He’s won the World Fantasy Award, the British Science-Fiction Society Award, and other awards with the word “fantasy” in them. But if you aren’t a loyal reader of those kinds of books, you might not know who he is.
But you really should!
Tim Powers, author of 14 acclaimed novels and dozens of short stories, is shelved in the science-fiction and fantasy aisles, yet he writes inventive secret histories that would make Dan Brown fans salivate, political thrillers that would slot right in next to John le Carré, and thrillers that out-Koontz Dean Koontz (who has called him “a hurricane blowing away the stale postmodern sensibility of most fiction.”).
If you can’t already tell, Powers isn’t one to stick to a certain genre, and though all of his books are all worth reading, it’s nice to have an idea where to start. Here’s a handy primer so you can figure out which Powers novel will float your boat.
1) If you like Dean Koontz’s Lightning, read Three Days to Never: A pastiche of WWII secret history, the occult, and sci-fi conceits like time travel, and featuring appearances by Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin, this is the Tim Powers version of a techno-thriller. It reminds me of some of Koontz’s early books, like Watchers and Lightning, when he was more focused on government conspiracies and technology run amok than on wobbly spirituality.
2) If you like spy thrillers by John le Carré and Tom Clancy, read Declare: Another secret history, Declare follows a British spy investigating Soviet attempts to harness the supernatural power of strange beings living on Mount Ararat. Blending real-life events with fantastical elements and plenty of spy vs. spy action, this is a sure bet for thriller fans who don’t mind a little Indiana Jones-style zaniness along the way.
3) If you like Anne Rice’s vampire novels, read The Stress of Her Regard: Anne Rice redefined vampires with her landmark series, and Powers weaves the same air of romanticism and history into this novel, which imagines that real-life writers John Keats, Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and others have run up against supernatural vampiric creatures called nephilim, who are revealed to have influenced both the lives of the writers (so that’s why Byron was so moody!) and major political events of the 19th century. If you like it, you’ll be thrilled to learn that there’s a sequel of sorts: last year’s Hide Me Among the Graves (which, if nothing else, wins for best book title of 2012).
4) If you like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, read Last Call: Literary superstar Neil Gaiman made his mark with American Gods, which imagines ancient gods living in modern America. Last Call likewise explores the impact these unknown powers have on our modern world, but wraps it up in an intriguing story about magic tarot cards, body-swapping immortal spirits, and predestined love. It’s also a fantastic history of Las Vegas and features guest appearances by a few notorious faces from Sin City’s past (I guarantee you’ll never watch the movie Bugsy again without thinking of this book).
5) If you like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, read On Stranger Tides: OK, so it isn’t really a book, but if you’ve seen any of the movies in the Pirates of the Caribbean series starring Johnny Depp (and judging by the $3 billion in box office, you have), you probably had no idea you were basically watching an adaptation of Powers’ 1987 supernatural swashbuckler On Stranger Tides. Disney pretended the plot points about cursed treasure and zombie pirates were just a coincidence until the fourth film, when they finally optioned the rights to both the book’s name and the plotline about a search for the Fountain of Youth.
Which author do you think deserves more readers? Tell us in the comments!