by Tim Powers
It is fitting that Tim Powers uses quotes from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland for his epigrams. The Los Angeles he portrays in Expiration Date is more akin to the lunacy of Wonderland than to an actual city. With one difference. Whereas Alice in Wonderland is filled with curiosity and whimsy even at its most serious points, Expiration Date is a more horrific view of a topsy-turvy land.Like Charles de Lint, Tim Powers writes urban fantasy. Also like de Lint, Powers's urban fantasy is uniquely his own. While de Lint tends to use a naturalistic magic in his writing, The magical base Powers uses has a tendency towards New Age and darkness.Expiration Date begins by relating a series of loosely connected stories. None of the characters seem, at first, to be aware of the others in a physical sense, although certain events can be sensed by several characters no matter where they are or how far from each other they are. The duel-protagonist of the novel is eleven year old Kootie, who has decided to run away from his New Age parents. In leaving, he destroys the plaster bust of Dante which sits on their mantel. Inside is a glass rectangle which he grabs and takes with him.Kootie's act of destruction sets a massive ghost hunt in progress throughout the Los Angeles area. Inside the glass brick is the ghost of Thomas Alva Edison, one of the most powerful spirits in existence. Every ghost sensitive person in L.A. wants to claim his spirit, even if they don't know who, exactly, they are after.Throughout the majority of the book, there are no clear links between the different story lines. Slowly, however, Powers manages to tie them together. Unfortunately, Powers is a little too slow at tying his threads together. It isn't until nearly three quarters of the way through the book that the readers really begin to see how the various stories interact with each other. This seems to be typical of Powers's style, however, it is not a style I'm particularly fond of. Surprise me, yes, but grab my interest first.Although the majority of the characters in Expiration Date are intriguing, very few of them are likable. Koot Hootie Parganas, Powers's main protagonist, sometimes acts like the eleven year old kid he is and at other times acts like an adult. Although a case can be made for this discrepancy based on the ghost who is residing within him, I don't think the ghost accounts for everything. Perhaps the closest Powers comes to a likable character is Pete Sullivan, however for the majority of the novel Pete's story is told in short pieces which last only long enough to whet the interest of the reader.Part of Pete's story, and a portion of the novel which Powers could easily have explored more, is the idea of bar-time. This is a strange sensation suffered by Pete and his sister Sukie which allows them to sense and react to stimuli before it actually occurs. Early in the novel, Sukie apparently commits suicide following a call to her brother. It would have been interesting to see how her suicide worked if she had been living in bar-time during the attempt. In fact, the bar-time concept seems to offer much more potential than Powers finds.
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