Dinner at Deviant’s Palace

The Tim Powers series continues.

Raw Feed (2005): Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, Tim Powers, 1985.Dinner at Deviant's Palace

In this post apocalypse tale, Powers reuses elements of earlier stories and some characteristic plot and viewpoint devices to give us a pretty fast moving adventure story which is a reversal on the hardboiled detective plot that probably inspired it.

The setting is a Los Angeles aka Ellay about 100 years after a nuclear war — a post-apocalypse quasi-Renaissance Los Angeles with scraps of leftover technology is also the setting of Powers’ Epitaph in Rust. As in his The Skies Discrowned, the hero is an artist, specifically a musician. Also, as in that novel, he ends up being unable to settle down.

Duffy, the protagonist of Powers’ The Drawing of the Dark was also an artist at one time and hopes to rekindle and an affair with an old love, Epiphany, as Gregorio Rivas wants his beloved Urania back. Epiphany dies but Urania lives. However here, Rivas discovers, in a very credible piece of psychology, that he only obsessed about her because he couldn’t have her. She proves something of a disappointment, and Rivas discovers that his new self likes Sister Windchime much better.

There are a couple of distinctive Powers elements. One is the maiming of the character (a quite self-conscious plot element of Powers which he rightly thinks raises the stakes involved in his hero’s struggles and makes their pain more real). Here Rivas deliberately mutilates his thumb to avoid the full effect of the sacrament. Later on he has to have two infected fingers amputated which may make his career as a musician much harder. The other element is bodyswitching. That isn’t done per se here, but a doppelganger of Rivas exists, the vampiric (and wonderfully named) hemogoblin (a pun created by a typo perhaps?– Powers is quite fond of humor derived from misunderstood words and phrases) created when part of Powers psychic energy is drained by the Jaybush alien. He not only serves as a wonderful way to conclude the climatic struggle with Savatividam at the Deviant’s Palace but also as a clever literalized metaphor.

As the hemogoblin feeds on Rivas, he takes not only more of his energy but also more of his personality as he gains in corporeality. This is first and foremost the story of a man who changes from a self-absorbed (his thinking of lyrics based on his experiences while he undergoes various trials seems both very writerly and and self-centered man into someone willing to undergo the submerging of his self, peril to his body, and reconfrontation with the horrors of the Jaybush cult that he knows too well (though, of course, he doesn’t know everything about them) to rescue Urania — never mind that the object of his faithful and heroic sacrifice is not what he thinks. He makes a good faith effort. It is the reversal of the plot where a soft man hardens under adversity. Rivas softens, lets down his zealously guarded borders, and doesn’t want to be reabsorbed with the personality elements he has literally left behind with the hemogoblin.

I notice that Powers uses what, for him, is the characteristic style of concentrating almost exclusively on his viewpoint character of Rivas (in other books, like the American Fisher King books, he has several viewpoint characters) but he does have slight interludes from the hemogoblin’s point of view, and fellow redeemer (sort of a deprogrammer) Fracas McAn is very briefly a viewpoint character. Powers, even at this point in his career, does a wonderful job with extensive interior monologue which serves well to make Rivas a real character complete with absurd and understandable and realistic reactions to danger. As Powers has noted (after someone else pointed it out to him), this is another book with a climax set on the water — here at the Deviant’s Palace.

A fast moving, post-apocalyse adventure with quite good characterization and a novel reversal of a typical plot.


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