Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Book Report: The Bible Repairman, by Tim Powers

There are two writers whose work I will pick up without bothering to read cover copy. For me, the presence of their name on the cover is sufficient to trigger my buying reflexes. One is Terry Pratchett. The other is Tim Powers.

My first Powers book was On Stranger Tides. If your only exposure to this title was Jack Sparrow's screen antics in the latest installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, then go out, buy a gallon of memory bleach and this book. After that I read some of his earlier work (Anubis Gates, Drawing of the Dark), and almost all of his later work (Stress of Her Regard, Earthquake Weather, Declare).

His work is often set in an alternate history where the history we know is merely the surface, perceived veneer that covers up forces of sorcery, mysticism, mythology and superstition that truly shape events. He seems to take disparate notions (pirates, Greek mythology, voodoo... WWII spies, Genies, Noah, and the Cold War) and mixes them together in ways that are startling and confusing, but which make perfect sense as presented. OF COURSE Blackbeard's odd, psychotic behavior was driven by requirements of a voodoo ritual based in Odysseus's trip to the Underworld and would somehow result in his becoming immortal. Kim Philby, the English double-agent, was trying to gain the favor of Arabic spirits in his own bid for Mortality... And don't get me started on Einstein's time machine, or the Fisher King's rebirth in California.

The Bible Repairman is a collection of Mr. Powers' short stories. Although nowhere near the complexity of his novel-length work, these stories share his unique approach to the strange, the magical, and their lurking presence under the mundane. It also includes a novella which forms a sequel, or a coda, to the Stress of Her Regard, featuring Trelawney (a friend of Byron).

His work is not an easy read. His research is deep, and many times I've pulled my head out of one of his books with dozens of unanswered questions. I often get the feeling that if I had an encyclopedic knowledge of history and mythology, I'd be able to follow everything. As it is, I feel I miss something sometimes. The Bible Repairman is no different in that regard.

Ulysses Rating: 3 - I enjoyed this.


maine character said...

Intriguing. And I do have a Bible that could use some repair, but I get the sense that's not what that story's about.

Ulysses said...

Good guess. I'm a little fuzzy on why Bibles need repair in the story. I gather it involves removing some content and has something to do with ghosts.

You never quite know all of what's going on behind the scenes in a Powers story.