Dinner at Deviant’s Palace

February 5, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

palaceDinner at Deviant’s Palace by Tim Powers

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So, here’s an oddity for you: A Tim Powers novel that takes place in the future. I’m so accustomed to Powers using real history to tell a spooky fantasy tale that I was taken by surprise by this book. I mean, I wasn’t worried — Tim Powers is an excellent author to lead you by the hand through his unique imagination — but my expectations were different.

The story here is set in Los Angeles a few hundred years after a nuclear war, where a religion has formed around a mysterious character named Jaybush. The main character, Rivas, is an ex-member of the cult, which puts him in a good position to rescue people from it, and he spent time working as a redeemer, who would go in and retrieve people from the Jaybush cult for the right price. Now, he’s a gunner who performs music at bars, but when someone comes in and requests his services as a redeemer to rescue his ex-girlfriend, he finds it hard to say no.

Powers uses modern technology in a wasted future to great success. You can see on the cover of the book that one of the characters drives a car led by horses, and at one point in the story, he notes that people still let their vehicles stand, boarded and ready, for a minute or two on cold mornings before flicking the horses’ reins to get going. “Toothtalkers” also appear in the novel, as metal-toothed prophets who receive messages from the spirits in their teeth. Our main character, however, tells us that it’s been at least ten years since he heard a convincing toothtalker, and even then only on the tops of mountains. He also notes that the amount of metal on modern toothtalkers’ teeth is only for show, as the real toothtalkers he remembers only had trace amounts of metal in their teeth. It’s a neat riff on what Arthur C. Clarke said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” These kinds of co-opted technologies set a tone for the novel, where you expect the supernatural elements to somehow tie in to older technologies. As the story progresses, though, it’s harder to make that connection, as the pseudo-religious aspects of it defy explanation.

Powers’ usual straightforward style and characterization is present here, and will be familiar to those who enjoy his books. The plot, though, is a bit substandard. It doesn’t feel as tight as his other books I’ve read, and it seems that Powers relies too much on coincidence to keep the story moving forward. When Rivas finds himself stranded in a big city, he remembers someone he once knew there, and is able to get help from her. She’s not mentioned previously in the story, and once she provides assistance, she disappears from the story. This kind of thing happens more than once as the plot gets further and further along, and it didn’t sit well with me.

The book is a little disappointing, partly because the conclusion seemed a little too ridiculous, and partly because Powers has written some damn fine novels. When Powers releases a mediocre book like this one (especially after the brilliant The Anubis Gates), it becomes one of those “This would have been a great first novel for someone else, but isn’t up to the standard Powers has set with his other books” book. On the other hand, I found myself better able to follow what was going on here, which is more than I can say for his well-received The Stress of Her Regard. I can see people wanting to read it, because it’s Tim Powers, but I’d save it for last; it’s simply not among his best efforts.

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