The Skies Discrowned

Honestly, I am working on new material, but the Tim Powers series continues.

Raw Feed (2003): The Skies Discrowned, Timothy Powers, 1976.Skies Discrowned

Given what Tim Powers (aka Timothy Powers in his first two novels) has said about this book, I wasn’t expecting much, especially since it was science fiction and not one of his historical fantasies of secret histories.  (Powers was hired later on to rewrite this novel as Forsake the Sky but later remarked that he was sorry he did it since it wasn’t fair to his earlier, 23 year old self who wrote this novel.)

This is a novel with lots of swordplay, and the bio material on the author even notes the influence of Rafael Sabatini. Powers does a pretty good job of rationalizing a science fiction  novel with a distinctly Renaissance flavor.

Each planet in the human community has specialized in a particular product, and the Transport Company links the worlds together in trade. However, after a time, fuels become more expensive (this might be the influence of the 70s energy crisis on Powers); economic transportation of certain goods becomes untenable; trade schedules become more erratic which causes a further economic downturn which, in turn, hurts trade even more. Planets work to become more self-sufficient and not dependent on the Transport Company.

Eventually, the Transport Company decides it needs to relocate to a particular world and take its government over. They join forces with a foppish prince to kill his father, the Duke of the planet Octavio, and take the planet over. During this coup, our hero Frank Rovzar sees his father, a famous portrait painter, killed and is imprisoned since he is an inconvenient witness. He escapes, works his way up through a criminal organization called the Society of Companions, eventually overthrows the corrupt, Transport-backed government, and has his revenge on the evil Duke Costa.

There is a surprising amount of humor in this novel, especially when Rovzar’s old friend, Tom Strand, talks himself into only blinding Rovzar and cutting his tongue out rather than kill him for the Transport reward. There are a lot of Powers’ touches that show up in later novels. Like Brian Duffy in Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark, Rovzar is a sword master who uses his skill to great effect but still looses the love of his girlfriend though here the girlfriend leaves to be with a pretentious poet rather than being killed like Duffy’s Epiphany. (I suspect, in Rovzar’s disbelief that Kathrin Figaro would take up with such a poseur, the bewilderment of a young Powers in how some women take up with such men.)

The literally underground society of criminals in the Society of Companions foreshadows the more bizarre and grotesquess and evil underground dwellers in the London of Powers The Anubis Gates.

There is no bodyswitching here, but Powers does have Rovzar lose an ear which shows, from the start, Powers employed his strategy of mutilating his heroes so the readers know they are always in danger.

There are plenty of mentions of Romantic Poets. Indeed, in this far future, there are almost no references to any writer later than Ernest Hemmingway. The title itself comes from an A. C. Swinburne poem.

Powers’ interest in art shows through in Rovzar’s initial profession.

I did like that, in this future, such plebian things as tacos and daquiris are the food and refreshments of the upper class.

The story was fast moving, and enjoyable; it’s only obvious flaws were some awkward and brief deviations from following Rovzar to show other characters scheming against him.  These were so infrequent and brief that they did remind me that Powers was manipulating suspense.

There is even more humor than usual for a Powers novel. The thing that struck me most about Powers’ debut effort and reminded me that it was a young man embarking on his career was the ending (as well as Rovzar not getting the girl). Rovzar, after starting out as an apprentice painter under his father, goes through many phases in a year’s time:  escaped convict, art forger, thief, assassin, revolutionary, leader of the Society of Companions, and, in the end, he renounces it all to become a painter again. The novel ends with him, minus a leg lost in the final fight with Costa, traveling alone to “practice the craft I was born and named for” (the novel’s last line).

I saw, in that line, the young Powers’ determination to practice the writing craft he thought he was born to. Despite the economic disadvantages and hard times, he’s remained true to that calling 26 years later.


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