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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: The Bible Repairman and Other Stories

6th Sep, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Though I haven't read him much in recent years, I'm a huge admirer of Tim Powers' work - apart from a couple of early novels, I've read everything up to Expiration Date, and I have Earthquake Weather and Declare boxed up somewhere and waiting to be rediscovered on a rainy day. I love the scope and complexity of his novels and he's a writer I want to get reacquainted with at some point in the future, but for now I'll have to make do with the six stories collected together in The Bible Repairman and Other Stories, a slim volume released by Tachyon back in 2011.

Powers writes his own introduction to the book, along the way addressing the subject of themes in his work and what he expects from a story, while reminiscing about his friend Philip K. Dick. In a similar way each story comes with its own afterword in which the author reveals its genesis, the collision of circumstances or event that made the story possible, gifting us with insights into the writer's life and working process.

Torrez is "The Bible Repairman", customising his clients' holy books by magically removing the bits of text they don't accept, and with a sideline in rescuing ghosts, something he is trying to give up as the personal toll is too high, but here he is offered a job that he cannot refuse. This is a fascinating piece, with hints of an occult world built along lines we cannot easily envisage, with rules and ways of doing things that operate according to an off kilter kind of logic. With the wealth of incidental invention it put me very much in mind of Ralph Robert Moore's work in the collage novel Ghosters. It's a great opener to the collection, taking things that are staples of the genre, such as ghosts and folk magic, and giving them an original spin.

If M. R. James had been born a hundred years later and lived in California, then "A Soul in a Bottle" is the kind of ghost story he might have produced. Rare book dealer George Sydney finds a signed copy of a volume by poet Cheyenne Fleming, who was killed by her sister, and at the same time he encounters an odd young woman to whom he is strongly attracted. Of course the two occurrences are not unconnected. It's a gentle ghost story, one that builds its effects with considerable aplomb, and has some intriguing characters involved in a lover's triangle of sorts, while the end twist delights with both its unexpectedness and its feeling of rightness. In "The Hour of Babel" Hollis encounters agents of a mysterious government body who wish to unravel what happened at Firehouse Pizza over twenty years ago when an entity of some kind passed through. Powers doesn't really give us any explanation beyond shit happens, though there are hints of an angelic presence behind this incursion of the numinous, but the back story and the larger than life characters are a joy to read, and along the way he has a lot of fun with the concept of time travel.

We're back with a hint of the Jamesian for the next two stories. "Parallel Lines" brings to a head the lifelong antagonism between twin sisters, one of whom is dead, but that's not going to stop her. Written with a wonderful lightness of touch, it's a piece that is remarkable for both the low key presentation of the supernatural and the engaging characters. There is a similar plot progression to "A Journey of Only Two Paces" with Kohler, another dealer in rare books, ushered away by a woman to a remote mansion in Los Angeles, where a group of occultists have plans for him. Again, as ever with Powers, we have fascinating and larger than life characters, while the rundown mansion is a suitably eerie location and the presence of cats serves to further enrich the story, getting everything in line for a delightful end twist. I loved it.

Finally we have the longest piece in the book, "A Time to Cast Away Stones" , which is set in 1825 and told from the perspective of adventurer Trelawny, a minor character from Powers' 1989 novel The Stress of Her Regard. Trelawny is coerced into seeking supernatural help in Greece's fight for independence from Turkey. It's a fantastic story with a genuine air of adventure, taking in some truly disturbing entities, with asides on the poets Byron and Shelley, adding a certain depth to the back story. It was, like Powers' novels in a similar vein, a true romp of a story, filled with colour and invention, taking established history and gleefully twisting it through one hundred and eighty degrees of the outré, to give us a glorious ending to this excellent collection.




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