Author: Tim Powers
Title: Last Call
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!