Monday, April 1, 2013

The Anubis Gates - What I Liked

The Anubis Gates
Author: Tim Powers
Publisher: Ace, 1997
First Published: 1983
Genre: Science Fiction

Brendan Doyle, a specialist in the work of the early-nineteenth century poet William Ashbless, reluctantly accepts an invitation from a millionaire to act as a guide to time-travelling tourists. But while attending a lecture given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1810, he becomes marooned in Regency London, where dark and dangerous forces know about the gates in time. Caught up in the intrigue between rival bands of beggars, pursued by Egyptian sorcerers, befriended by Coleridge, Doyle somehow survives. And learns more about the mysterious Ashbless than he could ever have imagined possible.

The Anubis Gates…what I liked

The Anubis Gates wasn’t what I expected at all. I hoped for something along the lines of The Mummy with time travel thrown in the mix, but what I got was half history lesson half hodge podge of magical and villain randomness. Add to that the head hopping narrative, and I just couldn’t concentrate long enough to care about any of it. That being said, I did appreciate a few things.

The magic is the closest thing to Egyptian myth that’s presented in the book. The first glimpse we get is during the prologue, where Amenophis Fikee is setting up to do a ritual. It says, the Egyptian spell book that “absorbed the room’s light and warmth” with “hieroglyphic figures [that] shone from ancient papyrus—shone not with light but with an intense blackness that seemed to suck out his soul through his eyes” (7). There’s also mention of him using “hekau” or “words of power” (8) to do the spell. But after this awesome scene, magic is only presented sporadically, like the long-distance communication by magic candle, the summoning of fire elementals, some ectoplasm tentacles that come out of nowhere, the manipulation of flame and heat, and the creation of ka or human duplicates. It was kind of disappointing though, that these magic events and actions weren’t specific to Egyptian magic.

I thought the theme of Egyptian myth and magic wasn’t effectively carried throughout the book. The biggest glimpse we get of it is Amenophis Fikee’s curse. After giving himself “to the dog headed god of the gates” (196) he becomes known as Dog Faced Joe. The people of London believe he’s a werewolf and with good reason since the bodies he uses all start to grow fur and “after a few days it’s a choice of shave his whole body or go find a fresh one” (119). Since the curse comes from an Egyptian book, I knew what he’d become was one of Anubi’s dogs and not a lycanthrope. But this is never specifically said in the book, so I saw it as another missed opportunity to bring that Egyptian myth element to the forefront.

Another element that drew my attention was the science of time travel. Though I don’t usually like overly detailed explanations, this time I didn’t mind the poetic sentences Darrow used to explain time and time travel.

Time…is comparable to a river flowing under a layer of ice. It stretches out like water weeds, from root to tip, from birth to death, curled around whatever rocks or snags happen to lie in our path; and no one can get you out of the river because of the ice roof, and no one can turn back against the current for an instant. (25-26)


Sometime something happened to punch hole in the metaphorical ice cover […] shotgun pattern of gaps, in which certain normal chemical reactions don’t occur, complex machinery doesn’t work…But the old systems we call magic do. (27)

In contrast, when Benner explains to Doyle the procedure they use to travel through the gaps in time, the descriptions are less poetic but no less interesting. He says, “we’ll all be lined up in the path of a blast of insanely high frequency radiation…and when it hits us, the odd properties of the gap field will prevent whatever would ordinarily occur [and] we’ll become, in effect, honorary tachyons” (34-35). Now, I’ve no idea what tachyons are but it all sounds scientifically legit and possible. The science and magic aspects made for a nice contrast while reading.

On the same theme of time travel, the Antaeus Brotherhood was a cool and unexpected detail to add. They’re a sort of time travel police. Burghard, their leader, says, “we’re paid by certain wealthy and savvy lords to do is prevent sorcerous treason. We employ not magic but the negation of magic.” Sadly, their introduction to the story is almost at the end. I felt as if it wasn’t explored enough, and I wanted to know more about them and their role. It almost made me wish for a sequel…but no.

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