Tim Powers, Last Call (1992)

Author: Tim Powers

Title: Last Call

Format: Paperback

Pages: 560

Series: Fault Lines #1

Dang. I wanted to love it much more than I did. Sadly, the most well-known Powers’s book, the one that won both Award for Best Fantasy Novel (1993) and World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (1993), doesn’t hold a candle to Anubis Gates or even The Drawing of the Dark, or basically any other Powers’s book I have read. Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m simply older by thousands of pages and hundreds of books and, as a result, that much more picky. Maybe it’s the archetypes and myths, about which I tend to know a thing or two, and Powers’s version of them did not impress me Or maybe I just read it at a wrong time.

Whatever the reason, I did struggle with this book quite a lot, and after a quick start I got mired in a bog of indifference and was lured away, multiple times, by the will-o’-the-wisps promises of better books. (And they were better!) Only recently I did go back and I managed to finish it, at last, but it was a rather more bitter than sweet experience. I guess I’m not enamored of Nevada and Las Vegas, or poker, or the very literal interpretations of the Fisher King and sacred marriages, and cyclical rituals of death and renewal. It’s like Powers had read Frazer’s The Golden Bough at some point, was blown away by it, then and decided to adapt it to his own purposes. I mean, he had every right to do this, but by the same token he shouldn’t be too surprised if people who have professional interest in cultural anthropology are not impressed – particularly considering that The Golden Bough itself had over time lost some of its claims to veracity and overall allure.

I have to hand it to Powers, the story starts with a bang. Archetypal magic within Tarot cards, Poker played for eternal life, reminiscences of Saturnal quest for immortality… I was intrigued. I was immersed. I wanted to know more! But then, a sudden flat line – the main character, the prodigal son escaping the clutches of cannibalistic father thanks to the sacrifice of his mother, who sells himself away, unknowingly, to that same father, in a tragic twist of fate, inexplicably turns into a couch potato (if potato could drink alcohol). What’s worse, it seems that at least this particular transformation was irreversible – despite all the action and plot twists, and vestiges of agency Powers tried so hard to bestow on him, he remained a couch potato till the very end.

So, unlikable protagonist. Been there, done that. It still could’ve been saved. But this time around, the fabled magic of Powers’s twisted mind felt flat as well. The archetypes as giant figures residing deep in the unconscious and called to the conscious parts of the mind through Tarot cards? The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hijack the power of archetypes and become one in a special time of year and through a special set of circumstances? Literal interpretation of myths is a very tricky proposition, particularly when you’re trying to bind so many and so varied myths together. And maybe because I detect traces of Campbellian obsession with The Hero with a Thousand Faces, my last call is “bullshit.” I was fine with djinns working for Soviet spies, I was riveted by silicone-based vampires, but this was just a load of nonsense not better than a residue of a singularly bad trip. Can’t believe I’m writing this in a review of Tim Powers’s book, but the cardinal sin of Last Call is NOT ENOUGH RESEARCH. It’s still quite readable, and slick, but it’s not great, and it’s good only in places.

Now for some final thoughts. I don’t think I will be reading any of the sequels to Last Call. I’m going to read On Stranger Tides, and then I’ll see if Powers has anything more to offer that can keep my attention. One thing is certain: after that programming bootcamp, I have become ruthless when it comes to books. Fear me! BUAHAHAHAHAHA!

Score: 7/10

38 thoughts on “Tim Powers, Last Call (1992)

  1. Too bad, I’m sorry to hear it. I always quite liked Tim Powers. I’ve read The Anubis Gates, The Drawing of the Dark and Stranger Tides. And I’ve always skipped Last Call because poker and Las Vegas didn’t interest me. Declare is high on my list as the next Powers to read, but now I will never pick up Last Call.

    By the way, I am having a lot of trouble with Moon Witch Spider King, 200 pages in. Like you say in this review: I wanted to love it much more than I did. I hope the second half will bring something good.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I loved most of the Powers’s books I read, but this one just didn’t do it for me. I realized this quite early on though, and kinda got resigned to the fact πŸ˜‰
      Yeah, the start of Moon Witch Spider King just draaaags on. But it gets better – you just need to persevere a little bit longer, Jeroen! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was never a huge Powers fan, just of specific books, so it doesn’t surprise me to see you moving on.
    Of course, it’s never fun when you have to move on, so I certainly sympathize in that regards.

    And there are times when ignorance really is bliss. Not knowing about specific branches of knowledge makes it so much easier to simply accept what an author “states” and move on with the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Truth, that.
      Welp, the trick is in finding new great books πŸ˜‰
      That is true as well, sadly. The more I know about a given topic, the less I enjoy fiction about that topic 🀣 I guess finding these good books will be quite tricky in the end… I have Stephenson on the list now, we’ll see how he fares!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You just have to branch out. Go read some web-novels πŸ˜‰

        I’ve only read 2 by Stephenson (snow crash and Necronomicon) and decided he wasn’t for me. So best of luck. He’s got some really big books, so that should keep you nailed down for a while πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

                1. πŸ˜€ it’s silly, I know, but Bookstooge is not a fan of either of the authors, and that substitution seemed fitting πŸ˜‰

                  Did you enjoy Cryptonomicon, Bart?

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  3. I’m not sure I’ve actually read this book, lol, although I have a copy on my shelves. Sorry it didn’t work for you. It’s always hit or miss when you tackle a book written decades ago😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess for me it’s less of a hit-or-miss with books written decades ago than it is with this or previous year’s books 🀣but this one was certainly more of a miss than a hit – probably at least in part because of my high expectations. Lesson learned! 😁

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  4. Nothing can be more disappointing than a “meh”book from an author we used to trust, so I’m sorry that this one did not work for you in so many ways… But you’re right, we have to be ruthless, because there are too many good books and oh so little time… πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re spot on, Chris! This is a rendition of the Grail, equated with the suit of Cups from Tarot, and mixed with everything from Isis to Chretien de Troyes… I don’t think you’d much enjoy this mashup, but who knows – maybe you’d have a laugh or two 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Have yet to read Powers, the Anubis thing is on my tbr. This review killed the chance of me reading Last Call though: good job! I donΒ΄t get the appeal of The Golden Bough, so many authors in and outside of genre have used it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome! 😁
      Yup, The Golden Bough should be once and for all moved to the archives and never used again. That said, it’s still infinitely better than Campbell’s delusions – and Campbell’s “theory” is still widely used in American anthropology…

      Like

  6. piotrek

    Oh, I’m sorry to read this. I really liked Anubis Gates, loved Drawing of the Dark, but wasn’t totally convinced by The Stress of Her Regard… Last Call was so highly recommended I kept it on my bookshelf for when I need something really good, no I’ll lower my expectations πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’d advise that. It’s not a totally terrible book, but it’s far from good, rather shallow and simplistic and because of this, infuriating – at least for me πŸ˜‰ No humour or wit, just that dreadful Campbell rising from the dead in the most abominably mindless way of a cursed zombie… “Braaains…” Now that’s definitely something this book lacks: brains.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Paul Connelly

    I remember being intrigued enough by Last Call to read the two sequels, but each offered less and less satisfaction to me. The new Vickery & Castine series stopped me dead at the first book. Declare, The Stress of Her Regard, Hide Me Among the Graves, Anubis Gates, and The Drawing of the Dark are the books by Powers that I have the fondest recollections of. Maybe that says that the farther away from a contemporary setting he spins the story, the more I enjoy it. (But On Stranger Tides and Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, neither contemporary, were especially memorable, so there could be no rhyme or reason to it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Out of the ones you recommend I only have Hide Me Among the Graves to read – the rest I read and enjoyed, some very much so. I had hoped On Stranger Tides would turn out to be great, but now I’m not too sure, looks like a middling one. I might need a break from Powers after the letdown of Last Call, but I’m certain I’ll read these two books sooner or later. As for the other books by Powers, I think I’ll leave them to others πŸ˜‰

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