Monday, August 1, 2016

Tim Powers' MEDUSA'S WEB

My love for Tim Powers knows no bounds, as my readers probably know very well. From my very first reading of his basically perfect The Anubis Gates when I was a teenager to my most recent umpteenth re-read of his definitely perfect Last Call, I'm pretty close to saying the man can write no wrong.*

With his latest novel-length work, Medusa's Web, I'm even closer to saying that. Because holy crap, this is his best work since Last Call, and I really, really, really love Last Call, y'all.

There are enough superficial similarities between this work and LC that a reader might at first start suspecting that the wells to which Powers likes best to go are finally starting to run dry -- the hero's name is even Scott, you guys (but the reader discovers midway that it's Scott for a very punny-but-plot-relevant reason) -- but quickly it becomes apparent that said similarities are superficial indeed. Powers is not done coming up with weird new ways to mix science and magic and human creativity, and this is one of his weirdest yet.

Medusa's Web, which also in its setting and cast of closely related characters has even more of the flavor of a gothic novel than Powers' stuff usually does, begins with an uncomfortable reunion of cousins, gathered back to the sprawling Holywood estate where they were all raised by a legendary actress/model/bodice-ripping novelist named Amity. Who recently died. By committing suicide. By going to the roof of her monstrous house and blowing herself up with a grenade. And oh, by the way, because her monstrous house and its grounds are sort-of-haunted in a very timey-wimey way, that particular explosion keeps repeating itself at odd intervals throughout the subsequent story as her son and three of his cousins try to sort out what to do now that the old girl is gone.

And that's not all. Because this is Tim Powers. So, no, there is no Time Machine whisking people to and fro, nor is the repetition of Amity's spectacular suicide just a ghost story. There is a really weird sort of magic at work here, magic triggered by very simple but weirdly potent line drawings that suck observers right out of their bodies, into an identity-less, sort-of-dimensionless space and then dump them into vignettes from the lives of other people who have looked at those drawings. And there are lots of those, generally, because this trip is pretty addictive. But that's not all, either.

Let's just say you're not just a passive observer of the vignettes you might witness. And that there's maybe some reciprocity. Which makes a kind of time travel possible. Kind of.

And there's yet more. Because this book takes place in Hollywood. Yes, the bulk of it in 2015, and yes, in kind of a romantic ruin of the past, but also in Old Hollywood. As in the silent movie era. And the great Rudolph Valentino is a character (kind of the way Bugsy Siegel was in LC, but he gets to do more). And there's a whole thread woven in about a classic silent pic, Salome**, which I'd not heard of before but now totally want to see.

And but so, GLAMOUR.

I think this is going to warrant a repeat read very soon, because, too, in some ways this reminded me a bit of a Gene Wolfe novel. Once you know its secrets, the meaning of some baffling early bits might just turn from baffling to brilliant.

Don't forget your bullseye specs, kids!

*I say "pretty close" only because I am not a huge fan of his sequel-that-tied-two-previously-unrelated-books-together-to-make-an-after-the-fact-trilogy, Earthquake Weather. It's not terrible, but it's not up to his usual mark, either, and reeks of something cooked up by his agent or publisher. Meh. But otherwise, yeah, he can write no wrong.

**Which is a silent adaptation of the great Oscar Wilde's famous play about Salome and John the Baptist and Herod. Yeah, that Salome. But it's also, because Powers is a genius, warped into being a key to the mystery of these weirdo spider drawings. Because Powers is a genius.

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