Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

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What a strange book. I mean, really, really strange. It's just such a weird mishmash of science fiction and fantasy and the just plain odd. We read it in my online SF group, and there's a good question here as to whether it's even science fiction. There's time travel, which would put it under that rubric, but also ancient Egyptian magicians (ooh, a new tongue twister!). And the time travel itself, now that I think about it, may not be scientific in nature. There's the suggestion that it might be magical as well.

Ah well, we read it, too late now to quibble about whether or not we should have. This book stars Brendan Doyle, a 20th century academic who dissertated on Coleridge, and is now working on a life of an obscure English poet, William Ashbless. So, when an eccentric millionaire gives him the opportunity to travel to Victorian England and see Coleridge speak at an inn, and pays him a lot to do so, Doyle jumps at the opportunity.

Of course, when his party goes through, they end up next to a gypsy camp, the members of whom are working for one of the aforementioned Egyptian magicians (no, seriously, I love those two words together). Doyle gets delayed and doesn't make it back through the timehole in time.

So from there, it's a romp including a werewolf who switches bodies, a court of hideously deformed beggars, a woman disguised as a man, more Egyptian magic, and...just a lot of weird stuff. Oh, wait! And Lord Byron. And Coleridge. And William Ashbless?

It's entertaining, that's for sure. There is everything in here but the proverbial kitchen sink, and it mostly hangs together. I mean, you'd be expecting ancient Egyptian magicians to be trying to overthrow the British empire to reassert Egyptian supremacy in the world. 

It's easy to get whiplash, trying to identify all the references and ideas that go whizzing past your head. It's a bit of a tiring book to read. Still, it is entertaining, even if half the fascination is wondering how the hell Powers is going to tie all these disparate strands together.

They are woven together satisfactorily, if a little too neatly. It's a shame that there were so many people-replicas wandering around that I'd forgotten about that one, and I shan't say anything more about that. 

What else do I have to say about this book? It feels like a short review, but once I've written that it's a little nuts, I'm not sure what else to say. It's entertaining and enjoyable, particularly if you enjoy Victoriana occultism, which a number of my friends do. 

Oh! One quibble - it's disappointing that Jacky disappears for so much of the middle section of the book, given how pivotal she is to the overall story. 

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