Novellas from Tim Powers and K.J. Parker
Posted May 21, 2016on:
I’ve been on a short stuff kick lately. Short stories, short novels, novellas. There’s just something about knowing I can get through an entire story with a beginning, middle, and end in a weekend. It’s not that I’m not reading fatty mcfat doorstopper novels, but these days they don’t hold as much allure (except this one, of course).
Anyhoo, I recently zipped through these new novellas from Tim Powers and K.J. Parker. They were so quick to read in fact, that I was able to read them twice! Downfall of the Gods by Parker came out from Subterranean Press in late March, and Down and Out in Purgatory will be available in late June from Subterranean Press. If you’re a fan of either of these authors, watch for these titles!
Let’s start with the Parker, because of the two, it was my favorite. Imagine a parallel ancient Rome or Greece, where a pantheon of gods keeps the sun crossing the sky, keeps the crops growing, and occasionally visits Earth in human form for entertainment. What I most enjoyed about this story is that it’s from a Goddess’s point of view, and how the myths and what the humans believe the immortals do isn’t exactly the truth. The Greek mythology I grew up learning humanizes, but still idealizes Gods and Goddesses. The Goddess at the center of Downfall of the Gods has her own family issues, the aunts and uncles who hate her, the stupid things she says to her parents. She gets in trouble for forgetting things, she gets “grounded”, she’s bored out of her mind. I loved her as a character, even if she was a bit of an emo teenager.
Due to a crime of passion, she ends up forcibly helping a mortal on a quest to the Land of the Dead. He doesn’t want to go, she begrudgingly helps him, and he ends up on a completely different journey. As much as the Goddess swears to her family that “she’s not up to anything!!”, this troublesome Goddess has one final trick up her sleeve, and it really does depend on pathetic and non-believing mortal completing his quest to the Underworld. The dialog is great, the drama between the immortals is unexpected and entertaining, and the ending explains why the protagonist rarely (and perhaps never) refers to herself by her first name. It’s all part of her plan. I haven’t read enough Parker to know if this story is part of a larger series (do the names Lysippus, Polynices, Myrrhine ott Feralia right a bell? If yes, this might be part of something larger), and I’ve run hot and cold with Parker’s fiction, so it was great to find something this enjoyable. In fact, I might go read this again.
On to the Powers. I’ve been a huge Tim Powers fan for a really long time. I love his writing style, his secret history books, the weird paranormal twists he puts in his books. Down and Out in Purgatory is very different from his other works. There’s no secret history here, but there is paranormal ouija board weirdness that just gets weirder. Tom Holbrook has been looking for his college friend John Atwater for years. John married the woman Tom loved, and then he killed her. And Tom has finally been able to locate John – in a morgue. To get his final revenge, Tom will have to travel to Purgatory, find Atwater, and somehow destroy his purgatorial ghost. An ouija board and a gunshot later, Tom finds himself in a very strange purgatory.
I really liked how Powers visualized purgatory. In some ways, it’s a little like the movie “What Dreams May Come”, where people don’t look like what they looked like when they were alive, and may not have complete memories of who they were. The scene with the girl on the skateboard and the father sitting in the car was just beautiful. But this purgatory has a time limit – the ground is constantly moving away from the center. So if you want to stay in purgatory, you have to continually move, and if you’re ready for what comes next, you can sit still until you’re forcibly pushed off the edge, or jump. To stay in touch with people on the other side, Tom has to speak only in rhyme, and his rhymes are hilariously terrible. (rhyming speak is one of Power’s paranormal signals, so watching a character fail at it was quite entertaining!) With some help from a local, Tom finds who he’s looking for, and maybe he even finds what he’s looking for.
I’m conflicted about Down and Out in Purgatory. I enjoyed it more on the second read, but I wouldn’t put it near the top of my list of my favorite Powers stories. There were certainly scenes I enjoyed, but as a whole it didn’t grab me. If you’re a Powers fan who is a collection completist, then by all means this is a novella for you. But casual Powers fans can skip it.