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Bookends: The Future is never quite what you think it might be February 18, 2015

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Bookends: The Future is never quite what you think it might be3 days to never

By Dan Davidson

October 1, 2014

– 893 words –

 

 

By Tim Powers

Harper Publishing

405 pages

$10.95

 

During an interview with fellow science fiction and fantasy writer John Shirley, in the online science fiction ‘zine Emerald City, Tim Powers discussed his method of creating a novel.

“What I do first is find some real-world situation or activity or person that looks as if a story could be hung on it.

“In other words, I don’t come up with a story and then do research for it; I do the research to find out what the eventual story might consist of. It’s easier that way.

Three Days to Never started when I read that Albert Einstein went to a séance with Charlie Chaplin, in California in the 1930’s.”

He went on to read everything he could lay his hands on about both of those men, along with a lot of peripheral material that popped up like hot-links along the way. Then, looking at the mass of research he had compiled, he had to decide what he could actually use and what he would have to leave out.

He found that he could hang a tale on some of his research, one that involves Jewish mysticism, the Mossad, remote viewing, time travel, out of body experiences and alternate time streams.

We begin with the aftermath of an experiment in teleportation, although just how that happened doesn’t become clear for some time. We know the old lady appeared in the midst of a group of aging hippies, that she needed immediate medical attention, and that the mechanism involved a swastika shaped framework made of gold wire.

From there we move into a novel in three acts, prefaced by quotations from Shakespeare and the Old Testament.

Frank Marrity and his daughter, Daphne, have lately found themselves sharing thoughts and impressions for no reason that they can explain. In addition, Daphne seems to have suddenly acquired a growing telekinetic ability. And since telekinesis involves moving things both large and small, she has occasionally managed to set things on fire (by friction, one assumes) when she is agitated or frightened. Events surrounding the death of her grandmother – the old lady in the prologue – will lead her to be frightened a number of times as the story unfolds.

Actually, I should say, as the strands of the story weave together, for there are several casts interacting here. Along with Frank and Daphne there are Frank’s sister and her somewhat devious husband. Joining the family group is a man who says he is Frank and Moira’s father, who has been missing since 1955. The story is set in 1987, so it’s been a good long time and the brother and sister are not at all sure what to make of him, but he looks so much like Frank that it’s hard to doubt him. There’s a reason for that.

There’s a group of former Israeli agents who are now working for some sort of covert black ops organization that wants to obtain whatever it was that Frank’s grandfather, who turns out to have been Albert Einstein, managed to cobble together as a sort of time machine. It has a lot of strange parts, including Charlie Chaplin’s sidewalk square from Hollywood, and a videotape that causes Daphne to set her room on fire.

There’s also a group of actual Mossad agents, who have pretty much the same assignment, and are aware of the covert group.

We spend time with both groups, and share the viewpoints of certain key members in each organization. Along the way we even find out what happened to Frank’s father, and where he came from in the first place. There’s more than one explanation, as it turns out.

One of the most interesting characters in the book is Charlotte, a blind sensitive who can only see by using other people’s sight when they are in fairly close proximity to her. She is a complicated character, but then, many of the characters in this book are quite complex.

While Powers maintains in that interview that his main objective is to “provide a plausible-but-outlandish adventure story”, he goes on to say that his method involves having realistic characters with real issues.

“Of course to make the reader ‘believe’ it’s all really happening, you want to have interesting characters who are confronted with problems worth taking seriously…”

So almost all of the characters in this book are conflicted about their missions and what they are prepared to do to work things out the way they think they ought to happen. This comes to a head when both of the Israeli groups conclude that since Daphne burned up the essential video tape it might be necessary either to kill the young girl before she did that or use another tangential effect of the process to make it so that she never existed at all.

How this conundrum is resolved and how some people who die at least once manage to survive to the end of the story are things I will leave you to find out. It’s probably be seven or eight years since I last read a novel by Powers, but this one certainly has me interested in looking for some more work.

 

-30-

 

 

 

 

 

 

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