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Creator / Tim Powers

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Timothy Thomas Powers (born February 29, 1952) is an American science fiction and fantasy writer. His breakout novel was The Anubis Gates, published in 1983. Other novels include Declare, Dinner at Deviant's Palace, The Drawing of the Dark, Earthquake Weather, Expiration Date, Last Call, On Stranger Tides, The Stress of Her Regard, and Three Days to Never.

Many of his works show arcane forces at work in the backstage areas of history, revealing the "real" causes and motivations behind historical events.

They also tend to be populated by body snatchers, identical twins, clones, time-travelling duplicates, and other kinds of Doppelgänger — Powers has said in interviews that he finds something powerful and worrying about the idea of meeting a person who looks and acts just like somebody you know but isn't, and many of his works have a scene of that kind. Some of them invert it, with a character meeting a complete stranger who turns out somehow to be somebody they already know; it's not any less creepy that way around.


On Stranger Tides became the basis for the fourth movie in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series, as well as being an inspiration for the Monkey Island series of games.

Interesting historical note: During the 1970s, Tim Powers spent a lot of time hanging out with Philip K. Dick.

Works by Tim Powers with their own trope pages include:


Other works by Tim Powers provide examples of:

  • Afterlife Antechamber: The setting of "Down and Out in Purgatory" is a transitional afterlife occupied by people who aren't yet ready to let go of the living world and move on to whatever eternity has in store (which remains undepicted, although several of the characters have theories).
  • Assimilation Plot: In Forced Perspectives, the villains are using ancient magic to create a Hive Mind that, once established, will proceed to suck in the entire human race. The people involved in the plot (and the earlier failed attempts that preceded it) vary in their motivations; some of them genuinely believe it will make the world a better place, some have more selfish intentions, and some just find themselves hard to live with and want a way to escape a burden of guilt or depression.
  • Back from the Dead: The goal of some of the characters in "Down and Out in Purgatory"; it's rumored in the purgatory that there's a secret method that will allow a dead person to be reborn in a new body instead of going on into eternity. The protagonist searches for it himself, but gives up on it when he learns that it's just a particularly ruthless refinement on ghostly possession—the secret is that instead of possessing an adult body you find an unborn child, kick its soul out while it's still too small and weak to fight back, and keep its body for yourself.
  • Backup from Otherworld: In Alternate Routes, the ghost of the protagonist's wife intervenes to help him a few times during the climactic struggle. Thanks to one of the stranger features of the afterlife featured in the novel, he also gets assistance from the ghost of their daughter who never existed in the first place.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: In Forced Perspectives, the dancing plague of 1518, the destruction of the standing sets for The Ten Commandments (1923), and the Sunken City catastrophe were all fallout from earlier failed attempts at the same kind of Assimilation Plot the villain is about to pull off.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: In Forced Perspectives, the hero shoots a gun out of the hand of the bad guy who's shooting at him, because it's the only part of the gunman he can see clearly and he doesn't want to kill him anyway. It's noted that the gunman's hand is seriously injured by having the gun blasted out of it, and remains a handicap for the rest of the book.
  • Busman's Vocabulary: The villain of Forced Perspectives has a computer science background, as do some of his underlings, and they describe the psychic phenomena their plot revolves around using computer networking metaphors. It's also used as a generational indicator: the members of the plot from the 1960s that he's attempting to revive used a telephone switchboard analogy to describe the same phenomena, while his Gen Z nieces use a metaphor about smartphone apps.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: In Alternate Routes, it's a recurring thing that the protagonist and his late wife used to go hang-gliding together, and it's mentioned once near the beginning that he made the hang-gliders himself. The climax of the novel involves him having to build a hang-glider out of improvised materials and with improvised tools in order to escape from the place where he's trapped.
  • Canon Welding: "Nobody's Home" is a ghost story using the ghost lore from Expiration Date and Hide Me Among the Graves but set during The Anubis Gates.
  • Compelling Voice: In Forced Perspectives, the twins Lexi and Amber can take temporary control of nearby people and make them perform an action. They mostly use it for small indulgences like persuading their babysitter to give them more dessert. Mostly.
  • Confessional: In "Through and Through", a priest is visited in the confessional by the ghost of a recently-deceased parishioner, who is unable to move on because he refused to assign her a penance the last time she came to confession. (Not because he considered her beyond absolution, but because he's a progressive-minded post-Vatican II priest and didn't think the transgression she was confessing to counted as a sin requiring absolution in the first place.)
  • The Constant: "Salvage and Demolition" involves a Stable Time Loop connecting a day in 1957 with a day in 2012, and features a number of Constants, including an agent of The Conspiracy who appears as a young man in 1957 and an old man in 2012, and a box of assorted junk which contains the MacGuffin that the conspiracy is trying to get its hands on.
  • Creator In-Joke: When Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock were in college together, they invented a fake poet named "William Ashbless" to satirize the quality of their college's literary magazine. Nearly every novel Powers and Blaylock have written has had a reference to Ashbless in it somewhere — most famously The Anubis Gates, in which he appears as a major character.
  • Creepy Child: In Forced Perspectives, the young twins Lexi and Amber have a powerful and complicated Twin Telepathy that contributes to them acting in disconcerting and sometimes dangerous ways. Although the latter have a lot to do with their evil guardian trying to twist them to serve his own ends, and after one of the heroes takes them under his wing, there are indications that in a more wholesome environment they'll become less creepy.
  • Cruel Mercy: In "Down and Out in Purgatory", the protagonist abandons his plan to kill his enemy Deader Than Dead when he realizes the man is terrified of the judgment that awaits him in the afterlife and would welcome oblivion as an escape from it.
  • Deader Than Dead: In "Down and Out in Purgatory", the protagonist is out for revenge on the man who murdered his love interest, and when the man cheats him of his revenge by dying, follows him into the afterlife with the goal of killing his soul deader than dead.
  • Electromagnetic Ghosts: In Alternate Routes, ghosts can make their voices heard on radios and their faces appear in the static on an untuned analog TV set (although since the story is set after the switch to digital TV signals, the only character who has an analog TV set is a ghost peddler who keeps an old one around specifically for communicating with ghosts with).
  • Fingore: In Forced Perspectives, a gunman working for the villain has his gun blasted out of his hand during a fight with the hero. Several of his fingers are seriously injured; his boss refuses to let him get them professionally patched up, because that would lead to official attention they can't afford, and anyway if their Assimilation Plot works physical injuries will become irrelevant. The condition of the fingers worsens over the course of the book to the point that they're decaying and need to be amputated.
  • Flying Dutchman, Man Without A Country subtype: An unnamed minor character in the short story "Itinerary", based on the real-life Merhan Karimi Nasseri.
  • Have We Met Yet?: In "Salvage and Demolition", the protagonist is mysteriously transported to the past three times, each time earlier than before. Along the way, he has two encounters with a woman who's also connected to the story's MacGuffin, with reciprocal versions of the "This is the first you've met me, but you'll meet me again later and then it will be the first time I've met you" conversation.
  • I Know Your True Name: In "Down and Out in Purgatory", the dead use nicknames, because a person's true name can be used against them by another dead person or by a living spiritualist. Played with when the protagonist attempts to locate his dead love interest using her true name, and it completely fails at first because he always thinks of her by her maiden name, as she was when he first knew her; it works when he switches to using the name of the married woman she had become when she died.
  • I See Dead People: In Alternate Routes and its sequel Forced Perspectives, ghosts can only be seen by those who have some link with someone who has become a ghost (such as being the one who killed them). People in that condition can see all ghosts, not just the particular one they're linked to, and may not be able to immediately tell that they're not a living person.
  • The Legend of Chekhov: In Alternate Routes, there's a story several of the characters have heard about a man who was driving on the Los Angeles freeways in the 1960s when he drove off an exit that hadn't been there the day before and wasn't the day after and found himself in the afterlife, and eventually made it back to the world of the living with a mysterious artifact. The story is true; the protagonist eventually meets the man, who helps him figure out what's going on.
  • Living Memory: The ghosts in Alternate Routes and its sequel Forced Perspectives are just living echoes of people who have died in mystically significant circumstances, not the actual souls of the departed. In the latter novel, the metaphysical paradox of a ghost not being who they believe they are is fundamental to how the villain is defeated.
  • Loving a Shadow: The protagonist of "Down and Out in Purgatory" spent his whole adult life devoted to a woman who he never had a chance with, and eventually died for her sake. When they meet in the afterlife, she suggests that he wasn't really interested in her as a person, only as an unattainable goal.
  • Meaningful Name: In "Down and Out in Purgatory", the overseer of the purgatory, who helps the inhabitants move on into the afterlife, is called Hubcap Pete; he has some characteristics in common with Saint Peter, who is said to stand at the gates of heaven welcoming people in. It's explicitly not the name he was known by in the living world, so he may have chosen it deliberately for the resonance.
  • Miles Gloriosus: In Forced Perspectives, Foster, one of the villain's underlings, is boastful about his combat prowess to the point that even his colleagues find it irritating, and the first time he comes up against an opponent who knows how to fight back it becomes apparent how little of his boasting has substance to back it up.
  • Monochrome Past: In Forced Perspectives, some of the characters are able to see visions of the past, which appear in-universe in sepia tones. One of the characters speculates that the visions include infrared light spectra that aren't normally visible to human eyes and which their brains are interpreting as a coppery color.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: The fate of Lexi and Amber's parents in Forced Perspectives.
  • Seeing Through Another's Eyes: In the short story "Pat Moore" a man meets the ghost of his wife, who, having no eyes of her own, can see only what he can see.
  • Self-Made Orphan: In Forced Perspectives, the villain manipulates his psychic nieces into inflicting Psychic-Assisted Suicide on their parents, as a test of their abilities and to clear the way for him to become their guardian.
  • Sequel Hook: The epilogue of Alternate Routes has the protagonists discovering that their experiences have given them a new psychic ability, and going their separate ways after agreeing on a way to get back in touch if they need to. Powers went on to write a sequel, Forced Perspectives, which begins with one of them getting in touch with the other to arrange a meeting after their new ability apparently starts going wrong.
  • Shout-Out: In Forced Perspectives, the nonsense phrase Vickery recites to resist interrogation is a line from the anti-interrogation earworm in The Demolished Man.
  • Significant Name Overlap: In the short story "Pat Moore", it's a plot point that all three of the main characters, as well as several other characters who are mentioned but don't appear, have the same name.
  • Stable Time Loop: Powers's default model of time travel, with only Three Days to Never standing as a significant exception.
  • Steampunk: The term "steampunk" was coined by K. W. Jeter to describe the speculative fiction stories in a Victorian setting that he, Powers and James Blaylock were writing in the early 1980s.
  • Straw Nihilist: The villain in Alternate Routes is a philosopher who believes that free will and consciousness are just illusions incidental to the deterministic physical processes that operate living bodies. And in his case, free will has become an illusion because his attitude left him susceptible to becoming a meat puppet for something from Beyond.
  • Twin Telepathy: In Forced Perspectives, identical twins Lexi and Amber Harlowe have such a strong psychic bond that even they can't tell which of them is which. In the backstory, the 1968 attempt at the Assimilation Plot also involved a pair of twins (in that case, fraternal adult twins) with a psychic bond.
  • Twincest: In Forced Perspectives, two of the members of Conrad Chronic's cult were a married couple who secretly were twins who had left their home state behind and faked new, unrelated identities for themselves so they could get married, because their Twin Telepathy left them feeling that they couldn't really connect to anyone else.
  • When Dimensions Collide: In Alternate Routes, the climactic threat is that the irrational and immaterial otherworld is trying to merge with reality.