Sunday, March 12, 2017

Review of The Anubis Gates

                                THE ANUBIS GATES

        Brendan Doyle, a poet and historian, joins a jaunt back to the 

        eighteenth century that turns deadly...and permanent


        Author:  Tim Powers (1952-    )


        Subgenre:  Fantasy--historical


        Type of work:  Novel


        Time of plot:  1802, 1983, 1810-1846, and 1684


        Location:  Primarily London, also Cairo


        First published:  1983



        The Plot:  Professor Brendan Doyle is offered a remarkable sum to 

        give a lecture on Samuel Taylor Coleridge...and then to attend an 1810 

        lecture Coleridge gave in London!  The title refers to a set of holes 

        in spacetime, created in 1802 (though Doyle and his employer, J. 

        Cochran Darrow, don't know it) by some worshippers of Anubis; Doyle 

        and his party use one of these holes in 1983 to travel back to 1810.  

             Things start to go wrong as soon as they get to the Crown and 

        Anchor Tavern where Coleridge is supposed to speak:  they have the 

        wrong week!  Fortunately, Coleridge also had the wrong week, and so 

        he gives the lecture anyway.  As they are about to leave, Doyle is 

        kidnapped by a sinister figure.  This is Dr. Romany, head of a band of 

        gypsies, and one of two sorcerors who inadvertently created the 

        Gates in a failed attempt to return the Gods of ancient Egypt, and 

        magic itself, to their former glory.  Romany wants to know why Doyle 

        and his associates are using the Gates, and he takes Doyle to his 

        gypsy camp for torture.  Doyle escapes into the river, and ends up 

        back in London the next morning, having been rescued by onion sellers.  

             Broke and hungry, Doyle is still confident that he'll find work as 

        a writer, but he quickly finds that begging is the only employment he's 

        fit for.  Doyle doesn't know that Romany has enlisted the unsavory 

        beggar and thief guilds let by Horrabin the Clown to look for him.  

        Fortunately, the beggars he's fallen in with don't trust Romany, and 

        help Doyle hide.  Unfortunately, Romany finds him and Doyle is forced 

        to flee, barely escaping with the assistance of a young beggar named 

        Jacky and a gypsy named Damnable Richard.  Doyle is hoping to meet 

        William Ashbless, an American poet Doyle studied back in the 20th 

        century, and get some assistance, financial and otherwise.  Ashbless 

        never shows up where his biography claimed he wrote one of his 

        poems, so Doyle angrily writes the poem from memory.  On his way back 

        to his job of shoveling horse manure he hears someone whistling 

        "Yesterday," by Lennon and McCartney.  Someone else from the 20th 

        century is here in 1810!  

             Romany and Horrabin have discovered that Jacky helped Doyle 

        escape, and Horrabin catches Jacky.  They lock Jacky in an oubliette 

        in the fourth sub-basement, and eerie place that frightens even 

        Horrabin.  Jacky soon discovers why:  it is occupied by horrible 

        creatures, some of which may once have been human.  Horrabin's 

        dwarfed servant Dungy frees Jacky in exchange for a promise to help 

        him kill Horrabin, but she is attacked by some of the denizens of that 

        dark place.  She flees into a magical cave, part of the underground 

        river channel that carries Ra's Boat through the twelve hours of the 


             Doyle finds a way, he thinks, to get back to 1983, which he is 

        still determined to do.  He meets an acquaintance from the 20th 

        century, who shoots what appears to be an ape right in front of 

        Doyle.  Actually, the creature is a cast-off body that had been 

        inhabited by Dog-Faced Joe, who is none other than Romany's former 

        partner, possessed by the demented ghost of Anubis and cursed by 

        Anubis with ever-growing fur.  Joe uses magic to trade bodies when 

        the fur gets ahead of the razor, and poisons the bodies he leaves 

        behind so they can't tell tales.  Joe tries the trick on Doyle, but the 

        latter is more sophisticated than Joe's usual victims, and he eats 

        charcoal, which is the antidote for the strychnine Joe ate before 

        trading bodies.  



        Analysis:  This is, in my opinion, Powers' finest novel to date.  Its 

        fast pacing, one of Powers' hallmarks, never lets up from beginning to 

        end, and marvel is piled on plot twist right up to the last page.  

        Some highlights are further insights into the nature of magic that 

        was first outlined in The Drawing of the Dark, a truly enchanting form 

        of limited time travel, and one of the most bizarre underworlds ever 

        penned.  Powers' theory of magic includes some very engaging twists 

        on old myths.  For instance, the power of a mage's real name 

        presumably derives from its reflection of his inner being.  Thus, when 

        a sorceror undergoes a major personality change, his true name 

        changes as well.  A common theme in Powers' fantasies, as in many 

        fantasies (e.g., Niven's The Magic Goes Away) is the gradual fading of 

        magic.  In Powers' schema, magic fades before the bright light of 

        Christianity.  As the last strongholds of magic-working religions are 

        overwhelmed during the 19th century, magic gradually vanishes.  As 

        part of this process, the universe is actually transformed from a 

        magical world to a scientific one.  For instance, up until 1810, the 

        sun was actually carried by Ra underground in a fabulous boat.  

        However, by the end of the story, the underground channel has 

        hardened into rock, and the sun has become the giant ball of burning 

        gas that it is today.  This is a delightful way to work the paradigm 

        shift, and it is most clearly expressed in this book, although the 

        same basic magical explanation is used in The Drawing of the Dark and 

        On Stranger Tides.  A similar theory underlies the magic in The Stress 

        of her Regard, but in Powers' sixth novel, Last Call, he uses a 

        different paradigm involving the tarot and non-fading magic.  


             Interestingly, the name assumed by Doyle, William Ashbless, is 

        that of a poet invented by Powers some years before he wrote The 

        Anubis Gates.  Because the book is about Powers' imaginary poet, it is 

        tempting to suppose that more effort went into writing this one.  

        Certainly Powers brought the grotesque simile, another of his 

        trademarks, to fantastic heights in this book.  "...his blank smile 

        returning to his face like something dead floating to the surface of a 



             The plot formula of The Anubis Gates is very similar to that of 

        nearly all of his other novels.  The protagonist encounters a problem, 

        struggles against it, gives himself up to drugs and denial when the 

        going gets tough, but pulls himself together for one last try in the 

        nick of time.  As in all of Powers' novels the protagonist has a lost 

        love; in this book, as in Last Call, the lost love is a dead wife.  


             One of the interesting facets of this book is the treatment of 

        immortality.  The Master of Romanelli and Fikee is more than 4,300 

        years old -- and senile.  His two servants, millennia old themselves, 

        continue trudging through the same ruts they seemed to have occupied 

        since they reached adulthood.  Extended life does not bring enhanced 

        wisdom, and one is compelled to pity the doomed sorcerors even while 

        loathing them.  J. Cochran Darrow, the wealthy sponsor of the time 

        trip, has personal immortality as his ultimate goal.  This obsession 

        destroys him in the end, and we are able to pity him too.  


             A sinking-ship metaphor appears several times early in the book; 

        in connection with the Egyptian sorcerors and with Darrow; a 

        foreshadowing of their eventual failure to achieve their aims.  This 

        is linked to William Ashbless by a "quote" from his poetry at the 

        beginning of the book, and to the higher workings of magic by Ra's 

        Boat of Millions of Years.  



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