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September 08, 2006

Comments

derringdo

That last reassurance is good to hear, especially since his next book, joking dubbed "Tess of the Baskervilles" in some interviews, is set in Victorian times and he said he was going to be reading the Sherlock Holmes stories through that Tim Powers lens as part of his research. I'm very curious to see what comes out of that :)

Jeff Miller

Great interview Jimmy! I loved both your questions and Tim's answers. I have read a string of his books after your first mentioning him on your blog and I have not been dissapointed.

In his new novel does he include a segment at the end explaining the true historical details as he did at the end of Declare?

Pseudomodo

Weird character names...

I remember that Bill Lear of Lear Jet fame named his daughter Shanda.

derringdo

Pseudomodo: what an evil, evil man. :)

Gene Branaman

Pseudomodo, I'd always heard her full name was Crystal Shandra Lear.

Not that it makes it any better.

And are there any major spoilers in the interview? I don't wanna ruin the book. Thanks.

A friend recently recommended "The Anubis Gate" to me, now it looks like I need to run out and buy all his books.

--arthur

SDG

Real magic should be as scary as an earthquake, even if it's "good" magic.

Well said. This sounds like the same sensibility Lewis brought to the character of Aslan: "Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn't safe. But he's good... If anyone can look Aslan in the face without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just plain silly."

Yes, I think Lovecraft was too conservative. The thing we want to show the reader is that there's a whole world of unsuspected stuff going on -- when Leeuwenhoek first looked into his microscope, he didn't see just one weird new creature, but dozens of them!

Interesting. I think it's all about different approaches to creating suspension of disbelief to different outlooks: Perhaps the early 20th-century outlook found it easier to accept an otherwise rationalistic universe with one dissonant element, whereas what makes more sense to a turn-of-the-21st-century mindset is a universe that is more mysterious in myriad ways than we suspected.

Joan Didion said that "art is hostile to ideology." Fiction can be educational and beneficial and improving, but that's not one of its jobs!

Wow is this true. And wow do Christians artists today have a hard time "getting" this, which is why we tend to produce such crappy art.

Mark, this is not to say that art is not about truth. It can and it should. But it has to be about the artist's own quest to apprehend and express truth, not about the artist's desire to ensure that other people Get It the way the artist does.

So, in a way, I actually do think after all that it is one of fiction's jobs to be educational and beneficial and improving -- provided that it is himself or herself that the artist is trying to improve and benefit first of all, and that he or she does so in a spirit of absolute honesty and creative integrity, not working from a presumption of having arrived and being in the position of an enlightener of the benighted.

Elliot

This is great!
Thanks very much for conducting and posting this interview!

Jimmy Akin

And are there any major spoilers in the interview?

No. There are no major spoilers in the interview or in my review of the book. I made a point of keeping the big surprises under wraps, and Tim did, too, in his answers..

Joy Schoenberger

Jimmy, I really liked your question about obviously significant character names harming suspension of disbelief. I can recall two books off the top of my head, one where the main character was named Michael Archangelo, and one where the main guy was named, get this...

Hero Protagonist.

Ugh.

(BTW, the first is from Wyrm by Mark Fabi, the second from Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson)

CaeliDS

Thanks for getting me excited about reading/writing fiction again. Tim's approach bends genres in a way I never thought about before.

BTW, has anyone read those novels from The Mary Foundation, "House of Gold," and all that? Are they any good?

Monica

re: house of gold etc.

Literarily speaking, no. I enjoyed those mildly while I was reading them, but could never bring myself to pick them up for a 2nd reading.

Jeff Miller

CaeliDS,

Those novels by Bud Macfarlane Jr are just passable fair. He is an okay writer with somewhat interesting characters in novels that are overtly Catholic. I read them in the early days of conversion days when I would only read explicity Catholic fiction. There literary quality is a step up from something like those Left Behind books, but not by much.

Gene Branaman

"There are no major spoilers in the interview or in my review of the book. I made a point of keeping the big surprises under wraps, and Tim did, too, in his answers."

Thanks, Jimmy - I knew I could count on you!

Leah

Regarding the Macfarlane novels - I read all three when I was on the road to the Catholic Church, and what I liked about them was that they really put me in a "Catholic" world, with people that were "very Catholic". Not something I experienced in real life.

But I highly recommend Father Elijah and Michael O'Brien's other novels. Excellent! He's quite an artist, too.

Tim M.

I completely agree with Leah. I absolutely love the "Children of the Last Days" series by Michael D. O'Brien and highly recommend it to anyone.

I read the first three books of the "Left Behind" 25-ilogy series as some of the last books I read as a Protestant during my journey home. I had to put down the fourth one because, as literature, IMHO, it absolutely is as nutritious as sawdust. It was so fluffy and detail inconsistent that it seemed crystal clear to me that they were just pumping them out in a money making machine (let's make a buck in Jesus' name!).

When I read "Father Elijah" I was so struck by the quality of the literature, and from a Catholic worldview. This is one of my favourite books of all time! Yes, give me a Dostoyevsky anytime over a LeHaye.

Thank you also for the suggestions earlier that introduced me to Connie Willis. I started with Doomsday Book and have gone from there.

SDG

Those novels by Bud Macfarlane Jr are just passable fair. He is an okay writer with somewhat interesting characters in novels that are overtly Catholic. I read them in the early days of conversion days when I would only read explicity Catholic fiction. There literary quality is a step up from something like those Left Behind books, but not by much.

I think you are being very, very, very, very kind.

MissJean

I have to disagree with the idea that fiction and ideology don't mix. I am recommending Russell Kirk's collected short stories "Ancestral Shadows". He is the most overtly Catholic writer of ghost stories I have ever read. My favourites of his are probably "Lex Talionis", "Sorworth Place", and two really beautiful stories that work together "There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding" and "Watchers at the Strait Gate".

Also, there's a character in "The Peculiar Demesne of Archvicar Gerontion" that is a lot like the werewolf in The Anubis Gates.

Tim Powers

Hello, Miss Jean!

Well there are exceptions, yes! C. S. Lewis's space trilogy is a prominent example. But I'd insist -- till somebody points out an exception -- that the ideology has to be secondary to the story math. I don't think I've read Russell Kirk -- I'll have to try him out, thanks!

One overtly Catholic book that has struck me as very good -- maybe because I first read it when I was very young -- is Francis J. Finn's _Percy Wynn._ Published about a hundred years ago, but in print. It's what they'd call YA now -- adventures in a Catholic boys' school, with lots of treachery and rescues and last-minute repentances. It's been a couple of years at least -- I'm due to read it again.

Sean S.

I need to get me a copy...I loved Declare. I need to read more Powers in general, actually.

You should come to OddCon again, Tim! Then I could get your John Hancock on it....

Moshe

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Bradamante

Would this author be a good choice for a middle school reader? I've got a kid who's always book-hungry!

Sean S.

Bradamante:

Depends on the book. I'd say most of Tim Powers probably isn't appropriate for a kid that young--there is some sex in most of his books--not graphic or gratuitous, but I think it would be too much for a pre-teen. They can also get very dark and horrific, and some kids might be confused by the handling of supernatural matters. Part of it depends on the kid, of course.

So...Powers is an incredible author, and I think his work is deeply moral, but I wouldn't recommend it for young readers.

The possible exception, from what I've read, would be The Drawing of the Dark, one of his earlier books. It has less content/scariness than the others.

Of course, it all depends on your kid and what you think he's ready for.

MomLady

Bradamante,

I've always had a low tolerance for what my husband used to call "Saxon Violins," yet I've never felt soiled after reading a Tim Powers novel despite the horrendous things that befall his protagonists.

However, I would NOT recomend his works to a middle-school reader. As Brother William of Baskerville once said, "herbs that are good for an old Franciscan are not good for a young Benedictine."

MomLady

Tim Powers:

I've just finished reading _Tom Playfair--Or Making a Start_, the first in that series by Francis J. Finn. So _Percy Wynn_ is next on my list. The former had been described to me as a Catholic _Tom Brown's School Days_, and since I adore 19th century children's literature, I had to read it. It was a lot of fun, especially the chapter in which Tom and his friends decide to exorcise the school bully.

Joy Schoenberger

Tim M, glad you hear you're enjoying Connie Willis. She really is an original and interesting writer.

I agree with everyone here on the MacFarlane books. I read them in High School and was impressed, but have since reevaluated as my literary taste has improved. I never read the Left Behind books, but I'd guess that they're of a similar nature. One thing I'll say for MacFarlane, though, is that they did inspire my Aunt to return to a more full involvement in the Catholic Church, including having her first marriage annulled, and her second convalidated. Never underestimate the power of God to work through the least of His servants, even the cheesy author types. :-)

derringdo

Fr. Finn wrote about five billion books in the Tom Playfair/Percy Wynn vein, and all the ones I remember reading were pretty good.

The Father Elijah books are very decent for what they are, but no way in hades are they Dostoyevsky.

Tim Powers: I think you'll like Russell Kirk's ghost stories-they get a bit repetitive but the best of them are very good indeed. There's also a novel length piece that functions as a sequel to about five or six of them.

Thanks Sean S. and MomLady, I appreciate your input. Like the old song "How Can You Keep Them Down on the Farm After They've Seen Paree?" how do you follow up "The Lord of the Rings" for a kid? The search continues...

Bradamante

Thanks Sean S. and MomLady, I appreciate your input. Like the old song "How Can You Keep Them Down on the Farm After They've Seen Paree?" how do you follow up "The Lord of the Rings" for a kid? The search continues...

Tim Powers

MomLady,

As I recall, Tom Playfair was a good book, but Percy Wynn was a _very_ good book. And I do want to get the rest of Finn's books about St. Maure School!

And I'd say a parent should read any book of mine before giving it to a middle-school reader. I gave a copy of a pirate-voodoo-adventure book of mine to my middle-school niece, then re-read it and told her parents to hold onto it for a few years. Kind of embarrassing! I suspect, as Sean S. said, that The Drawing of the Dark would be okay.

I still have to read Father Elijah. I've got a copy, but never actually opened it yet. I just keep re-reading Lewis's That Hideous Strength!

Bradamante,

In the fantasy genre I would recommend for your son _Eragon_ by Christopher Paolini and its sequels (_Eldest_ and the third is not yet released). A _Lord of the Rings_ fan would definitely love those.

Tim Powers' _Drawing of the Dark_ would be a good one, too. Of course there is also _The Hobbit_ if your son has not read it yet.

MomLady

"I still have to read Father Elijah. I've got a copy, but never actually opened it yet. I just keep re-reading Lewis's That Hideous Strength!"

Good choice! I read Father Elijah the summer I had foot surgery. It was a page turner that helped keep my mind off the pain, but was nowhere near as good as _That Hideous Strength_. I picked up some of O'Brien's other novels years ago when I found them remaindered, but I haven't got around to them yet.

Elliot

Re: Christian/Catholic fantasy for younger readers... How about _The Devil in a Forest_ by Gene Wolfe?

Or maybe some stories by Zenna Henderson?

Elliot

Oh, and I recently learned that Monica Hughes, the young-adult-SF author, was a practicing Catholic. I always liked her work, but didn't pick up on that, though a friend says you can tell.

MissJean

Thanks for the reply, Mr. Powers. I wasn't really arguing with your POV so much as trying to engage SDG in a debate. It's one of life's little pleasures. :P

For young readers, I recommend Elizabeth Coatsworth's "The Wanderers" about an Irish monk and his two charges. Also, if you can find anything by him, Padraic Colum was a great writer and recipient of the Regina Award. "The Children Who Followed the Piper" and "The King of Ireland's Son" are really beautiful and oftentimes haunting.

Oh, and I HEARTILY recommend "The Saint's Bones" by Mark Edwards. It's the first book in a series about a group of students at St. Adalbert’s High School who have supernatural powers. This first book is about how the gang must defeat an evil general and his army of walking dead. There are also mutant animals, a mean football coach, and Sister Methusaleh. The Catholic references are matter-of-fact. It's a lot of fun and, despite it being a fantasy, its depiction of teenaged boys is realistic. :) In other words, no sex or drugs, but a lot of football and goofing around.

Bradamante

Thanks again, everyone!

John G

I recently read "Powers of Two," which contained Tim Powers' first two books--The Skies Discrowned and An Epitaph of Rust.

They were both good, competent sci-fi stories (set in the future, unlike most of his works), and I don't recall anything in them that would be inappropriate for children, though of couse parents are always the best judge of that.

John G

Both of these books are shorter than most of those Tim writes, which is why they could fit in a single volume.

Jeremy S.

Excellent interview! I just finished 3DTN yesterday and it was one of your best! (But they're all amazing!) And I hope one day we all can see that Last Call script get produced....

Adam Greenwood

Re Father Elijah:

Totally creepy, if I recall, but not deliberately. The more I read the more I kept thinking that Mr. O'Brien had some pretty dank corners to his soul. Brrr. But I'm not Catholic, so take that FWIW (for comparison purposes, I love Tim Powers and Flannery O'Connor, so I don't think its just O'Brien's Catholic sensibility that disturbs me).

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Ruth

Just finished reading 3DTN today and feel I must share this incredible sentence from it:

"During the drive from San Bernardino to Palm Springs, the van had been a moving pocket of warmth and dashboard lights and a pair of glowing cigarettes in the lonely rock-studded hills in the predawn darkness, and the only signs of human habitation in the landscape of jagged ridges and remote, tilted alluvial deltas had been one line of half a dozen trailer trucks pulled off on the shoulder, and the twin red dots of Malk's taillights in the otherwise empty lane ahead." (p. 390; NY: Harper Collins, 2006).

This is so quintessentially Tim Powers that I'm beside myself. We are, (in one sentence mind), cocooned into a magical detailed moment (this 'moving pocket of warmth') swept out to the wider world ('the lonely rock studded hills') and swept out further still ('the remote tilted alluvial deltas'), re-oriented just in time with the mundane ('a dozen trailer trucks') and then gracefully returned to the all-too-human protagonists (Malk's taillights) who are caught in something infinite ('the empty lane ahead.')

In fact I would venture to call this sentence poetic for it even has internal semiotic structure, beginning as it does, with a pair of glowing cigarettes and ending in the twin red dots of Malk's taillights.

I have read that Powers is wary of the author's presence being felt in a novel--he feels it disrupts the fabric of the novel if we readers are constantly saying 'what a great sentence! what a damn fine writer.'

But...what a damn fine writer.

Ruth

Just finished reading 3DTN today and feel I must share this incredible sentence from it:

"During the drive from San Bernardino to Palm Springs, the van had been a moving pocket of warmth and dashboard lights and a pair of glowing cigarettes in the lonely rock-studded hills in the predawn darkness, and the only signs of human habitation in the landscape of jagged ridges and remote, tilted alluvial deltas had been one line of half a dozen trailer trucks pulled off on the shoulder, and the twin red dots of Malk's taillights in the otherwise empty lane ahead." (p. 390; NY: Harper Collins, 2006).

This is so quintessentially Tim Powers that I'm beside myself. We are, (in one sentence mind), cocooned into a magical detailed moment (this 'moving pocket of warmth') swept out to the wider world ('the lonely rock studded hills') and swept out further still ('the remote tilted alluvial deltas), re-oriented just in time with the mundane ('a dozen trailer trucks) and then gracefully returned to the all-too-human protagonists (Malk's taillights) who are caught in something infinite (the empty lane ahead.)

In fact I would venture to call this sentence potric for it even has internal semiotic structure, beginning as it does, with a pair of glowing cigarettes and ending in the twin red dots of Malk's taillights.

I have read that Powers is wary of the author's presence being felt in a novel--he feels it disrupts the fabric of the novel if we readers are constantly going 'what a great sentence! what a damn fine writer.'

But...what a damn fine writer.

Sandra Miesel

In 7th grade, my younger daughter loved THE DRAWING OF THE DARK so much, she wrote a ballad about it, memorable for rhyming "wizard" and "gizzard."

Zenna Henderson was an excellent Christian writer. Her Pilgrimage series was recently collected in one volume.

For medieval fantasy mild enough for a middle-schooler, try Poul Anderson's THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS whic has a Catholic angle.

Sandra Miesel

In 7th grade, my younger daughter loved THE DRAWING OF THE DARK so much, she wrote a ballad about it, memorable for rhyming "wizard" and "gizzard."

Zenna Henderson was an excellent Christian writer. Her Pilgrimage series was recently collected in one volume.

For medieval fantasy mild enough for a middle-schooler, try Poul Anderson's THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS whic has a Catholic angle.

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