Sunday, March 17, 2013

Historical Fantasy and Hard SF

Stories Read:
"A Time to Cast Away Stones" by Tim Powers
"Luminous" by Greg Egan

Where does the time go? I've got two long stories today, both excellent, and I'm partway into a third that I'll keep for next week. I'm also nearly finished with a second read of Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, also excellent!

I'm a big fan of Tim Powers, and I feel lucky to have so much more of his work to read. I loved On Stranger Tides, Declare, and most of his short stories that I've read. The inspiration for his work is often historical, to which he adds a supernatural twist. In the introduction to this novella in his The Bible Repairman collection, he writes:
Sometimes it's one of the supporting-role characters that stays with you. In the lurid sagas of Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey, the tangential figure of Neal Cassady is ultimately the most memorable for me. And in the lives of Byron and Shelley, and then fifty years later the lives of the Rossetti family and the Pre-Raphaelites, it's the enduring figure of Edward John Trelawny that lingers most in my mind.

Powers goes on to say that Trelawny wrote an autobiography (Adventures of a Younger Son), which "for more than a hundred years was taken as factual and has only recently been revealed to be entirely a romantic fiction". Fascinating!

I know nothing of Trelawny, and only a bit about Shelley and Byron. Like most of Tim Powers' fiction, this is not a quick read, which is perfectly okay with me. It was a fantastic and magical romp around Mount Parnassus with very cool magic, some of which required one of Byron's toes. My favorite line:
His face went cold when he abruptly remembered that Zela had never existed outside his stories.

Greg Egan's "Luminous" is a different kind of story entirely. It opens with a scene that epitomizes cyperpunk - a man wakes up to find himself handcuffed in an uncomfortable position while a woman with a scalpel is cutting into his arm in an attempt to remove a chip that holds some powerful information.

"Powerful" isn't strong enough a word for that data, which is nothing less than the discovery of a flaw in the mathematical universe, which, in the wrong hands, could cause mayhem of "end of the universe" proportions. The rest of the story is fascinating in it's mathematical details which are expertly revealed as the protagonists avoid capture and attempt to get time on a supercomputer. I have a favorite line here too:
In spite of everything, I still wasn't ready to put a bullet in anyone's brain for the sake of defending the axioms of number theory.

Historical Fantasy and Hard Science Fiction. Heaven will be full of both those things.

Next up: "Betrayals" by Ursula K. Le Guin


  1. I love the Powers quotation. I thought out of context it would make sense as an F. Scott Fitzgerald kind of thing. I also completely agree with him, I enjoyed Neal Cassady the most in On the Road.

  2. I would probably agree with you if I had read those things. :) Now I want to look into Byron and Shelley, so Kerouac and Kesey will have to wait.


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