There’s something wonderfully unique and strange about the imagination of Tim Powers. This collection of stories is not the best introduction to it, however good they might be. Th final story of the book is a companion piece to Powers’ novels The Stress of Her Regard and Hide Me Among the Graves dealing with the Nephilim, romantic poets and non-traditional vampires. It was originally written as a bonus for a limited edition of Regard and really needs a working knowledge of that book to be fully appreciated.
The other stories tend to focus on ghosts, siblings and the dead, a favorite haunt of Powers. The title story is a cautionary tale of what it means to give up your soul in a world where having a soul is a valuable thing. It also has a nice element of contextual wordplay and ruminations on how language can control thought (and ultimately, reality). Not to mention the obvious religious implications. As for the rest, “A Journey of Two Paces” is a creepy little tale of immortality and cats while “The Hour of Babel” looks at time travel with an eye to the downsides and the literal repercussions. “Parallel Lines” covers the effects of sublimating yourself for a twin sibling and how you re-establish your own identity after her death.
My favorite story, though, is “A Soul in a Bottle,” a tidy piece which combines all of it – sisters and time travel and ghosts. It’s a Powers trifecta and for me, works on every level. Not to mention he adds in some classic Hollywood Boulevard situations and a few nice sonnets and you have a great read for a rainy afternoon.
All in all, the book is a nice set and if you’re already a Powers’ fan, a way to quench a literary thirst between novels. Additionally, if you’re interested in process, Powers adds a little post script to each story to give a little insight into the origination and writing of each. Well worth the ride.