31 May 2011


'Twas the vagaries of the Brooklyn Public Library that led to my reading two time-travel narratives in a row. All right, 'twas the vagaries of me having checked out way too many books at once and not being able to renew them because other folks have outstanding holds. But oddly enough daily fines for overdue books have fallen from a whole quarter to 15 cents, so I'm carrying a balance of like $2. Which even I can manage. LIBRARIES MAN THEY ARE THE BEST.

The Anubis Gates
, Tim Powers: Merciful Thoth, this book is amazing! Think I read about it in the introduction to a steampunk anthology I read last year...I have no idea why, as there's not a whirring automaton to be found. There are, however, ancient Egyptian sorcerers for whom touching the Earth is excruciating pain, beggars' guilds, a body-switching hirsute madman, a stoned Samuel Taylor Coleridge wandering blithely through a dungeon of nightmares, disguises and reversals and a dozen OMIGOD THAT'S WHAT THAT MEANT moments (for my money, the best part of a time-travel narrative. Imaginations that can make such stories coalesce earn my everlasting awe). Through it all we follow the adventures of lit professor Brendan Doyle, who's distracted from his frustrated attempts to write a biography of minor 19th-century poet William Ashbless by a truly unbelievable windfall: eccentric business tycoon J. Cochran Darrow offers him thousands of dollars to deliver a lecture on Coleridge to a select group of travelers, who have each paid $1 million in order to travel to a London night in 1810 and hear a lecture by the poet himself. Darrow has discovered a series of gaps along the river of time, distributed in a bell curve around a mysterious event in 1802 (which we are privy to from the prologue); with the application of magic or technology, one can pop out through a gap and re-enter the timestream at any other gap. The Coleridge lecture is, it seems, safely situated in a four-hour window so that the 1983 group can return to their present. As is to be expected, something goes wrong...and Doyle finds himself trapped in 1810 without money or skills, with an inconvenient American accent. Also people keep trying to kill him. The novel has perhaps the best-written action scenes I have ever read, and is fantastic in the most literal sense of the word. Added to my "everybody should read" list for sure.

My "everybody's already read this but me" list got a book shorter with my completion of Audrey Niffenegger's runaway bestseller The Time Traveler's Wife...which in the end I don't think I liked much. Do I need to give a summary? It's about the out-of-order romance of Henry, a librarian who drops in and out of time without warning, and Clare, an artist who meets him for the first time when she is six and he 36 (conversely, he meets her for the first time when he is 28 and she 20). Here are the two things that began to irritate me two-thirds of the way through: 1. his time-jumping is a genetic defect, which is lame; 2. Clare has six devastating miscarriages (due to the babies' intrauterine time travel) before OH LOOK they have a baby--thank goodness because what marriage is complete without children, right--who grows up to be a time traveler like Henry. I hesitate to set an arbitrary number of attempts at pregnancy before one should--for one's physical and emotional health--explore other options for offspring. But it is less than six. I really started to feel Clare was a masochist at that point, and then I started to focus on the core narrative, which is a woman in love and endlessly waiting for an absent, unavailable man, and I became angry about this kind of story being held up as (to quote the Chicago Tribune from the cover) "a soaring celebration of the victory of love over time." Then, you know, they boff for the first time when she is 18 and he's 41. Ewwww. Apparently I'm that "hard-hearted reader who is not moved to tears" (Tribune again)?

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