Powers: Secret Histories a bibliographical cornucopia
by John Berlyne
Review by Gayle Surrette
PS Publishing ISBN/ITEM#: 9781848630130
Date: March 2009
Links: PS Publishing / Show Official Info /
The book is several sections. Section A is a bibliography of Powers' novels from The Skies Discrowned to Three Days to Never. Each novel is listed by title and then where it was published, which publishing house, the date of publication, price, ISBN, who did the cover art, and the number of pages. Some entries have extra information. There's also a image of each cover. Berlyne did a great job of getting as many of the covers as possible for each edition of a novel. Prior to each book is a short introduction by Powers talking about the book and how it came to be written. I found this section fascinating, especially for the introduction by Powers, but the short notes on the various editions of a novel were interesting as well as the subtle variations in the covers from publisher to publisher and from country to country.
Section B lists Powers' novella, short stories and other works. Again there is an incredible amount of detail. There's short introductions to some of the works by Powers and then each story is listed with the name of the story, where it was published, co-authors are listed, the cover image of the magazine or book it was published in, and short notes about any special information about the story or its publication. This section also covers publications in non-English venues as well as limited edition publications and chapbooks.
Section C is about William Ashbless and selected sightings. This section talks about Ashbless and how he began and took on a life of his own, showing up in works by Powers and James Blaylock. It show how a writer's character can take on a life of its own. There's also a refutation of this section by Ashbless. There's also a list of stories, essays, and other material that was published under Ashbless's name.
Then we get to the Appendix of the book. I'm not much on bibliographic listings and while I found them interesting enough in themselves to read through every page and examine the cover photos, for me the Appendix is where you finally get to look behind the curtain at how writers work, how they think, and how they bring their works to fruition.
There a section on his Juvenilia--works he wrote as a youngster and in high school, along with some of his sketches and drawings, even a note from a teacher about his work. There's a mix of material: short stories, poetry, and cartoons, with notes and explanations.
Then we get to the real meat. The novels with short pieces by Powers about each novel and how it got started and the process as it proceeded from idea to written final copy. There's the prologue and first chapters of To Serve in Hell which was never published, but parts of it were used in The Anubis Gate that was published. I found even in this, one of his early works, there's the weird twists and unexpected incidents that are so prevalent in his later works.
This is followed by a short piece by China Miéville about "Why the Anubis Gates Shouldn't Exist" and the outline for The Anubis Gates. And so it goes for Dinner at Deviant's Palace, On Stranger Tides, The Stress of Her Regard, Last Call, Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather, Declare, and Three Days to Never. All of this along with time lines, side notes, character sketches, authors notes and annotations.
Heck, it just can't get any better than this -- to actually see the beginning and then be able to go to your bookshelf and read the end product. And I didn't even mention that all the cover images are in full color and some of the special end papers are used as backdrops to the cover images. This is a book that was put together with a lot care and thought about what collectors and fans would want to know.
If you're a collector, you just can't let this book get by you. You'll need to own a copy in order to be a completist. For fans, there's the joy of learning more about the work and play that go into making the books you enjoy reading. Me? Well after reading this book, I went out and bought several of the Tim Powers' novels that I didn't already have. Now I just have to figure out how to fit them into my reading schedule.