fullerton alumni, give their university's paper an interview about their creation of steampunk, their friendship with Philip K. Dick, writing bad poetry for the paper when they attended the school, and Powers' book 'On Stranger Tides' being optioned for the next 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie."
"There's at least several steampunk conventions now, and they don't really have many books in the dealers room," Powers said. "They have tons of costumes and goggles and ray guns. It's more of a costume phenomenon, which has always been a big part of science fiction fandom. It seems that it has evolved dynamically into another area and sort of out of dutiful loyalty keeps referring back to me, Blaylock and Jeter."
Read the rest
Due to steampunk's popularity, Jeter's novels Morlock Night and Infernal Devices will be going back into print in the spring. Jeter, who is in the process of moving to San Francisco, commented on the trend.
"The steampunk enthusiasm is entertaining to me, my having coined the term and all. I'm glad that people are having fun with the various concepts associated with it," Jeter wrote in an e-mail. "There's possibly a deeper element involved; though, I don't want to get too pretentious about it - that would be the admiration by steampunk devotees for the handcrafted, artisanal aspect of everyday objects from previous industrial periods, versus the cheap plastic crap that lines the store shelves nowadays. There's a humanness, for lack of a better word, to old stuff - and old ways - that the modern world lacks."
Powers and Blaylock agreed that they love the gadgets and details in steampunk stories.
Oh, this is very
good news: the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie
will be based on Tim Powers's kick-ass
, World-Fantasy-Award-winning novel On Stranger Tides
, the greatest undead pirate story of all time. Go, Tim! Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. (Thanks, Rob!
) Read the rest
In 2006, my friend Ken Hollings
, author of Welcome to Mars
, wrote and presented a BBC Radio 4 piece about Philip K. Dick's weird relationship with God. As Ken says, it's a "a strange tale of madness, machines and attempted suicide." The star-studded list of contributors include Kim Stanley Robinson, Ray Nelson, Brian Aldiss, Tim Powers, James Blaylock, and the PKD android that mysteriously vanished shortly after the program was recorded. The fantastic show, titled Confessions Of A Crap Artist, is now available on Speechification. Confessions of a Crap Artist
Previously:Ken Hollings: Welcome To Mars radio series - Boing Boing
Ken Hollings's Welcome To Mars book - Boing Boing
Radio documentary on RAND Corporation - Boing Boing
Philip K. Dick robot - Boing Boing
Boing Boing: PKD robot still lost Read the rest
PS Publishing recently released Secret Histories
, a massive, ambitious, 600-page annotated bibliography of the work of Tim Powers: science fiction writer, Philip K Dick protege, and all-round swell fella. They've put a PDF excerpt on the web for free:
We're so proud of Secret Histories that we want everyone to know what it's like. So we've made up a 24-page high resolution sampler PDF file that you can download for free.
FREE sample excerpt from Secret Histories
It includes a chunk of the bibliography section that lists every edition of Powers' seminal The Anubis Gates, as well as China Mieville's tribute to the novel, examples of Dick Berger's exclusive artwork, excerpts and notes and doodles by Powers himself, and much more - and it still represents just a fraction of what the book itself contains.
10.2MB PDF excerpt
(Thanks, Paul!) Read the rest
On Sunday, I was on a panel about steampunk at the Eastercon in Bradford with Tim Powers, one of the original creators of steampunk literature (see his Anubis Gate
). Halfway through, Powers mentioned casually that he came to write a science-fictional book influenced by Victorian England after reading, London Labour and the London Poor
, a classic text by Henry Mayhew. Powers said that the book was KW Jeter's (Jeter coined the term "steampunk") and that it was passed around to both Powers and James Blaylock, three friends whose works were, arguably, the first steampunk novels ever written.
Powers said words to the effect of, "After reading this book, I realized that I had a whole novel's worth of research right there." It struck me that I'd never heard this story before, and that here, in this book, there was an important origin story about one of the major ways that an entire genre of literature, making, film and comics came into being.
I've just ordered my copy. Can't wait to read it.
London Labour and the London Poor
Read the rest
In 1992, I graduated from the Clarion Writers' Workshop at Michigan State University, the famed six-week "boot-camp for science-fiction writers." It was an amazing experience: my instruction from the likes of Damon Knight, James Patrick Kelly, Lisa Goldstein, Nancy Kress and Kate Wilhelm forever changed me as a writer and a person.
Therefore, it is a stupendous honour to be able to announce that I will be returning to Clarion next year, as part of the 2005 roster of instructors. My co-instructors will be Joan Vinge, Charles Coleman Finlay, Gwyneth Jones, Walter Jon Williams and Leslie What.
Clarion is in transition this year, as funding cuts at MSU will require a change of venue. Here are some details:
Among the options being considered are moving the workshop to another university or becoming an independent non-profit organization, along the lines of Clarion West. In either event, Clarion is likely to leave its long-time home in East Lansing and is actively soliciting suggestions for new location(s) and offers from organizations or groups willing to host the workshop. “I think it’s past time for Clarion to make a transition to a new venue and a new structure,” said Board Member James Patrick Kelly. The Clarion Board is calling on alumni and friends of the workshop to volunteer to help with the transition. “We need to work on fundraising, communications, and administration,” said Kelly. “We’re encouraging people who believe in Clarion to get involved with everything from putting together our newsletter to helping choose the instructors and lots in between.” To that end, the Clarion Board of Directors, which currently consists of Matheson, Kelly, Kate Wilhelm, Maureen McHugh, Karen Joy Fowler, Tim Powers, and former Clarion director Tess Tavormina will be looking to reconstitute itself and expand its membership. Read the rest
After the talk at UT Austin, I spent Saturday at the Turkey City science fiction writers' workshop at Bruce Sterling's place. Turkey City is a venerable science fiction workshop that has spawned many good writers and a lexicon of science fiction critical terms that is the de facto standard for understanding what works and what doesn't in a work of science fiction:
Squid on the Mantelpiece
Chekhov said that if there are dueling pistols over the mantelpiece in the first act, they should be fired in the third. In other words, a plot element should be deployed in a timely fashion and with proper dramatic emphasis. However, in SF plotting the MacGuffins are often so overwhelming that they cause conventional plot structures to collapse. It's hard to properly dramatize, say, the domestic effects of Dad's bank overdraft when a giant writhing kraken is levelling the city. This mismatch between the conventional dramatic proprieties and SF's extreme, grotesque, or visionary thematics is known as the "squid on the mantelpiece."
Card Tricks in the Dark
Elaborately contrived plot which arrives at (a) the punchline of a private joke no reader will get or (b) the display of some bit of learned trivia relevant only to the author. This stunt may be intensely ingenious, and very gratifying to the author, but it serves no visible fictional purpose. (Attr. Tim Powers)
I had the cold from hell all weekend and I'm jetlagged, but I wanted to get some links up before I hit the sack. Read the rest
As I mentioned earlier this morning, it's been ten years (!) since I attended the Clarion science fiction writers' workshop
(though it hardly seems it!). Patrick Nielsen Hayden
, my editor at Tor, has just left for the MSU campus at East Lansing, MI, to be the guest editor there.
My year at Clarion was really the first wired year of the workshop. Nearly everyone had a computer -- those who didn't bring their own got brand-new loaner 486s from the college -- the sole exception being Nathan Ballingrud, who insisted on his beloved manual typewriter. I remember how expressive his manuscripts were, dark vivid keystrokes where he was on a roll, tentative, faint characters where he'd slowed down, faint hand-written corrections on the photocopies. We critiqued three or four stories a day, five days a week, for two to six hours, and I wrote a story every week. Our instructors varied from wonderful to ineffectual to out-and-out abusive. I had a modem and I spent a fair bit of time dialed up to GEnie, a primitive online service, keeping online track of what was going on at the workshop.
There was a fair bit of handwringing from the instructors over the idea that students were "wasting time online," gossiping and spilling the beans about the politics at the workshop. This theme continued in subsequent years as students continued to keep online Clarion journals, sometimes quite intimate ones that were critical of or wounded at the instructors. An interesting feedback loop developed one year, when instructor Lucius Shepard read a student's online journal and commented on it in person, prompting another journal entry and another conversation, which prompted another journal entry, and so on. Read the rest