Monday, July 13, 2009

"They move in dark, old places of the world."

One of the oldest of chestnuts in the world of SF is time travel. There's something almost utterly irresistible about a well-written time travel story. Every such tale has certain obligations: it has to play with the notions of someone going back and messing with history, worrying about changing his own time, and then realizing that they are becoming a part of history in an unexpected way. In the hands of a truly inventive writer, the flummoxing paradoxes of time travel become sources of delight. Such a writer is Tim Powers, and such a book is The Anubis Gates.

The plot of this book is hard to describe. Brian Doyle is a scholar of English literature who is brought to England by a rich eccentric who claims to have discovered a means of time travel. The plan is for a group of very wealthy people to travel together back in time to the early 1800s so they can hear a lecture by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and then return to their own time; Doyle is to serve as the "resident scholar" for the trip. The journey takes place, the group travels back in time, the lecture is heard...and then Doyle finds himself separated from the group and stranded in 1810 London, where he finds himself accosted by Egyptian sorcerers, a clown on stilts, a guild of thieves led by a mysterious boy named Jacky, a man who may or may not be Lord Byron, a werewolf who can switch bodies with other people, and more. Doyle's adventures are also literary: in his own time he is a leading expert on a poet named William Ashbless, but as he progresses through 1810 he begins to realize that considerably more mystery surrounds Ashbless than he had ever realized before.

The Anubis Gates is all over the place, a wild and wooly stew of plot elements that always seem to be on the verge of careening out of control and yet somehow never do. The various time travel paradoxes that always come up in such stories do, in fact, come up here, with resolutions that are at times funny and are always logical. What a fun read this was!


jason said...

One of my all-time favorites, and one of the very few I actually get around to revisiting every so often! I'm really glad you enjoyed it...

Anonymous said...

Best resource for Alternative history fiction is a very complete listings by author and language. If you have a good grasp of history, good alt-history makes your mouth water

DavidS read star fire (formerly read Space Viking)

Lord Chlorus said...

Thanks for the review of Anubis Gates -I realize, to my horror, that it has now been over a quarter of a century since I last read it (AAARRRGGHH!!!) This book was very different from Powers' later works (Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather) which confused me for a long time, although I later grew into the later works. Long overdue for a revisit.

--- d.o.