[Book Review] Baen Books: ‘Down and Out in Purgatory’ by Tim Powers

Down and Out in Purgatory
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A complete palette of story-telling colors from Powers, including acclaimed tale “The Bible Repairman,” where a psychic handyman who supernaturally eliminates troublesome passages of the Bible for paying clients finds the remains of his own broken soul on the line when tasked with rescuing the kidnapped ghost of a rich man’s daughter. Time travel takes a savage twist in “Salvage and Demolition,” where the chance discovery of a long-lost manuscript throws a down-and-out book collector back in time to 1950s San Francisco where he must prevent an ancient Sumeric inscription from dooming millions in the future. Humor and horror mix in “Sufficient unto the Day,” when a raucous Thanksgiving feast takes a dark turn as the invited ghosts of relatives past accidentally draw soul-stealing demons into the family television set. And obsession and vengeance survive on the other side of death in “Down and Out in Purgatory,” where the soul of a man lusting for revenge attempts to eternally eliminate the killer who murdered the love of his life. Wide-ranging, wonder-inducing, mind-bending—these and other tales make up the complete shorter works of a modern-day master of science fiction and fantasy.

Down and Out in Purgatory by Tim Powers
Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories of Tim Powers is a collection of twenty tales of dark science fiction and fantasy from Tim Powers Many of these stories have been previously published in other collection or on their own. So, if you are a Tim Powers fan, this is not a book I would recommend as you’ve probably read all of the stories.

Time travel is the theme in many of these stories, the other predominant theme is ghosts. Most of his stories have a heavier feeling to them. Even though these are shorter stories, I would not consider this a light or easy read. Tim Powers has a unique way of looking at things and his writing style falls between Sci-Fi Horror and Dark Mystery.

His concepts for many of the stories are intriguing, but in several of them the story itself falls flat as you don’t have enough time to fully immerse yourself in the world he is portraying. However, they do give you a look into what his novels will have in store for you.

‘Salvage and Demolition’ is a great well-written, self-contained story. It is about a gentleman who finds himself in a “circle of discontinuity,” a spiraling and crossing timeline that leads from the present day to the 1957 San Francisco. It’s a great mix of time travel and ancient Gods.

‘Appointment on Sunset’ is another intriguing  short-story that asks the question, “If you go back in time, can you change the present?” It’s a good theory, and I love the premise, but the story itself needed some more depth.

When reading a book such as this, keep in mind that short stories are frequently just ideas, or sideline stories the author had along the way to writing their novels. They don’t always have enough strength to stand on their own, and sometimes they just don’t quite fit with the originally intended storyline.  If the idea is strong enough they may later get fleshed out, but in the meantime they make a great collection of shorts that gives people a sample of an author’s style.

These may not be Tim Powers best stories, but some of them are good, some intriguing, a few I just skimmed through. It’s a good introduction for anyone who hasn’t read his previous books.

I give this four stars.

PopCultHQ Rating - 4 Stars
PopCultHQ Rating – 4 Stars

Written by: Tim Powers
Cover Art by Adam Burn
Published by Baen Books

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1 = We finished the book with effort

2 = Readable, but more fluff than substance

3 = Good

4 = Pretty Good and worth passing on to your friends

5 = We couldn’t put the book down