Anubis Gates, The by Powers, Tim, 1983

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The Anubis Gates is one of the few books I have read more times than Dune. Most people look at me weirdly when I say things like that. "How could you read a book more than once, anyway?" is the usual question on their lips, or at least in their heads. Well, if its that good, and it delivers each time, why not? And Powers really delivers in this book. Its been credited by NESFA as being the first steampunk novel ever (although K. W. Jeeter disputes that claim, and I'd be sure that Shelly, Wells and Verne may dispute that too, even though steam was actually the technology d'jure during their careers). But the reality is that this book is pretty surely a fantasy novel, with very small aspects of SF in it. Whatever you think of its genre categorization, I give this a strong and well earned five out of five stars.

The Anubis Gates does not depict a world anywhere near as socially complex as Dune, but the plot and characters really do give you a run for your money. There are at least seven separate story lines running through this book, each one of them wound pretty tightly with the others. I suppose at its heart its the story of one old man in his quest to live forever, but I only say that because its the sub-plot dealt with first and almost last in the book. But here is what is really going on: There is in Cairo a coven of sorcerers who have been alive since the time of the Old Gods Ra, Set, Anubis, etc. Since those gods have moved on, the sorcerer's power in the world politically and their abilities to work magic have been declining to a point today where they can do practically nothing right. The Master of this coven comes up with a plan to drive the French and the English out of Egypt and to bring back an interest in the Old Gods, which will bring back to them the power they crave. Their master plan is to use the French to drive the English out of Egypt, the French being much easier to control. After the failure of one plan in 1802 The Master sends his Roma sorcerer, Amenophis Fikee, to England to cast a particularly difficult spell which will raise Anubis from the land of the dead and unleash him on the unsuspecting Brits. Well, the spell goes horribly awry, and instead of raising Anubis, Fikee raises a shade of Anubis, a body-jumping lycantherope that comes to be known as Dog-Faced Joe. He also punches "holes" in time from the 16th century all the way to the 24th. The holes are found by a Bill Gates type billionaire in 1983 named Darrow. Darrow is dying of cancer, and has turned to the occult as a way to treat his disease. In his researches he learns of Dog Faced Joe, who apparently has the ability to switch his consciousness from one body to another, and has the curse of hyperpiliosity, which causes him to grow hair from every square millimeter of his body (thus the need for a change every week or so, and thus the moniker). Darrow, with gobs of money from his company and loads of researchers, invents a way to access the spells needed to navigate the holes using science, and plans to go back in time and convince Dog Faced Joe into giving him a new body. However, Darrow is running out of money. The Board wants to cut him off because his redirection of corporate assets for an occult program is destroying the good will of the business. This leaves him too broke to continue and actually travel back in time, so he recruits Brenday Doyle to help. Darrow has learned of an unknown public speech by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1810. Doyle is a semi-successful Coleridge biographer who would jump at a chance to publish something new about Coleridge , so Darrow recruits him to serve as an "expert" to 10 filthy-rich intelligentsia who pay one million dollars each to travel back in a group to hear Collerige, thus funding Darrow's project to go back later for his own personal reasons. After the group jumps back to 1810 another sorcerer compatriot of Fikee named Doctor Romany, who has learned that someone outside their coven knows how to use the holes, captures Doyle to try to interrogate him about the holes. The sorcerers know they exist, but virtually nothing else about them. Doyle is carted off to be tortured while the rest of his party blinks back to 1983. Doyle escapes but encounters a host of problems. Romany hunts him with his sidekick Horrabin the Clown a low level sorcerer in the employ of Romany and who runs two groups called the Begger Lords and the Thief Lords. He is as ruthless and disgusting as they come. He is also hunted by Darrow, who has jumped back to 1810 and wants to kill him because he knows too much about Darrow's affairs. Doyle's problems only get worse from there. He met up with Dog Faced Joe; Horrabin sent assassins after him; he got caught up in another time travel adventure to 1668; Horrabin poisons him, sets him on fire, shoots an ear off, stabs him through the foot, has him kidnapped and hog tied, sends him to Egypt where he is shot, stabbed and tortured again; He got him beat up more times than I could ever count.

Another of Powers' abilities is to draw rich, interesting and funny characters. For example, Damnable Richard, was one of Romany's Roma assistants who carried a wooden monkey around in his pocket and treated it like it was alive. Damnable Richard was uneducated and brutal, but had a good and kind, if highly superstitious, head on his shoulders. Then there is Jacky Tichy, a young woman whose fiancee was murdered by Dog Faced Joe and who has sworn revenge, and who has adopted 5 or 6 male alter-egos (including Jack Split, Ahmed the Hindoo beggar, and a few other colorful ones including a prostitute) so she can walk around 19th century London as she wishes while she hunts for her quarry. Horrabin the clown, master of the Beggar Lords, an organization started by his father, Teobaldo. Teobaldo mutilated Horrabin's appearance to make him a better beggar, as he did to most of his beggars, and when Horrabin grew up and overpowered Teobaldo, he did the same to him, then turned him into Dungy the serving dwarf, and made him dress up as a woman and dance for the Lords at night. There are also a host of other surgical "mistakes" that live in the catacombs below the Beggar and Thief Lords lair who haunt whomever descends. A facsimile copy of Lord Byron, made by and conditioned by the sorcerer Romany and Horrabin to speak sedition and turn the people against King Charles, and then to assassinate the King, but who broke his conditioning and sided with Doyle before being murdered. The real Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wanders the catacombs stoned out of his gourd on laudanum and who thinks that the mistakes are figments of his own Id. The Spoon Sized Guys, homunculi made by Horrabin, who were between 1" and 4" tall, who helped Horrabin run his Punch-N-Judy puppet show which he used to recruit new beggars, who also snuck into the Royal Treasury and stole gold one piece at a time, and who poisoned people for Horrabin. Dr Romany, him self a copy (ka) of Dr. Romanelli, the real sorcerer, and who gets trapped back in 1668 and has to live to 1810 so his plan can come together. All the sorcerers for that matter, who have made a pact with evil and were forced to renounce contact with the good Earth, and who are now required to walk around on big soled shoes, stilts, or spring shoes.

Perhaps the most interesting character is William Ashbless. Ashbless is a creation of Powers and his college room mate James Blaylock (another fine fantasy/SF author). Powers and Blaylock were both English and Literature majors at Cal State Fullerton. They became disgusted with the quality of student written poetry published in the student news paper, so they dreamed up the pseudonym of William Ashbless and submitted what most say are some damn fine poems to the journal while at school. A few years after graduation Powers wrote this book while Blaylock contemporaneously wrote his masterpiece, The Digging Leviathan. Both used Ashbless as a main character without informing the other, and both submitted their finished manuscripts at the same time to the same agent without knowing. The agent called each and told them to get their stories straight, and now we have these two books, plus a book of poetry by Ashbless, a chapbook called On Pirates (that contains one of my favorite titles ever, Slouching Towards Mauritius) and The William Ashbless Memorial Cookbook (which currently fetches over $150 per copy on eBay). Ashbless has also turned up in other of Power's books, and is given credit for poems (great ones at that) that serve as chapter epigrams in The Drawing of the Dark, Last Call and Earthquake Weather, all by Powers. I think Blaylock uses him the same way in his books.

One other quality of Powers' writing I particularly admire is the humor he puts into it all. Ive never met the man, but I get the feeling that he has a Jack Sparrow quality about him. In this example. Romanelli has come to England from Greece where he was torturing the real Lord Byron because Romany has disappeared and failed with the fake Lord Byron Plot. Romany was to have the fake Byron speak seditiously and anger the common folk, then when he was called to the king he was to assassinate him. At the same time Horrabin had the spoon size guys stealing real gold from the treasure and replacing it with fakes. As soon as the king was killed, they were going to have spies in the treasure announce the discovery of the fakes. The notion was that panic would ensue, and the French would be in London within three months. When Doyle broke the fake Byron's conditioning, Romany tried something else. Romany had conjured some fire elemental to lay waste to London (a plan they had already tried in 1666) but the elementals had run out of control and merely burned up what appears to be the future greens of Hyde Park. Right after that Romany escaped to 1668 so he could warn Fikee of all the failures throughout the years, including the plot that they were working in 1668 to kill the king and replace him with their buffoon, the Duke of Monmouth). Romany never returned from the 17th century, so Romanelli came to England to finish the job Romany started. Romanelli sent ten big men after Doyle, now in the body of a Nordic looking giant, Steerforth Benner, after an encounter with Dog Faced Joe. Benner and the fake Byron, who died in the encounter, did a number on several of the men before they were overcome. Romanelli chastised the men for making such a ruckus while overpowering Doyle and killing the fake Byron.

"You've caused such a pandemonium that I shall have to set a radiating disorientation spell to confuse the pursuit you've certainly roused!"

"Whats a pandemonium?" whispered one of the men in the rear.

"It's like a calliope," answered a companion. "I heard one played at the Harmony Fair last summer, when I went there to see my sister's boy play his organ."

"His what?"

"His organ."

"Lord, people pay money to see things like that?"

Another good quote takes place when Doyle was begging for Captain Jack, the good Beggar Captain, and who ran the group that fought Horrabin for the good places to beg. Doyle had been in London for about a week and was really starting to get sick. Incidentally, the ONLY thing that Doyle is good at.

He crossed two narrow streets and followed his alley through one more block and then found himself on the brightly lamp lit sidewalk of the Strand, only a few blocks east of the Crown and Anchor. All the running had started him coughing again, and he made a shilling and fourpence from the awed passersby before he got it under control.

There really is nothing that this book touches that it does not succeed at. Powers really is an excellent, seasoned writer with great ideas. He is one of my favorite authors, and I will read anything that I find by him. Other great books by Powers include The Dinner at Deviant's Palace (post apocalyptic), Declare (a fantasy about what happened to the British double agent Kim Philby, who also helped set up the CIA after WWII, after he left MI-6 for Moscow, with lots of back story about Philby's cast of characters),Expiration Date (a very odd and very enjoyable ghost story), Last Call (a fantasy that centers around the notion that luck is tangible and an asset that can be accumulated), and The Drawing of the Dark (a King Arthur/Fisher King fantasy/myth that takes place in Austria in the time of Islamic ascendancy during the Crusades), and many others. Powers also seems to greatly understand the economics of being a relatively unknown fantasy writer, and seems to specialize at producing high-quality, limited run, signed chapbooks and novellas. Give him a shot if you have not before. Even those of you who generally stay away from fantasy should enjoy his stories.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 5 star(s)


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