Monday, April 25, 2005

Well, I De-clare

posted by Tim Walters @ 9:55 PM

Declare by Tim Powers is neither his best nor his worst. There seem to be several people doing spy/occult crossover these days (I know Charles Stross has something of the sort going), probably more than the conceit can handle.

I was very impressed by the beginning section (set in Paris during WWII), but after that it declines somewhat. The book cuts back and forth between 1963 and various times before that, which would be fine except that most of the earlier events are also explicitly recalled by the protagonist in 1963, so that you end up reading about everything twice (or even more), which gets old after a while. Worse, in a book that is almost entirely told from the protagonist's limited viewpoint (and depends on that for some key effects), he throws in a couple of chapters told from others', just to get some relatively unimportant information across. This seems lazy and sloppy, and particularly weird when Kim Philby (a non-fictional character) is given the mike.

And after a while, one begins to wonder whether secret agents really drink that much--it doesn't seem very wise.

On the other hand, real secret agents presumably don't have to face the supernatural on a regular basis. Powers, as usual, is deft at portraying magic in a credible way, although he doesn't do it quite as well here as in, say, Last Call (which I highly recommend). He explains things that don't really need explaining, possibly because the book is aimed at the mass market.

Despite all that, I have to say that I was turning pages like billy-o. Even middling Powers ain't bad.

One more gripe--this book has a blurb on the spine ("Dazzling. --Dean Koontz"). Criminy dutch.


At 9:01 AM, Blogger Todd T said...

I suppose the day will come when as we walk (or surf) past a book, it will shout its blurbs into our ear/mind.

If I were the publisher and I thought the book would be displayed binding-out, I think I'd try to make it eye-catching, rather than planning on having potential buyers try to read even three-word blurbs there.

I'm glad the read the review of DECLARE. Despite enjoying THE ANUBIS GATES, ON STRANGER TIDES and THE DRAWING OF THE DARK quite a bit indeed, I have fallen far behind on his work. A DINNER AT DEVIANT'S PALACE I was less keen on, but the other three, particularly TIDES and GATES, are high in my favor.

When I first heard of the title DECLARE, I had a vision of a book based on a de Grandin/Carnacki-ish investigator of uncanny customs events.

Your observation that the book is aimed at the mass market may explain the padding and soft editing as well as the explanatory burps. Bestsellers must be over 400 pages, you know. Readers of such apparently want the experience to go on and on, and do not look for tight structure.

At 10:52 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

You should definitely check out Last Call--it's right up there with Anubis Gates, and there are two more right behind it. Avoid The Stress of Her Regard.

I need to check out On Stranger Tides.

At 5:37 AM, Blogger Todd T said...

ON STRANGER TIDES was particularly tasty for me because I've always been interested in pirates - as the title suggests, it's a weird pirate tale, starring Eddie Teach - and because it takes place in coastal North Carolina, where we take vacation pretty much annually.

Would you be willing to furnish some remarks on THE STRESS OF HER REGARD? I've heard others give it a more positive rating, but I don't recall specifics.

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dean Koontz and Tim Powers are pals. Strange, but true.

And I'm not all that surprised to see secret agents drinking a lot; it's a highly stressful job, and a number of them were blackmailed into it (Kim Philby, I understand, was told by the Russians "Either you work for us or we'll tell everybody you're queer.").

Haven't read DECLARE yet, myself, but as you know I agree with you that STRESS is a weak novel. Perhaps my personal distaste for the Romantic poets is a factor here, but I didn't find that much of interest happened in the book. Obviously, for purposes of verisimilitude Powers had to allow the characters to go zigging and zagging aimlessly around Europe, since that's well documented in their biographies; but where in GATES and TIDES he constructs a shimmering lattice of secret history around the facts, in STRESS the best he comes up with is a rusty geodesic dome.

Thanks, Tim, for sending me the link, btw.

At 9:31 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

Todd, meet Matt. Matt, meet Todd.

Hm. Philby is straight in Declare. Powers brags about his verisimilitude in the afterword, for what that's worth.

Nice conceit--I think that makes Declare a slightly run-down carnival roller-coaster, or something. There's a lot of good secret history, but it doesn't quite deliver.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger Todd T said...

Hi Matt, and thanks for the remarks about Powers. I've heard something about this gay Philby business somewhere; do I recall perhaps the matter it is still in doubt among biographers today?

Glad you are luring in some more folks, Tim. I wish we could get Ron to stop by (though maybe he's reading, who can tell), and not merely so the phrase 'Hi, Ronnie Maas' can be used once more.

If one takes a metaphor literally, is that in some sense a meta-metaphor? Anyway, I like the image of romantic poets wandering 'neath a rusting geodesic dome, on its own merits.

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Todd!

I may have been confusing Kim Philby with Anthony Blunt, who was definitely gay.

"Hi, Ronnie Maas"? Sounds like absolute bosh to me.

(ducks and runs away)

At 6:01 PM, Blogger Todd T said...


I notice that the the list of contributors on the Tier 3000 page hasn't noticed Matt, which makes me wonder what it may actually mean. Maybe it's a list of contributors who are deemed to be actually harming society.

Shifting gears grindingly, here's a link to an article in today's Washington Post about people who use kids' toys to make bizarre noises for their own sake. Can't think who that reminds me of...

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

The "contributors" are people who are authorized to make posts (as opposed to comments on posts, which anyone can do).

Matt, I'd be happy to make you a contributor if you're interested.

I know a couple of circuit-benders (hot tip: use batteries!). I'm surprised the article didn't mention Reid Ghazala, who is more-or-less the originator of the movement.

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reid in Qubais Ghazala?

And sure, Tim, I'd be pleased to be a contributor.

At 7:35 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

I had forgotten that moniker, but yep, it's the same guy.

I wonder if he uses Cubase?


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