Book written by Tim Powers
Great work is done in genre writing all the time (mystery, horror, science fiction, fantasy, etc.), but we still act surprised and authors sometimes chafe against the definitions applied to their work. Depending on your point of view, bookstores and readers use genres simply to keep all those books in some sort of searchable order or they do it to marginalize the stuff that is not literature. Unfortunately for those who do not wish to widen their horizons, brilliant writing is happening everywhere. Tim Powers can be found in the science fiction and fantasy section more often than not though his books qualify as magic realism, too. (Let’s not travel down the path of urban fantasy, let alone arguing about whether or not magic realism is fantasy.)
If the name sounds familiar, his pirate novel, On Stranger Tides, was optioned by Disney for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film. The end result bore minimal resemblance to the book, to a degree that I cannot recall any other movie based on a book ever has. The story would have made a fantastic movie, though it would never have had the same success as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The powers that be in Hollywoodland bought the cover and gutted the pages. Powers has never publicly complained and always been gracious that they bothered to pay him in the first place. He may have a point. Read any of his novels and you may find yourself longing for a true cinematic adaptation until you realize that nothing could ever compare to the visuals that have been playing on that big screen in your head.
Powers’ stories, even the historical ones, take place in our world with just a thing or two gone odd. As the story progresses, the abstraction from our reality may grow, but the characters and the world that they live in never goes too far into unfamiliarity. Layered into all this are fantastic tales of espionage and action adventure, spiced with something special that makes the imagined world just a bit appealing, like the beer in Drawing of the Dark. There are horrors in these tales, but often no darker than our bones already know about.
Declare is my favorite, but it is hard not to love a story about a Djinn wrapped in a John le Carre story alluding to famous traitors of the sixties. While I try to entice you with these elements, I neglect the clarity of writing that allows the unbelievable to coexist with the concrete. Most of Powers books are heavy and the reader enters expecting a brain dump of world building and explication. Yet, Powers is a master of easing the reader into the fun-house mirror reflection of our world. His books are a lesson in the importance of character above all else. I remember the internal struggles of his protagonists as much as the arcane images conjured by his words. Perhaps that is the real miracle here- when characters are transformed by the plot, then the story really does take us on a journey that illustrates the way life transforms all of us.
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