Saturday, November 17, 2007

Expiration Date

Expiration Date
Tim Powers

I don't usually go for science fiction as a genre, and this novel was billed as science fiction to me - so perhaps I opened the book already predisposed to be skeptical. It started out slow, confusing and trippy, with long, curling passages lovingly describing each crumpled wrapper lining the filthy L.A. streets of the early 1990s. Every street corner is analyzed and studied, every bodega, botanika and tacqueria this side of the border was greeted by name - to the detriment of the plot, in my opinion. Though one could argue that the city of Los Angeles IS a central character in this multi-faceted novel.

So. Basically, the book's about ghosts, the people who love them and the people them. It's also about Thomas Alva Edison. And Harry Houdini. And a kid named Koot Hootie Parganas who is being raised to be the next great spiritual leader, much to his chagrin. It's also about, in no particular order: an itinerant engineer; a psychiatrist / medium who is running from her past; a strangely old (and strangely disturbing) director; a couple of sleazy, unpleasant lawyers; a REALLY creepy one-armed man who wants to kill Kootie and eat the ghost trapped inside him; and....a whole bunch of miscellaneous spectral extras, including an animate, evil brown paper bag wearing a baseball cap.

Tripped out yet? Me, too, and I finished the book.

It got better, but it took nearly half the bloody thing for me to get fully engaged in the characters, to start caring what was happening to them (though I did care about Kootie right away. It's hard not to like the scrappy eleven-year-old). Tim Powers' writing is excellent - challenging and lyrical, yet capturing the grit and squalor and gilded plastic luxury of the City of Angels beautifully. When he starts getting all the characters in the same room (instead of wandering around different parts of the city, not knowing that they're looking for each other), it gets MUCH better.

I'm not sure if I'll read another Tim Powers novel, but this one was worth the read - but only after slogging through the first 100 pages.