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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late, Late Review: Strange Itineraries

5th Feb, 2024

Author: Peter Tennant

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Another blast from the past with Strange Itineraries, which was published by Tachyon back in 2006 and read by me in the same year, making notes so that I could cobble together a review of sorts some eighteen years later. I am nothing if not forward planning. At the time of reading it was my eighth book by Tim Powers, but the first collection of his short stories, though I've since read a second collection (The Bible Repairman and Other Stories, the review for which was posted to this website on 6 September last year - see link below). The collection contains nine stories, three of which are co-written with James P. Blaylock. Copies are still available on Amazon, at prohibitive prices unless purchased second-hand, though canny shoppers would do well to seek out Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories of Tim Powers, which contains all the stories that previously appeared in the two collections mentioned here, plus one or two more.

Opening story "Itinerary" is set in a strange future California where time shifts take place and a man can communicate with his past self, a clever and beautifully written story. "The Way Down the Hill" is one of the most engaging stories, reminiscent of Bradbury's Family in its depiction of a group of immortals, shifting from body to body, and getting together for their five yearly meet, but harder edged and addressing moral issues in the power struggle that takes place. "Pat Moore" must outwit a ghost with the same name trying to take control of his body, and he does so with the aid of his dead wife in a typical Powers' story, one with the hint of magic working behind the scenes and some striking set pieces.

In "Fifty Cents", the first Blaylock collaboration, time is bent back on itself and a man is given warnings of his own impending death, which of course he can't actually dodge; another clever story with the text seeded with hints of what is really taking place that are only apparent to the reader. "Through and Through" gives the dilemma of a reforming priest who is asked to confess a ghost, the story touching on issues of faith and morality, capturing perfectly the self-doubt of its protagonist. Another Blaylock collaboration, "We Traverse Afar" is a beautifully wrought depiction of a man in mourning and the curious events that, one Christmas, lead him to connect with the world once more.

"Where They Are Hid" is a tour de force of knotty invention as the plot turns and twists back on itself, the story of a man discovering not only that he has the ability to move through time but that the twin he thought long dead is in fact alive and using this ability to manipulate reality, only reality is now beginning to compensate for this meddling. It's a lovely tale, clever and engaging, challenging the reader to add up the pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle. "The Better Boy", the final Blaylock collaboration, is the only story that disappointed me, one in which oddity is piled atop oddity in lieu of narrative direction, the character study of an oddball inventor defending his prize tomato from worms. Finally in "Night Moves" a man seeks the parents who abandoned him as a child, their meeting brought about by the imaginary friend of his childhood, but there is a mystery at the heart of this story and the ability to manipulate dreams, making it perhaps the most overtly chilling in the book, shot through with so many touches of detail and invention.

If you haven't as yet encountered Tim Powers' work, then this volume is a great entry point (but Purgatory even more so). Dip a toe in the waters of his oeuvre. I don't think you'll be disappointed.




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