Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human

K. W. Jeter was one of the young, aspiring writers, along with Tim Powers and James Blaylock, who hung around Philip K. Dick in his last years.

Amongst other things Dick would do — and Powers definitely says Dick was not, per popular legend, “crazy” — is spin late night conspiracy theories out which would keep the young men in a state of paranoia for a couple of days until Dick would reveal the joke.

Jeter is also the man who jocularly invented the term “steampunk” for the sort of work he, Powers, and Blaylock did early in their careers.

Raw Feed (1999): Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human, K. W. Jeter, 1995.Blade Runner 2

This is a peculiar book, unique, as far as I know, in its intentions and starting premises.

There are several media tie-in books that use characters from tv shows and movies. There are also some books that are sequels to other authors’ works. This novel, though, combines both. To further complicate matters, there are two versions of the film Blade Runner. [My box set of Blade Runner films actually has five versions.] Jeter seems to use the original version of the film as the beginning point of his plot.

Jeter drags out all the usual Philip K. Dick elements: conspiracies (I think he outdoes Dick in this regard – more on the par of A. E. van Vogt who inspired Dick) and the tenuous nature of reality and some specific references to the universe created in Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, specifically Deckard’s increasing disgust with killing androids and the nature of humanity and the constantly blurring lines between human and android and the sometimes questionable desire to make a distinction.

The plot is satisfyingly engaging though not without problems. Continue reading


I’ve saved Powers’ best for last in the Tim Powers series.

The title comes from the Book of Job, Chapter 38:4:

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?

Declare, if thou hast understanding.

God is speaking to Job out of a whirlwind, the Job whose loyalty He’s decided to test by allowing Satan to take all Job’s wealth, all his children, and giving him boils.

Like Job, Declare is a story of faith and loyalty. But Powers’ story shows that faith and loyalty can have their dark side too depending on the cause they serve.

And, again, my Raw Feeds differ from reviews. They have spoilers.

Raw Feed (2002): Declare, Tim Powers, 2000.Declare

A very accomplished novel and now, of the Powers’ I’ve read, my favorite. [I haven’t read his last two.]

Powers combines the most impressive amount of research and diversity of elements of any of his novels: the minutiae of Cold War espionage (mostly the British and Russian intelligence services but some, also, with the American and French services; I would be curious if the various recognition signals people employ are taken from actual histories), his Roman Catholic faith, the lives of John Philby and his notorious son Kim, Arabian myths involving djinn and A Thousand Nights and One Night, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Lawrence of Arabia, legends of the Ark on Mount Ararat, biblical allusions to the real story of Solomon threatening to split the disputed child in half with a sword and also to the mysterious Nephiliim of Genesis, other members of the Cambridge spy network, and the literally, in this secret history, ghoulish nature of Communism.

There are some typical Powers techniques and themes. Continue reading

Night Moves and Other Stories

The Tim Powers series continues while I work on other things.

Powers writes few short stories because he finds them almost as much work as a novel with a lot less pay.

However, the ones he does are often high quality.

Raw Feed (2002): Night Moves and Other Stories, ed. Tim Powers, 2001.Night Moves

“Two Men in New Suits”, James P. Blaylock —  Very nice introduction by Blaylock about his long time friend and sometime collaborator Tim Powers. He talks about their initial meeting back in 1972 before either was a published writer and some of their adventures since then. Blaylock talks about Powers’ grace under pressure, his extensive Arkham House collection back in 1972, their mutual fondness for Fellini films and dwarves in their writing, and how they became involved teaching creative writing to high schoolers in Orange County, California.

Night Moves”, Tim Powers — A story whose lyricism reminded me very much of Ray Bradbury, specifically his Something Wicked This Way Comes in that both stories have a variety of characters in a small town responding to the coming, on the wind, of something fantastical — perhaps their hopes will be fulfilled, perhaps something frightening is coming. For that matter, both stories do feature characters having their wishes filled — at a steep price. I liked the description of Roger and his neurotic girlfriend Debbie who, in some way, seems to be healed by the events of the story even though she is only affected by them because she insists on tagging along with Roger. At story’s end, she seems to have weaned herself from returning to her parents’ house whenever life gets tough. Powers keeps things vague here, just vague enough to suggest things without making concrete statements. For instance, it is never explained why Cyclops knows more about what’s going on than any character. (He also seems to lack any of the deep wished and compulsions that the other characters have.) It is Cyclops who suggests that Evelyn (or, perhaps, the combination of the ghostly Evelyn and her brother Roger) amplify the imaginations of others to create a closed off, pocket universe that can trap a person forever. The dry scrap that Cyclops notices and thinks resembles a little desiccated devilfish, the scrap that falls in a fountain at story’s end, seems to be Evelyn, an aborted fetus. It is memories that resemble (the smell of ether, the dragging from a horse’s stirrup) her abortion that she blots out of brother Roger’s mind. It’s never really said, but Roger’s constant contact with Evelyn must have created an unbearable strain on his parents who, after moving frequently to escape Evelyn’s presence, eventually abandon Roger. (I wonder if Powers is implying that getting an abortion and abandoning a child are manifestations of the same personality. How they know Evelyn — unless they, for some reason, named the baby before the abortion — is the child they aborted is not explained.)  It seems that the parents, for reasons not clear, opt to stay in the pocket universe. They claim they “can’t go through it”, “it” seeming to be the way out. It’s not explained if they have meant Evelyn before. Evelyn resting at piece seems to be because Roger now knows who she is and why she died and that he can stop looking for his parents who aren’t what he expected. (They’re not rich, for one thing.  Perhaps Powers is also implying their not worth having around.) It seems a fair guess that Catholic Powers is expressing his abhorrence of abortion in terms that resemble some pocket universe/purgatory C.S. Lewis might have created (or, maybe did — I haven’t read that much Lewis). If Roger’s parents are trapped in a pocket universe, it is like purgatory. I find it surprising, given the disapproval of abortion and the usually liberal views on the subject by fantasy and sf fans, that this story was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Powers’ notes say this story was originally created for — but not sold to — an anthology where each story was to have an accompanying map.

The Better Boy”, James P. Blaylock and Tim Powers — This story may have been inspired by a tomato growing experience of Powers (Better Boy is a breed of tomato) and a remark by Serena Powers, Tim Powers’ wife, that his struggle to preserve a huge tomato from worms resembled Santiago’s struggle in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, but its tone and concern with the magic in everyday life is very Blaylockian. (I believe I’ve read an interview with Blaylock that finding the magic and numinous in everyday life is a thematic concern of his.) Powers, in his notes, also says that the air of goodness surrounding protagonist Bernard Wilkins, originally intended to be a parodic figure (the story’s plot was originally to be a parody of Hemingway’s novel) of the sort of customer found at a diner near Powers’ house, is all Blaylock’s invention. Wilkins does come across as a very sympathetic character. I found it interesting that some talk of “luminferous ether” and “ether bunnies” (pieces of crystal shaped like rabbit’s ears and designed to snag the luminferous ether and take tomato worms with them) was simply thrown in to get the story in a sf magazine, and the story was published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. It’s also curious that whether the ether bunnies would have worked is left ambiguous at story’s end.  Indeed, it could be argued that there is no fantastical element in this story. Continue reading

On Pirates

The Tim Powers series continues with a little chapbook from William Ashbless, the shadowy figure who shows up in show many of Tim Powers’ and James Blaylock’s novels.

Raw Feed (2002): On Pirates, William Ashbless, 2001.On Pirates

Introduction“, Tim Powers — William Ashbless is the semi-legendary character originally created by Tim Powers and James Blaylock as a name for some parodies of modern poetry they submitted — and had accepted — to literary magazines. Since then the Romantic Poet Ashbless has shown up in several of Powers’ and Blaylock’s works (and others), most notably in Powers’ The Anubis Gates whose protagonist, Brendan Doyle, starts out as a would be biographer of Ashbless and, via time travel and bodyswitching, actually becomes Ashbless and writes the poet’s work from memory. Here Powers plays with the notion that Doyle aka Ashbless (and this is a supposition only a reader of The Anubis Gates would make) was somehow made immortal and really is the same Ashbless that is the ostensible friend of Powers and Blaylock in the twentieth century, an Ashbless who claims to not just share the name of the poet but be the Romantic Poet. Of course, Powers plays this straight and just mentions the latest disappearance and rumor of death of his friend Ashbless, scribbler and salt-and-pepper shaker collector. He doesn’t bring up the implicit suggestion that Ashbless here might be Ashbless of The Anubis Gates. Powers does describe Ashbless’ work as “crude . . . implausibly motivated, badly-rhymed, defective in craft”.

William Ashbless: A Clarification“, James P. Blaylock — The joke continues as Blaylock, friend of the vanished Ashbless, sets the record straight on Ashbless, who he thinks was too kindly treated by Tim Powers in his preceding “Introduction”. Blaylocks blasts Ashbless’ obvious plagiarism. Ashbless, claiming he’s the famous William Ashbless, claims Coleridge and Matthew Arnold stole from him. Also mentioned is Ashbless’ poverty and failure to repay loans, and the bribery attempts to get Ashbless’ poetry collection a Pulitzer. Blaylock starts his piece with several mingled clichés to good effect. Continue reading

Lord Kelvin’s Machine

The steampunk series continues.

Raw Feed (2002): Lord Kelvin’s Machine, James P. Blaylock, 1992.Lord Kelvin's Machine

I liked this sequel to Blaylock’s Homunculus better than that novel. (The Lord Kelvin of the title is, in fact, the famous physicist Lord Kelvin who makes an appearance as a character.)

Villains Ignacio Narbondo and Willis Pule are back from the first novel. Pule is now insane and forms a grotesque pair with his mother. The novel has an interesting structure and gets better as it goes along.

The opening chapter sets up Langdon St. Ives’ obsession with avenging himself on Narbondo for the death of St. Ives’ wife and his quest to resurrect her via time travel. (The Holmesian flavor of this novel is even stronger than the one in Homunculus. Narbondo is sort of a Moriarty figure to St. Ives and Parsons, the rather stuffy, socially connected member of the Royal Academy of Sciences who always keeps St. Ives out of it, comes off rather like Holmes’ Scotland Yard rival, LeStrande.) The opening third of the book involves St. Ives foiling a blackmail plot by Narbondo to pull a comet into the Earth via a powerful supermagnet. Blaylock provides an interesting story of how Narbondo is tracked down and how he ends up supposedly drowned in a frigid Nowegian lake. However, Blaylock never really explains why the opening chapter of Part I necessitates St. Ives being in Peru and how Narbondo’s earthquake generating scheme worked. The story follows St. Ives and ever competent servant Hasbro.

However, the novel’s story and humor really picks up with Part II which is narrated by a minor character from Homunculus, Jack Owlesby. Jack’s a pretty normal guy who chides himself for his fondness for good food and drink and naps and his wife and knows he’s not particular courageous. However, he’s competent and courageous enough to foil a renegade ichthyologist and his dangerous sidekick from Wyoming in their scheme to use the stolen supermagnet to down metal-bottomed ships and extort money from the Crown. He also has a run in with the weird Pules. Continue reading


The steampunk series continues because I can’t seem to get to writing any new stuff lately.

Raw Feed (2002): Homunculus, James P. Blaylock, 1986.Homunculus

I can see, after reading this book, why Tim Powers says many of the funny bits of his books are just notes from his talks with his friend Blaylock.

Blaylock is funny. He gives many of his characters endearing quirks. Captain Powers, no doubt named for Tim Powers who, in his The Anubis Gates, had a ship named the Blaylock, has a fondness for objects which double as flasks, including his peg leg. His friend William Keeble, a toymaker, despises the Utilitarian notions of philosopher Jeremy Benthem, in marked contrast to evil industrialist Drake, symbol of rapacious practicality. Langdon St. Ives is a brilliant scientist with a rocket ship in his silo. However, he can’t get into the Royal Academy of Sciences and likes the whimsy of poetry over the stiff requirements of science. Hasbro is his unflappable, practical gentleman’s gentleman. Bill Kraken is a lowborn man of a criminal past who now helps the Trismegistus Club, and he is sort of self-educated though his readings in science and philosophy, including a work by William Ashbless which stops a bullet from killing him, has left him with some strange notions. Willis Pule is a hapless, acne plagued villain who harbors constant fantasies of revenge and destruction against those who offend his dignity though none of his plans come out right. Hunchback Ignacio Narbondo is his boss. Shiloh the New Messiah is the putative son of Joanna Southcote, a real religious figure of the late 18th and early 19th century who, when she died, claimed she was pregnant with Shiloh who would rule nations with a rod of iron. (The modern Panacea Society, according to the Fortean Times, continues her teachings.)

I liked some of the plot elements of this novel: stealing carps from a public aquarium to use their glands in immortality and reanimation experiments; reanimating the dead and using them as followers for Shiloh, the attempted reanimation of Joanna Southcote’s skeleton, feeding the resurrected dead with literal blood pudding, Maxwell’s Demon turning out not to be an analogy but a literal being — in this case the stranded alien homunculus. Continue reading

The Devils in the Details

Tim Powers is one of my favorite authors. I’ve even met him.

However, I have reviewed very few of his books and not a single proper review of any of his novels.

Blaylock I have no strong feelings for one way or another.

So, just ’cause it was next in the queue, a retro review from January 11, 2004 …

Review: The Devils in the Details, James P. Blaylock & Tim Powers, 2003.Devil in the Details

Blaylock and Powers have been collaborating for thirty years, often implicitly influencing each other and sometimes, like here, collaborating on stories with both their names on them. Fans of either should appreciate the brief account of that collaboration in this book’s afterward and introduction and, specifically, the comments on the volume’s three stories.

As is typical for his shorter work, Powers abandons his characteristic secret histories. In “Through and Through”, a weary, lukewarm priest confronts a ghost in the confessional and rethinks the power and significance of Catholic ritual. But, if we don’t get an epic combining of magic and history, Powers still works in some interesting thoughts on the Garden of Eden.

The modern obsession with inclusivity on college campuses is satirized in Blaylock’s “The Devil in the Details”. A college president’s attempt to build a Christian chapel is thwarted by forces both silly and sinister.

I must admit that I appreciated and understood Powers’ and Blaylock’s collaboration “Fifty Cents” more after reading Blaylock’s afterward. But, even on the first reading, the protagonist’s quest — searching in used bookstores for a book once given to him by his dead wife — and the odd characters he meets in his drive through the desert Southwest, kept me interested.

Each story gets its own introductory illustration, and Blaylock’s afterword is in the form of an inserted pamphlet.

Collectors or fans of either of these authors will want this book not only for the stories but the accounts of a longstanding literary friendship.


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