Tuesday, June 5, 2012

City of Fallen Angels

The Bible Repairman and Other Stories by Tim Powers containing "The Bible Repairman," "The Hour of Babel," "Parallel Lines," "A Soul in a Bottle," "A Journey of Only Two Paces" and "A Time to Cast Away Stones" (Collected 2011): Tim Powers is pretty much the best living American fantasist -- the only writer I'd say could contest him for this imaginary title would be Gene Wolfe. Longtime friend of Philip K. Dick, Powers may show Dick's influence in his eclectic choice of subject matter and in the intricate, sometimes byzantine complexity of his plots.

But Powers' other strengths -- his careful attention to historical detail and his ability to ground even the wildest of fantastic conceits in that detail -- are all his own. He writes fantasy as if he were a 'hard science fiction' writer.

Powers normally seems to prefer novels to spin out his detailed, involving tales, so short-story collections are rare and generally quite short. This is no different, but the density of imagination in the stories collected here makes this brief collection (less than 200 pages) seem much more filling than its length would suggest. All of the stories are filled with the wealth of invention and attention to detail that marks Powers' work; the general introduction and afterwords to each story supply fascinating insight into the inspiration for the stories.

Los Angeles, Powers' preferred locale when he's not travelling through time and space, is the setting for five of the six stories. The sixth and last, "A Time to Cast Away Stones," returns us to the horrifying early 19th-century world of Powers' novel The Stress of Her Regard, focusing on the fascinating Trelawny, a fellow traveller with Byron and Shelley who would live to be an occasional confidante of the Pre-Raphaelites, and who is noteable for almost wholly inventing a biography for himself that survived unchallenged for nearly 80 years. Highly recommended.

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