America's Tolkien?

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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Powers' later novels, usually set in modern USA, most often California, weaving together espionage/noir tropes with high weirdness and arcane magic, such as Earthquake Weather, Last Call and Declare are accounted among his best; the works I've read from this latest phase of his outshine even The Anubis Gates in my opinion and frankly suit Powers far better to the title of 'America's Tolkien' than other contenders.

Why do I say this?

I'm going out on a limb here, but here's what I think:

Tolkien's project, as he himself saw it, was to create a mythology for England, noting the dearth of material contemporaneous to pieces like Beowulf. He drew on suitable material for a nation of England's antiquity - largely on epic and folkloric traditions, emulating the Kalevala, the Norse Edda and drawing on the sort of tales contained in the Mabinogion as well.

Powers draws on a mix of popular culture, elder magics and outright weirdness, including that great folk tradition of the contemporary era, the conspiracy theory or secret history. For instance he weaves together Bugsy Siegel and the Grail quest in Last Call or Einstein, the Manhattan Project and the age-old concept of the Golem in Three Days To Never. In the process he creates a uniquely apt mythology for the very modern nation he lives in. A nation that is modern yet filled with peoples who have ancient traditions that may yet find their way into contemporary events in the oddest ways.

So there you go. My little tubthumping sermon for the day.
 

Connavar

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Reading The Last Call right now i see what you mean. It and his later modern setting novels have alot of mythology building. I like how he uses pop culture,history. From Bugsy to history,old myths,folklore. The Fisher King etc

His interest in those topics and his supernatural weirdness is why despite the few books i have read i rate him very highly as a writer.
 

littlemissattitude

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Well, I certainly like Powers better than I do Tolkien, based on the fact that I can get through Powers's books but I've never been able to make myself finish even The Fellowship of the Ring, much less the rest of the trilogy or even The Hobbit.

Considering that I grew up in Southern California and am very familiar with some of the locales Powers has written about, especially in Last Call, Expiration Date and Earthquake Weather (there's one passage in Expiration Date that takes place just a few blocks from where I used to live, and he gets his description of the place completely correct), I can say that he does indeed create a mythology in those books that is completely appropriate to Southern California and the Western United States, or at least appropriate to my experience of those places.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I think the comparison is a pretty tenuous one, myself. I, too, grew up in Southern California, and I can appreciate what Powers is doing in much the same way that LMA does, but I think in his intentions and his sources of inspiration he is doing something very different from what Tolkien meant to do.

And he's not working alone on creating his mythology. Though Tim Powers is more famous, his friend and occasional collaborator, James Blaylock also "draws on a mix of popular culture, elder magics and outright weirdness, including that great folk tradition of the contemporary era, the conspiracy theory or secret history" in his works. I would say that Powers is the more serious writer of the two, which may be why he gets more recognition. Blaylock's characters and their stories can be a bit more ... eccentric.

I thought what Powers did with Last Call was incredible. But with Blaylock, I always feel like there might be a day when I could walk right into one of his stories, and experience for myself the weirdness behind all the familiar facades.
 

Connavar

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Not like Tolkien is different when it comes to using mythology in his works. He is just the most famous fantasy version.

Like how everyone who does tragic,romantic plays is compared to Shakespeare. People tend to compare famous writers to everyone who comes after them.

Speaking about Blaylock i have wanted to try his Steampunk series but the guy is not near easy to find in library,second hand as Powers.
 

clovis-man

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Hadn't considered this as a defining principle. Not sure how it fits. I see his output as evolving from "out there" fantasy scenarios (Dinner At Deviant's Palace, On Stranger Tides) to more contemporary backdrops with much in the way of magical and other-worldly explanations for commonly accepted historical events and times (The Fault Line series, Declare). In the process, his ideas become necessarily more complex. I have to give him a lot of credit for making most of it believable. I don't see Tolkien undergoing anything like that type of evolution.

Interestingly, his "evolution" may take a sudden turn with his newest work, a supposed sequel to The Stress Of Her Regard.
 
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littlemissattitude

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I'm not sure Powers is really creating a mythology intentionally, but from my point of view what he has done in the Last Call etc. trilogy, in Three Days to Never, and in some of his shorter stories, including "A Soul in a Bottle", are a beginning of doing that, especially in that they seem to tap into an ambience that is very specific to the western US, and to Southern California especially.

On the other hand, my experience of Southern California, growing up there in the 1960s and 1970s, probably was not the same experience as others growing up there, so others' mileage may vary. That's one of the remarkable things about that part of the country. Different people can have very different experiences of the place, even being there at the same time. I mean, I have friends who I grew up with there, who would describe the place and its ambience during the same period completely differently than I recall it being.
 

Connavar

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I havent read read any of the 90s,2000s books outside Declare,The Last Call. I do hope they are as complex,mythological,weird, as The Last Call.

Interesting how Drawing of the Dark combines the out there fantasy adventure as his other early works but also has more complex themes that his more contemporary books has.

The 2011 Tim Powers novel is news to me,his site didnt update for that novel ! Wonderful only 5 years wait beteween 2006 last novel :)
 

clovis-man

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The 2011 Tim Powers novel is news to me,his site didnt update for that novel ! Wonderful only 5 years wait beteween 2006 last novel :)

I'm relying on my usual "authoritative" source, Wikipedia;). The title supposedly will be Blood Between Us: "...new novel, now completed, awaiting publication. A sequel of sorts to The Stress of Her Regard, involving the Rossetti family."
 

JoanDrake

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If I'd compare Powers to anyone it would be Harry Turtledove or S.M. Stirling as what I've read of him are "Secret Histories" in which the secret is that certain supernatural elements are real, and Secret Histories are a variant of Alternate History, I think.

I don't really see any similarity with Tolkien though. Tolkien's stories are great epic fantasies involving whole nations, peoples and races and they purposely have no connection at all with the real world, (excepting perhaps as broad metaphors). Powers is somewhat of a diametric opposite, seeming to do much more intimate fictional character studies of actual people who really existed and setting them in historical reality.
 

clovis-man

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I don't like to summarily pigeon-hole writers, but if you put Powers' most recent work in any category, I'd have to call it either "urban fantasy" or "international intrigue fantasy". Now that's really splitting hairs!:p
 

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