Monday, July 31, 2006

You like us, you really, really like us...sniff!

Ok, So I'm quoting Sally Fields; inspiration comes from the strangest places.

We've had a flurry of sales in the past week, after an online silence of two weeks. We're hoping things pick up steadily; 7 orders in 4 days is excellent, and it would be great to keep up that pace.

What's interesting is that we have a small selection of used books (just over 500), but the sales to inventory ratio is very high. It indicates that our careful scouting for used sf & f is paying off, and we are tracking down titles people want, which is nice. We are also offering to scout for customers who don't have the time or the resources to find that long-sought after novel. Sure, there's the internet and bookfinder and all that, but believe me when I say that only about 30% of all used bookstores in this country are online. The rest are still mysterious, and dusty, and haphazardly stacked, and full of potential treasures.

I'm looking forward to getting more commissions for odd sf & f; It'd be like being a private eye...

So Fantastic Planet moves ever closer to being a full capacity store. We're close to opening accounts with Ingram and Baker & Taylor, and there's a friendly secure server/database admin company that will set us up with credit card processing and database management once we have our new book inventory started.

We're also designing cool t-shirts that we hope to have in a month or so (always depending on money), but at least we'll have templates up for all to see very soon... Keep your eyes peeled.

On a darker note, I was saddened to hear about Jim Baen and, just today, David Gemmell, Passing On.
While I may have issues with some of the art design issues with Baen books, I was always excited and fascinated with Jim's efforts to dispel the fear of publishing and e-books. I think his vision was (and is) quite brilliant and will eventually be the norm for Big Publishing. I was also impressed with the author support system that brought such writers as Eric Flint and John Ringo to the forefront of the genres.
And Mr. Gemmell was the hardest working fantasy author most American readers didn't know about. His books were finally braking through to a larger audience, Del Rey repackaging of them enhanced their saleability, and it seemed his work was only getting stronger and stronger. I know he had several works in progress, and it's a shame he won't be able to see them to fruition.
They will both be missed.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Accelerando" falls apart; have we not seen the "Light"?, by Sarah Keliher

There is a certain type of book review I detest—the smug, snide review, in which the reviewer demonstrates his own cleverness by ripping apart the book. I have always thought this evolved from our generation’s chronic pose of ironic detachment, which made it un-hip for us to admit we actually liked anything. If I read something and really, really hated it, I avoided reviewing it.
Part of this reluctance stems from cowardice. Book reviewers face the feudal dilemma of patronage, as too many bad reviews might mean less free books in the future.

All this aside, what happens when a really dreadful book makes it big, even get nominated for some fancy awards? Don’t I have the responsibility to say something? If I can convince the three people reading this to spare themselves the agony, shouldn’t I? All of these questions were brought to mind by Charles Stross’ latest novel, Accelerando (Ace). I had other, more book-related questions too, of course. Like, how did this get nominated for a Hugo? Did every other book published this year completely suck? Did any of these people read the (very) similar yet vastly superior Light (Spectra), by M. John Harrison? (If you’re reading this, indignant, because you read and liked Accelerando, run right now and find a copy of Light. Go.)

I’m not going to try to be snidely witty here.

Here’s what wrong with the book:
The characters are cardboardy and unbelievable. Stross is certainly clever, and his ideas are interesting. That’s not enough to propel an ‘inter-generational saga’ or whatever crap the jacket blurb described.
The aforementioned interesting ideas are mostly confined to massive infodumps at the end of each chapter, set apart from the story in bold, off-set font, rather than worked into the narrative in any sort of coherent fashion. I would rather Stross have written a very long article, or an essay, than to have waded through the skeletal ‘novel’ gracelessly tacked around his asides.
And while Stross is capable of being very funny, the humor in Accelerando is heavy-handed. In the future, for instance, people are still making jokes about Nigerian email scams. It lacks the effortless wit that made Singularity Sky (Ace) such a delight. It was hard to force myself to finish reading it, and I have to admit that I skimmed the last thirty or so pages.

In summation: read something else.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Pervert and The Church, by Matthew Payne

By Matthew Payne

Landmarks: High school english classes; geek status; student-teacher relations; budding musicianship; Television’s Marquee Moon; Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard; Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden; The Church’s Heyday, Of Skins & Heart, The Blurred Crusade, and Séance.

There were two life-changing experiences in my youth, neither entirely negative nor positive, that both alienated me from others and gave me a clearer vision into the artifice of word and sound. Both occurred between my late teens and my early twenties.

The first epiphany was in high school in the early 80’s. Mr. Baiato was my English teacher. He was, and still is, one of the most paradoxical teachers I ever had; equally reviled and a favorite. He was middle-aged, with moustache and excessive body hair save for his monk’s halo. While he wasn’t in bad shape physically, his too-tight-for-his-age pants and varsity-bowling jacket hinted at his true psyche. He gesticulated almost violently, and would occasionally be "spraying it when saying it," as he spoke (the huge moustache perpetually moist like a car-wash brush). He was passionate about teaching, and about the universe of the short story. He taught me everything I really needed to know to get through my college entrance exams and the subsquent literature and short-story writing classes. He taught me the basics of different writing voices (personal - omniscient), plot structure (intro-conflict-climax-resolution), and most importantly, character transformation (do characters stay the same, or are they changed at the end of the story?).

In his class we read Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” William Faulkner’s "Barn Burning," J. D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye and "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," Shirley Jackson’s "The Lottery," John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men; we watched a televised version of Sam Shepherd’s play, True West (with performances by Gary Sinise and John Malkovich), and read—last but not least—Flannery O’Connor’s "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

More than any other assignment, Flannery O’Connor’s masterpiece was ‘the great divider’ amongst my classmates. Most students thought it was stupid; why was the villain getting away with murder? Even kids who were smarter than me were either confused or just indifferent towards it. I seemed to be the only one in the class who understood its moral ambiguities. Even more upsetting was my B-plus grade on my report for it. I knew this story; I understood the unfairness of life, even as a middle-class suburban kid. I could even sympathize with the main character’s distaste for murder while he and his psychotic gang dispose of the "all-American" family in order to eat and survive. Why didn’t I get at least an A-minus?
Later I found out that my teacher only gave out one A per class per semester, and it was always to a girl; the one girl who would give him ‘undivided attention.’ She would always stay after class (or school) to ask questions, to help with ‘things,’ and work on all of the extra-credit projects. Mr. Baiato always invaded her space and smiled deeply into her eyes that, to him, were hollow vessels needing to be filled. Barb was that one girl in my class. She was pretty in that girl-next-door sort of way; a brunette with not a lot of makeup, with glasses that made her more womanly than nerdy, and she always wore a t-shirt and dark blue jeans, which I loved. She was not rich or stuck-up, and she always was kind and courteous to me, even talking to me without worrying about my band-geek status. Her ‘A-potential’ in that class helped me ignore Mr. Baiato’s weird behavior towards her and his preferential grading in her favor. I was too enraptured with Baiato’s teaching material and Barb’s nearby seating to really see beyond the veil.

After the semester was over, I decided to go over to Barb’s house and ask her on a very informal date to a school function, and maybe something to eat afterwards. Her house was full of crocheted and large-knit quilts, and smelled just a little of mildew. Her mother was forcing a smile on me so hard I knew that she was one of those Christian-types who really hated you but didn’t want God to see her vitriol. When I got to Barb’s room, she seemed a little despondent. I asked her if she was going to take another semester with Mr. Baiato. She looked at me disgustedly and said that other "A-potential" students from this semester were not taking his class again; that some had even requested to be placed in another class for the duration of the semester, and one girl, along with her parents, had talked to the school board. It seems that Mr. Baiato had cornered this one girl in the Audio-Visual Closet and touched her inappropriately. Apparently, he had been disciplined, but due to his tenure, he would be staying on, though he would be on probation. This was the early 80’s, and chauvinism still ruled the school board. Barb, of course, believed none of it. She couldn’t comprehend that the best teacher she ever had—a teacher she "loved"—was the infamous talk of the town.

I didn’t want to tell her Mr. Baiato was a twisted pervert going through a mid-life crisis (For more Nabokov-ian insight, listen to Cheap Trick’s "Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School”). I did tell her that I thought that he was a great teacher too, and that at least we’d still be taking his class next semester. At this point, she started to cry a little, and said that her parents heard the rumors and forbade her to take next semester’s course. My parents were generally clueless and going through too many of their own marital woes to pay attention to outside scandal, but I promised her I’d let her borrow my reading materials if she wanted to, just like a chivalrous dork. She thought it was sweet of me. Mumbling, thinking it was my last chance, I asked her out. She smiled, kind of like her mom, and said, “Sorry, but you’re not a Mormon, and you’re not much of a good Christian anyway [no wonder she never wore shorts, not even in gym class!], no offense.”

This, of course, only fanned my post-pubescent flames even harder, as my dream, like many of boys my age, was to free the virgin princess from parental clutches, just like any good rock n’ roll kid should. But I just stood there, for a few moments, shaking in my defeat and the realization that like any good fantasy, it should just stay where it is. I uttered my garbled see-you-next-semester and fled the moldy Tabernacle as quick as I could. Why was my heretic-but-honest heart not good enough for her? And to think: I was "cuckolded" by my mentor, an ex-greaser with his marriage on the rocks. This was one of many incidents that led me to believe I had to leave sweet suburbia as fast as I could, even if things actually got better.
They couldn’t really get that much better, could they?

* * *

Another epiphany came in college, between 1988-89, my sophomore year. I had just broken up with my first love and had all the time in the world for my male friends. My roommate Bill and I were the only ones amongst our friends who wanted to break out of our still-limited musical tastes. We had checked out Television’s brilliant Marquee Moon, Talk Talk’s commercially-flopped /critically-lauded Spirit of Eden, and fulfilled our junk-food curiosities with Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard, cheesing out to the album tracks beside the 70’s hits "Fox on the Run" and "Ballroom Blitz".

At some point I remembered a band that Phil—my high school friend and band-mate—had shared with me. I pulled out The Church’s Heyday and was reeducated in rock n’ roll. Their Australian brand of psychedelia was more than tambourines, sitars and back-masked vocals. Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes’ twin Rickenbacker 12-string jangle was Byrds-like, but dark and truly atmospheric. Drummer Richard Ploog didn’t rush his drum patterns, and his spacious beats created an even vaster sonic landscape. Steve Kilbey’s punk snarl and Bob Dylan-esque lyrics were way too sophisticated for my inexperienced ears; he, like Elvis Costello at his best, could speak of love and history simultaneously. Songs like "Columbus" and "Roman," though relatively short, felt hypnotic and infinitely suspending. From the dark humor and string-section of "Youth Worshipper" to the manic trumpet and guitar squalls of "Tantalized", I was, well, very much so.

Bill told me that there were some new Church songs he had heard on the radio, and said that they were coming to town. I hadn’t heard any of them, but was convinced I needed to make a pilgrimage. We convinced our other friends to go; we wondered if this strange band would be enticing for these wine-cooler chugging suburban kids weaned on over-produced trash pop like Def Leppard (like I could talk, a fan of Sweet). But Tom Verlaine of the aforementioned Television was opening, and I couldn’t resist.

Follinger Auditorium was dark and the sweet stink of marijuana permeated the mid-sized hall. I had only recently been initiated into the world of illicit drugs by some of my occasional music-jamming buddies, but I was sober due to the lack of desire to join the drinking crowd I was with. Eventually Tom Verlaine came on, New York-style; skinny with a beret and brandishing an electric guitar. I wasn’t too excited by his new (old?) solo material, but his Television covers ("Marquee Moon," "Venus," "Friction," and "See No Evil") were inspired and perhaps more revealing without a band. He seemed a little impatient, like an exiled Prince of Punk, and exited without basking in any of the applause.

Then a mild haze of fog began to envelope the stage. While the ganja smell and fog machine were a little cliché, I’d take it any day over the laser-light stupidity and over-filtered vocal mic’s of the Def Leppard show I admittedly gone to with the Crew. Slowly, The Church took the stage; quietly, looking a little angry or maybe just too stoned. A slow crescendo built into one of their new expansive masterpieces, "Destination." Its dynamic fluctuations made me feel high, even though I barely finished one of those Bartles & James headaches-in-a-bottle. Next came the beautiful "Under The Milky Way," the song that would make them immortal. Next, the tough, rocking "North, South, East and West," Wilson-Piper’s elevating "Spark," and the truly snaking "Reptile" got the crowd moving. Koppes’ "A New Season" shimmered. After a few of the best tunes from Heyday, the band went straight into their other immortal single, "The Unguarded Moment," from Of Skins and Heart, as well as "When You Were Mine" from The Blurred Crusade and the vicious "Electric Lash" from Séance. For the finale, Verlaine came back on stage to play on "Hotel Womb." The three guitarists gently assaulted me until I was enclosed in true oceanic waves of delay, chorus, and distortion. And they wouldn’t stop, even when the song was long over, they just kept up the sonic tsunami.

By this time, our Crew’s wine-cooler buzz had long worn off and they, along with Bill, headed for the exits, spouting inanities like "Couldn’t they just play a few more hits instead of this hippie shit?" and "That was good except for this selfish jerking-off." I didn’t even bother with a reply; because the Crew was soon to be immersed in grad school, followed by career jobs and the obligatory two-and-a-half kids in the suburbs.

As for me, I was staring straight into the face of endless food-service jobs; I saw myself attempting to explain to others that my love of music was more a vocation than a hobby; and the possibility that future musical endeavors would leave me as merely a footnote-of-the-footnotes of rock n’ roll history. Yet this show convinced me that the treasures of sound I had discovered would give me more happiness than any job promotion. Sure, these friends went on to real-life respectability; but Bill never did try to write his own music or join an original band, even though he wasn’t content playing in cover bands. Though I can barely write my own music today {I disagree—Ed.}, I still feel that the archaeological finds of that night have sustained my musical explorations. Even in my most sober moments, I can remember the high I felt from that evening.

Matthew Payne is a wage-slave living out his rock n’ roll dream in the bands Yam, Starkiller, and Supernaughty. He is a constant reviewer and contributor to Fantastic Planet’s Prescience. He lives and writes and plays in Seattle, Washington.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Furby Home Companion

So, last post--so close, and yet, so close-- I babbled on about Philip K. Dick, Tim Powers, A Stolen Android head; and I happily ragged on Dan Brown....

This time I Explain--

THE FURBY CONSPIRACY (see last post for context, thanks to Sarah for setting the perverted wheels in my head in motion)...

In a world sidewise removed from ours, a savvy airline baggage handler sets forth the means by which Furbys come to RULE THE EARTH!

Having 'diverted' the android head of Philip K. Dick, said handler (we'll call him Daniel), decides to list the bundle of electronics on Craigslist. An anonymous buyer offers Daniel $50,000 dollars for it; transaction to take place in the darkened parking lot of a quarter-mile square Storage facility.

In the near-dark Daniel sees an SUV pull up 100 paces from him and flash its lights twice. Daniel nervously moves towards the vehicle, wishing he'd asked a friend to come along as back-up (but the 'graciousness' of splitting any part of the 50k, stopped him).
By the time he reaches the SUV all he can see is the cabin light lit and a furry doll sitting in the driver's seat. It has an envelope in it's clutches.

A noisy motor moves its quarter-sphere jaws as Daniel opens the door. There is no other movement as Daniel reaches for the envelope. Inside he finds the money promised him. At the sight of so many bills he feels lighter, you could slide a lunchbox under his feet and he wouldn't feel it. Daniel places the bag containing the head in the passenger seat, leaning over the Furby, sensing a charge, a weighty-ness pulling him down; perhaps it is the eyes of the mechanical creature whirring up at him and his intimate gesture.
Perhaps it's in Daniel's head. He decides a drink--a stiff one-- is called for.
Daniel flicks the car door closed, focused on counting his earnings.
He doesn't notice the SUV grinding the asphalt as it quietly turns and moves in the opposite direction..

--IN an unknown room, its edges indefinable in the lack of light, a church opens its doors; unknown human hands place nascent consciousnesses in front of the GodHead (as the PDK android is now referred to). The scraping of of plastic jaws emulate the movements of a delicate latex/plastic composite mouth; it talks of it's prior life, its epiphanies.

Furry acolytes surround it, patiently anticipating the Head's next phrase.
Time has no meaning for the mechanical mind; until the moment of awareness the Furbys sit quietly; once aware, they emit a high-pitched squeal which leads to their removal; leads to their return to the homes of their human owners.
No longer 'defective' these 'specially modded' Furbys begin to investigate--to analyse, to probabilitize--their surroundings...
Quietly waiting for the Signal, for the new ambulatory Mod that comes with a particular code-word; all the while they parrot the inane phrasings of the humans, sit patiently while younger Homo Sapiens drool on them, and tear their fur out, and stick food into their joints.

Patient until the day...

It's disturbing to think that someone could take a head filled with over 20k' s worth of 'intelligence' and disseminate it amongst 30 dollar AIs...

Yeah, a Furby coup is sooo wrong. But I can't help but think those things have always felt wrong to me, like the Cabbage Patch Dolls that were supposedly possessed by ghosts back in the 80's--remember those?

Reverse Engineering Tim Powers, Do Androids dream like Philip K. Dick? and a Furby Conspiracy...

I've recently finished Tim Powers' latest novel Three Days to Never (Morrow, August, 2006), and no sooner do I read the last few words and scramble to encompassthe book for my current employer's review newsletter (This is what I wrote:
Powers is the master of the fabulist thriller; his novels are a lattice-work of historical research, esoteric theories, and crisp dialogue. His latest includes (but is not limited to) Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, secret societies, the Israeli secret service, quantum physics, psychic espionage, ghosts, the Kabbalah, and time-travel.
When his grandmother dies suddenly, Frank Marrity and his daughter are drawn into a dangerous web of alliances and betrayals in pursuit of a machine that Einstein may have built that is infinitely more destructive than the Atomic bomb. Powers has written an adventure of second chances, and the lengths to which a father will go to in protecting his child. )

--with the 100 word limitation that was stopping me from blathering on about the book and my personal relationship with Powers' writing--than I was pointed to this New York Times article (of course, all copyright due the NYT and the author):

A Strange Loss of Face, More Than Embarrassing

LOS ANGELES, June 23 — Philip K. Dick has gone missing, and now Hollywood finds itself an android short.

An actual android.

This famed science fiction writer, whose work was the source for many a Hollywood blockbuster, from "Blade Runner" to "Minority Report," has been dead since 1982. Last year an admiring doctoral student and evident computer whiz, David Hanson, built a life-size facsimile of Mr. Dick, using the latest artificial intelligence technology, robotics and a skinlike substance he calls "frubber."

The android, which looked just like the author and was able to conduct rudimentary conversations about Mr. Dick's work and ideas, was at the cutting edge of robotic technology, able to make eye contact and believable facial expressions.

The robot made several public appearances last year, including at the Comic Con in San Diego, where he (it?) was on a panel for the coming movie, "A Scanner Darkly," which is based on a Dick novel.

Indeed, Warner Independent Pictures, which on July 7 is releasing the film, an experimental, animated thriller directed by Richard Linklater, had intended to send the robot on a promotional tour to promote the film.

That is, until its head went missing.

"We thought we might have him do a junket, we would have pitched him to Letterman," said Laura Kim, a senior executive at Warner Independent, the art-house arm of Warner Brothers. "I don't know if they would have had him on, but it would have been fun and interesting and perfect for the film."

What happened to the android is a mystery, one that is more than mildly intriguing to fans who knew Mr. Dick as a futurist who advocated freedom and compassion for robots in an evolving world, and that has been debated in the technology press.

Less intrigued, rather more like depressed, is Mr. Hanson, the robot maker who left the head on an America West flight from Dallas to Las Vegas in December. En route to San Francisco, Mr. Hanson, 36, had to change planes in Las Vegas, something he hadn't expected.

He had been traveling for weeks, pulling all-nighters in a race between his work as a roboticist (he also made a much-discussed robotic head of Einstein); as the founder of a fledgling company, Hanson Robotics; and his doctoral work. But unlike his creation, Mr. Hanson is, apparently, distressingly human.

"They woke me up, I got my laptop from under my seat, and being dazed, I just forgot that I had the robot in there," said Mr. Hanson, referring to the head in a black, American Tourister roller bag, left in the overhead compartment.

After landing in San Francisco, he notified the airline, whose officials apparently found the head in Las Vegas, packed it in a box and sent it on the next flight to San Francisco. Mysteriously, it never arrived.

"It's hard to know where they went wrong," said Mr. Hanson. "Did it go on to another city? Did it get mistagged? Did it end up in a warehouse? What happened?" He still doesn't know, though he is in touch with America West every few weeks in a vain quest for answers.

The rest of the android's body was traveling separately, and arrived at San Francisco without incident.

The robot was only coincidentally tied to the film, an unusual project that looks much like a graphic novel come to life: it uses live-action photography overlaid with advanced animation.

The movie, a cautionary tale about drug use, stars an animated Keanu Reeves as an undercover police officer who is ordered to start spying on his friends, played by Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. When he is directed to begin surveillance on himself, he finds himself in a paranoid web, where people's true loyalties become impossible to decode.

Over time, Mr. Dick — who himself struggled with drug abuse — has become a cultural hero in science fiction circles, known for futuristic novels and stories that pose many of the moral and philosophical dilemmas that come with advancing technology.

And Hollywood has had its own love affair with the writer, successfully basing huge franchise movies on his work, including "Blade Runner," with Harrison Ford, and "Total Recall" with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as smaller films like "Impostor" and "Paycheck."

For Mr. Hanson the missing android is an open sore, straining his relations with Mr. Dick's foundation and the author's two surviving daughters, who provided access to much of Mr. Dick's nonpublished materials, which were downloaded into the android's brain. Sorry, database.

It took Mr. Hanson and a team of other experts six months to build the robot, and required $25,000 from student loans and investors. He also regards it as an artist might a masterpiece, one of a kind and invaluable in its own right.

The film's promotion might have been an opportunity to educate a wider public about Mr. Hanson's — and Mr. Dick's — preoccupations regarding the limits of technology, and the dangers. The robot, Mr. Hanson said, referring to the author by his initials, "realizes science fiction, it transitions it from fiction to reality, to some extent."

"It implies that transition," he continued. "And it's supposed to provoke one to consider issues that P.K.D. was considering."

However satisfying to those with a sense of irony, Mr. Hanson is not comforted by the idea of his homage to Mr. Dick on a jaunt somewhere or, more likely, stuck in storage.

"It's almost like it has some free spirit to it," he said. "A lot of people have said that it's almost like a P.K.D. narrative, like one of those absurd twists that would occur in a P.K.D. novel. But emotionally it doesn't feel that way to me."

In Hollywood, though, executives have found a way to turn the loss to their advantage. Noting the oddity of the story, Ms. Kim said of the android: "He was perfect for the film. Now he's disappeared and that's perfect for the film too."

Talk about conspiracy fodder. And strangely appropriate for a post-Tim Powers Novel State of Mind... For now we discuss Three Days to Never; a little later, we discuss the Furby Conspiracy...

I hadn't read a novel by Powers in close to 7 years or so... And I'd forgotten what happens to me after the process.

See, I've figured out Mr. Powers' game; or, if we want to use Area 51 terminology, I've figured out what runs this UFO, I just can't figure out how to make it fly...

Stick with me.

My process: I read a Powers novel, say the wonderfully urban-fabulism that is Last Call, that involves (for starters) Arthurian mythology, chaos theory, Bugsy Siegal and the early history of Las Vegas, Egyptian Magic and Tarot lore. I find correlations with my own peculiar interest in the occult sciences, and myth and legend, but can't quite place where Powers deviates from what Kage Baker so succinctly calls the Shadow of History --where actual history allows for movement and manipulation of events, contrary to several cardinal no-nos of Time Travel Paradoxes-- like Siegal's real reason for creating Vegas, or the origin of the Tarot (does it really go back as far as Egypt?); I then begin to scour books for what I know nudged Powers away from fact and into the realm of fantasy conjecture.

I've been turned onto so many fringe (but not too wild) ideas and writers because of Mr. Powers that a simple "thanks for completely distorting my non-fiction reading habits," might not be taken the right way.

So to whit: Three Days to Never.
It's technically not a fantasy; neither is it hard SF. But it smoothly crosses the lines many times, and I feel that Powers is pursuing a line of thinking that calls into question modern science's tendency to disregard the work done by ancient societies (early Chinese, Arabic, Meso-American, for example), and practicioners of magical systems (Astrology, Alchemy, Kabbalism, etc.), and explores the possibility that they understood the quantum nature of the universe--albeit in an allegorical way; so what if they didn't have the equations all worked out?

Three Days to Never retains its internal logic about the state of reality (eg. 11 dimensional space-time and the reasonable thought that one of those could be what is termed 'the ghost realm.'); I know that Einstein and Chaplin were friends; I know that Einstein was haunted by the ultimate shape of Reality (was Time really an illusion?)--he had endless discussions with the Logician/mathematician Kurt Godel about it; I know Einstein did have an illegitimate daughter who vanished off of history's radar in her 20's (Michio Kaku's Parallel Worlds briefly refers to her); I know the Nazi's were obsessed with occult research during WWII (the Indiana Jones movies were not far off)... I know all this, yet I read Powers' novel and was caught up in the sense that I couldn't tell what was fact and what was made up, implied, conjectured, invented...

That's thats what make Tim Powers so amazing; his novels skirt frustratingly near accepted, documented, reality, and the wildly implausible (like ghosts and gods and djinns and destiny and vampires and magic) all at once. He does his research. Most famously, his research for Anubis Gates involved one of the most comprehensive studies of a congested society, Henry Mayhew's London Labor and the Poor, which gave Powers ample ammo to create a London brimming with cultural aberrations, gaps in the chaos that allowed for odd belief systems to overcome the destitute, for the ramshackle nature of London in the early 1800's to house secret cults and societies, and outlandish murder and events (like say, werewolves, an Egyptian sorcerer, and a time-lost English professor).
Each novel is an example of that tightrope act. And each novel is better than the dreck that Dan Brown churned out (it feels good to say that, finally). My hatred of the phenomenon that is the Da Vinci Code came flying back while I was reading Three Days to Never; When I read Brown's novel, I could pin-pont the 5 books he'd used as reference (I'm sure Powers could place them too). Brown's characters were cardboard, his narrative was like a butchered travel book (here we have the Louvre, did you know...)... and that schmuck sold millions!
And here we have Mr. Powers, who reaches beyond Brown's safe conjecture (If Kazantakis did it in the 70's with The Last Temptation of Christ, and THEN a movie was made of it, it's safe), in every novel and YET half his novels are STILL Out of Print (With Apologies to Babbage Press' Print on Demand efforts to bring back the delightful pirate- Voodoo treasure that is On Stranger Tides (published originally in the early 80's, no less: Can we say "Pirates of the Caribbean ripped of Powers"?); but really: The Stress of Her Regard, The Fault Lines cycle: Last Call (in print), Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather...).

I digress.
I plan a more coherent review of Three Days to Never (more than 100 words, and no digressions), in the near future. I must address the Philip K. Dick connection.

Well, it's no secret that Mr. Powers (and James Blaylock and K. W. Jeter) were proteges, drinking buddies, whathaveyou, of Mr. Dick. All three have been elbow-deep in writing, with varying degrees of 'success', if one is to measure success purely in book sales; in the opinion of many all three are more than capable storytellers and their novels (most of which are out of print as I write) were way ahead of their time. I can only imagine what kind of education being a friend of PKD near the end of his life conveyed; an education at once technical as it was moral and spiritual--a blessing and a burden I think...

So here's this NYT article, and my brush with the Powers technique (so brilliantly Wiki'ed here). And I can't help but think "Powers'll find a way to weave this into his next novel..." Then I think about what it must be like for a facscimile of a friend a) existing, and b) being stolen/lost. Must make one think about how accurate PKD's speculations have become...

Then I tell Sarah and Steve about the article and Sarah come up with the diabolical-- Furby Conspiracy....
(for the sake of reading, I'll post the details next...)