Monday, March 19, 2012

Tim Powers: Master of the Craft, Builder of Worlds

Last week Tim Powers latest book came out. There's two people I buy the hardcover of, and Powers is one of them. Hide Me Among the Graves, is next on my reading list (when the Queen of Science is done).

Tim Powers is the guy who ruined Harry Pottter for me. He is one of the pre-emminent world-builders working in fiction today. When he creates magic, or magical effects, they are strange and quirky, but they follow a consistent set of rules. There is no magic of convenience, something that the characters can do because it makes the plot easier, or worse, make the plot happen. Even Charles Stross can't avoid a little magic of convenience; it makes the plotting a little bit easier, covers up gaps the writer doesn't want to explore.

Powers is a master of prose, but he's also the real father of the mashup novel. In his books, the most unlikely things collide, and as you progress further into the book, it all begins to makse sense. His novel Last Call is a wonderful, frightening wreck in which the train of King Arthur mythology rams headlong into the gaudily-decorated van that is Las Vegas. And I couldn't look away.

And how completely MAD is it to combine bitter cold war John Lecarre spying with Arabic genies? But Powers takes this conceit, james it in a blender with the life of Kim Philby, and builds up all these very strange connections into a real slam-you-out-of-nowhere climax that works because you understand how the magic works. Powers has sucked you into his world, and you begin to see things through what he describes as his 'paranoid hat.'

What makes Powers books so compelling is that it has weird little implications his magic system provides. Magic is not simple, but it is goverened by rules, and the exploration if the implications of those rules is fascinating. Humans are, by nature, rules-gamers. We will try to get away with what we can within whatever rule set we establish. Watch politics and business interact some day and you'll see what I mean. So it stands to reason that humans who discover that there is magic in the world will try to push its boundaries, just to see how far they can go.

So it's not just that Tim Powers writes brilliant prose with compelling characters. His work is pretty much unique in its world-building and his exploration of the strangeness of his rules of magic. And it's brilliant.

Meeting Tim Powers was a major contributing factor to me writing. He a brilliant conversationalist. I thought "I want a job where my co-workers are like him." There are three ways to have frequent encounters with writers; be wealthy, be a publisher, or be a writer. I opted for number three, and I have met an enormous number of wonderful writers. Thank you, Mr. Powers, for openning two worlds to me.

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