Book Review | Last Call, by Tim Powers
If you’ve ever studied most of the world’s religions, even as just a passing hobby, you’ll find many similarities among them.
So many in fact that, if you’ve ever studied psychology, you know that a wild collective unconscious appears, referencing all of these archetypes, ideologies, and mythological commonalities. We’ve meta-ed out as our world has contracted through globalization and now what was once sacred is now ours to dabble and create in, and it’s a pretty joyous thing.
Some people have been paying enough attention to embrace that and run with it in the form of the written word, and thankfully Tim Powers is one of those such authors.
He’s written many books, and “Last Call is the first in the Fault Lines trilogy and has won the Locus Fantasy AND World Fantasy Awards. Last Call is set in the relatively recent past in Las Vegas (mostly) and is an absolute love letter for those of us who are history and myth nerds. It really is a fantasy novel when it gets down to it, of course, but it reads exactly like a thriller. I found myself gasping aloud several times and while Last Call never gets excessively gory, it is certainly not lacking in blood and guns.
This novel calls up a love affair that I have with another series that I swear by, but frankly have not managed to finish (yet). I have been begging, and begging, and begging my fiance to read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series – which thanks to his workload, my imploring has gotten us just barely down the audiobook route, which has met a swift dead end. Before I joined Imaginary Book Club, we had done an identical thing with Last Call, beginning to listen to the audiobook together, with me quickly reading past once I started reading in earnest, in preparation for this review.
Once I got a little further I was shocked at some of the similarities between Dark Tower and Last Call, although both are entirely original in tone, content, and style.
I think my fiance will find the same in reverse if he ever manages to get any further with the Dark Tower series. Stephen King’s writing is like an incredible French bread. It is deliciously addictive, it is rightfully universally acknowledged as masterful, and yet eventually my jaw just becomes too tired to continue chewing it. I have to put it away in order to come back to it the next day. His writing is so dense that it might not be the next day, it might be a few days, even a few weeks. Sometimes it has been a few months. Right now we’re going on a few years. Perhaps this is a conviction of me as a reader, and I think Stephen King’s most devoted fans would say as much. It’s a criticism I accept because it is my experience, whether or not it’s right or wrong. We’ve veered off the path here but it’s because there’s a viewpoint I want to show you, which is that if you’ve had a similar experience to the Dark Tower series as what I have just described, it’s time for you to try out Tim Powers.
There is the same depth and breadth and pure magic in Tim Powers’ writing that you find in Mr. King’s, but I personally found it a much more enjoyable read.
It’s an easier read, and I’ll let other people debate about the merits, or detriments, of an “easier” read. For me, in this case especially, easier did translate to more enjoyable. It doesn’t mean more simplified, just something that reads at a more natural pace. Both series have poker references and further and deeper Tarot references. Both rely heavily on archetypes and down-and-out types. Both have prominent, (probably white), male characters with addiction issues. So far in comparison the Dark Tower series is more diverse as far as featured characters are concerned.
Aaaaand back to our main focus, now that I’ve visited the comparison that I could not get out of my head…
Last Call does not pull any punches. It draws you in through constant hints.
You will always feel like you’re seeing just part of the story, especially when you feel like you’ve settled in and are following everything along pretty nicely. The author then drops another hint that let’s you know with no doubt you have no idea yet the vastness of scope in which you are peeping at through a keyhole.
There is always something on the verge of collapsing, drawing together, or blowing up entirely, that threads that “thriller” feel throughout this fantasy novel.
Mr. Powers is pretty good at punching you in the gut when you’re not expecting it. After you start expecting punches in the gut he continues to manage to do it when you’re not expecting it, even though you totally thought you were expecting it this time.
The author lays it on thick but leaves you starving for more.
This book is an intellectual read, in a single page he easily references both Samarkand and Kirlian photography techniques, just as an example, but even if you have to look those things up they never feel heavy-handed, just simply hinting at illustrative power. More hints, as always, at the absolute universal wealth in which Tim Powers draws from – the dearest and most intriguing wealth of our collective unconscious.
I will say I have always had a pretty casual interest in Las Vegas. Seems kind of fun but not the height of my favorite types of fun. After reading this book I now want to stay at and play at the hotels and casinos referenced because I will take such joy participating in this invented mythology that is a creative masterminded blending of all previously occurring mythologies. Las Vegas is Disney for adults and yet it’s now a personal variation on the fandom of “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter”.
Its no tourist brochure and yet, because of this book, Las Vegas has become an accidental display to me of the constant phantasmagoriacal euphemisms with which this book was built.
A single book has brought more value to such a rich place than the place managed to bring forth for itself. I look forward to reviewing the second book in this series in the future and I strongly urge you to get started with this one, if any of this sounds even the slightest bit interesting to you.
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