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In modern day Los Angeles, three Cal Tech professors enter a graveyard to perform a mysterious ritual which they hope will raise the ghost of a recently deceased professor. But things don’t turn out exactly the way they expect, and each must try to deal with the consequences in their own way.
This is not your average ghost story. “More Walls Broken” by Tim Powers is a fascinating genre-bending speculative fiction novella with three things I love to read about: ghosts, powerful and intriguing devices, and quantum physics. Powers’ clear, direct, concrete writing voice keeps the story grounded in reality while dealing with the scope of a science-bending romp into the multi-verse. This is exactly the kind of story I love to dig into, and I read it straight through to the end. I found myself pulling it out at every little chance to sit and read, just to find out would happen next.
The characters of “More Walls Broken” have depth and complexity. Our hero, Clive Cobb, is an imperfect and disappointed (but not disappointing) sort of anti-hero with a solid moral compass buried underneath his brooding demeanor, and we get a real chance at seeing his soft inner core. I appreciate the way Powers handles the characters. Without giving too much away about the story, unseen characters are discussed that raise interesting questions about the nature of personality and identity.
Really, this book raises a lot of questions and gets you thinking about deeper ideas being dealt with on the page. For example, the device used in the first pages of the story operates in a unique way involving sound. I loved that, and I also enjoyed the careful description of the device and its use, as well as how Cobb felt using the device. I could really envision it.
The places where I struggled with this novella were the beginning and the end. The opening sentence is convoluted and felt passive. In the first few pages I struggled to identify characters and determine who was ultimately the main character. For example, one of the significant supporting characters is first described as an “elderly driver,” even though we soon get his name and other details. The point of view is limited third person tied to Clive Cobb, who knows who the elderly driver is, but it’s as if we are starting out as one of the novel’s ghosts and gently floating into Cobb’s head. This may have been the author’s intent, and it would certainly make sense in hindsight given the novella’s themes, but as a first impression it left me floundering to find my footing with the story. Once we’d arrived at the cemetery and established characters, the story picked up for me and I was able to dig into the developing tension and mystery, but it was a jerky start.
This is a novella, and by definition short, but the story seemed to be too short for me. The ending felt chopped off and unsatisfying, coming at a moment in the story when I felt a strongest investment and interest in two of the main characters: Clive Cobb and a woman named Taysha. I was left with more questions than answers, and I wanted to see where it all went. This is a testament to the character development and world building of the novella’s author, Tim Powers. I want more, and it makes me wonder if this is the first novella in a developing series. If it is, I will definitely be continuing with future installments. If not, then I am still left with an enjoyable and worthwhile read that was evocative and thought provoking. Either way I will definitely be reading more of his books in the future.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for providing an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Reviewed by Kristin Rix