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T I M    P O W E R S :
In Praise of Paranoia

(excerpted from Locus Magazine, March 1998)
Tim Powers
    Photo by Charles N. Brown

Tim Powers is a leap-year child -- born February 29, 1952. His first two novels were published by Laser in the 1976: The Skies Discrowned and Epitaph in Rust. Later novels included two that won the Philip K. Dick Award as best original paperbacks of their years, The Anubis Gates (1984) and Dinner at Deviant's Palace (1985). His most recent novels include the loose trilogy formed by Last Call (1992), which won the World Fantasy Award, Expiration Date (1995), and Earthquake Weather (1997).

''For respectable reasons, I find it useful to approach writing in a provisional state of paranoid schizophrenia to be a paranoid schizophrenic from nine to five, and then take off the funny hat and go have dinner and behave like a normal person. It's nice to visit and not have to live there, so I commute to paranoia every morning and come home at night, and I feel free to take days off and not go in at all. I don't get my mail there. But for the purposes of my work, especially plotting it, and outlining it, it's real valuable to think: 'Nothing is a coincidence. Everything contains a message. There are no random events, no coincidences. And whatever someone really means, it's not what they just said.''

''Even when I'm dealing with real history, I can arrange our perspective on it and emphasize some bits and kind of shadow out other bits, so it seems that real history illustrates my point, that it really is arranged with some structure in mind, rather than just all tumbling around like gravel down a hillside. You can notice it in yourself. If you tell someone what happened five minutes after it happened, it will probably be pretty journalistically accurate. A year later, the dull bits have been trimmed, the interesting bits emphasized. I know when I'm telling some favorite old story, I don't actually remember the event I remember the version of the story as it's improved. And of course I've touched it up, maybe even tacked a moral onto the whole thing.
        ''Not only do we have this huge yearning to find order in it all, but I think that's a reflection of the fact that there is order in it all, to be found. It's not a useless, vestigial appendix or something, this impulse of ours, it's a real reciprocation. That's why myths still work, the reason we still get scared of the dark, we still get shivery feelings from certain poems and paintings and myths: there is something there. All the mechanisms of Darwin have not eliminated that 'scared of ghosts' nerve in our heads. So I like to think that it must have some survival value, and some validity, ultimately!''

''One of Phil Dick's theories probably was true, and God spoke to him, but the trouble is that he had about ten thousand theories, so we'll never know which one it was! In fact, one time, when his house was blown up, somebody told him, 'One of your books must have accidentally told the truth about something. How many have you written? More than three?' And Phil said, 'Ach, I've written 30!' The guy said, 'Then you probably will never know which of your books it really was that accidentally told the real story about the world.'''

''As for my own books, I'm now finding order where previously you might not have seen it, and calling the most recent three a trilogy of sorts. Last time we did an interview, I seemed to be saying I had no interest in sequels, but I don't think there's actually an inconsistency here, just an apparent inconsistency! Really, with Earthquake Weather I wasn't simply trotting out the old bicycles and lawnmowers that I had just previously put away in Expiration Date....

''And a lot of the characters I was using were either totally fresh or from Last Call, and the Last Call characters I hadn't been playing with for four or five years. So they had been out of sight long enough, under a tarp in the back yard, that it was kind of fun playing with them again. ... In Earthquake Weather, I was able to really use the California coast and San Francisco and the Bay Area and the Wine Country. The San Francisco area roughly includes the Winchester Mystery House, which has always kind of demanded attention.''

''I read an introduction by Le Carre to a book about Kim Philby. I hadn't really known anything about Philby. I hadn't even known that he was head of the British Secret Service in the '50s and had secretly been a Soviet undercover spy and virtually destroyed the British Secret Service when he finally cast off his disguise and ran to Moscow.
       ''I decided to write a book about Philby. It'll be fun writing a book set in the '50s and '60s, fun messing with Moscow and the Middle East as well. This Le Carre introduction talked about Philby's father, who was kind of a Lawrence of Arabia figure in the Middle East in the teens and '20s. And he was the first westerner to cross the Empty Quarter of Arabia. Philby's father was not only a kind of melodramatic character, he was also a sketchily recorded character. There's a lot of aspects of the elder Philby that are just unknown. People say he 'appeared to have' some business venture, and it 'appeared' he had a private army. He may have had several wives, several children. It's really not a stretch at all to connect Kim Philby with any kind of colorful aspects of the Middle East I want to play with.
      ''And I thought, 'That's fun! Let's look at Kim Philby not just from the kind of gritty, Moscow-and-London type perspective of espionage fiction, but from that Lawrence of Arabia, Cairo, pith helmets, colonies, Kipling, 1001 Nights-type perspective. And wouldn't that be an interesting mix?''

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