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

K. Eason, Nightwatch Over Windscar (2022)

Author: K. Eason

Title: Nightwatch Over Windscar

Format: e-book

Pages: 480

Series: The Weep #2

Hello everyone! I’m nearing the end of my course, and with the programming bootcamp safely behind me I decided to go back to some of my blogging and reviewing duties. I’m hoping to be fully back on WP within a week or two, and to have some collaborative summary of the year prepared with Piotrek before the end of said year ;).

Alas, I wish I had a better book to mark my blogging comeback. You’ll have to endure this withering onslaught just like I endured the book in question – bravely and with resolve. One thing that needs to be said upfront is that the name of the series should by rights be changed to The Bitter Weep. That’s how I felt throughout the reading experience, and while the tears had dried somewhat by now, the bitterness remained.

Continue reading “K. Eason, Nightwatch Over Windscar (2022)”

Lucy Cooke, Bitch: On the Female of the Species (2022)

Author: Lucy Cooke

Title: Bitch: On the Female of the Species

Edition: e-book

Pages: 416

Series: –

Disclaimer: this review is a one-off till the end of December, I’m sad to say. It’s going to be shorter, too, which you may find a relief 😉 Iwon’t be able to visit your blogs either, unfortunately, so please be patient. I’ll be back in full, just not yet!

Al right, on to the review. Let’s not beat about the bush: I initially chose this book on the strength of its title. And it’s a cool title, no question about it. That hyena doesn’t hurt, either ;). Lucy Cooke tackles a topic that has been avoided for years, decades and centuries. Most representatives of the biological sciences, on the account of being human and as such subjective and subject to the strictures of their cultures, tended to treat the females of other species as they treated their own: negligible and, in general, uninteresting. Weaker, drab, passive and condemned to live their lives as a background for the virile males, females were perceived as a secondary sex: important, sure, but never truly in power. Cooke, with the help of many contemporary scientists, proves these assumptions wrong.

Continue reading “Lucy Cooke, Bitch: On the Female of the Species (2022)”

PSA: Temporary radio silence

Hello everyone!

This is a short announcement that I’ll be sadly much less present on WP for the next ten weeks or so – approximately till mid-December. It’s not blogging fatigue, on the contrary, blogging gives me as much fun as ever. It’s a crazy year for me, though. After much soul-searching I decided early this spring to make a career change. I love social anthropology and sociology, but unfortunately my love is not widely shared by the job market 😉 

I have made the decision to switch paths completely, and a few months back I enrolled in a programming bootcamp. It is very much a proper bootcamp, cramming years of study into a bit less than five months of very intensive training. For the last six weeks I’ve been studying for ~50-60 hours a week, and now as I’m entering the final phase of the course, I’m looking at ~60-70 hours a week. I tried very hard to find time for blogging and reading, but there really isn’t much time for anything, except learning javascript and a bunch of other programming languages ;). 

So, wish me luck and forgive me if I don’t comment or write much over the next two months. After that, hopefully…

Also, feel free to pester Piotrek for some more posts! Re-enchantment is still very much alive and kicking 😀

Patricia A. McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974)

Author: Patricia A. McKillip

Title: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

Format: paperback

Pages: 200

Series:

Patricia A. McKillip won the first World Fantasy Award for this novel, third she had ever written. And let’s be frank: her writing skill by that time was already masterful. The prose of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld echoes the mythopoeic style of A Wizard of Earthsea, and McKillip’s novel seems to have been inspired by Le Guin’s masterpiece in more ways than one.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld tell the story of Sybel, the heir to the wizarding family tradition of acquiring power over sentient creatures through the subtle yet ruthless art of name-calling. Sybel doesn’t conjure fireballs or ice towers, and yet is extremely powerful: gaining knowledge gives her total control over others who, bereft of free will, become her slaves. Oh, she’s a benevolent master, but a slave master all the same. She controls fantastical beasts from myth and legend, and while they retain their individuality, they are tightly leashed indeed. Only when she herself becomes an object of such magic does she begin to realize how harmful that control can be. And then she just flips out and embroils several kindoms in an all-out war in her quest for revenge. Hell hath no fury like a woman disrespected and abused.

Continue reading “Patricia A. McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974)”