fantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Salvage and Demolition by Tim PowersSalvage and Demolition by Tim Powers

Richard Blanzac is a 40-year-old rare books dealer in San Francisco. While examining the contents of a few old boxes someone brought in, he discovers a manuscript with some poetry written by a little known San Francisco Beat poet named Sophie Greenwald who died in 1969. Shortly after, he is summoned to the bedside of an old lady in a nursing home. She’s the executor of the poet’s estate and insists that Richard burn the manuscript. After he leaves the nursing home, Richard discovers that there are others who want that manuscript, too. It gets really weird later when Richard is at home reading the poetry and is suddenly magically transported to a bar in 1957 San Francisco!

When Richard stumbles into the bar, he’s immediately met by Sophie Greenwald who insists that this is actually his second trip to 1957 today — he’d first arrived a few hours before and had just left before he arrived again. Richard thinks it’s a big joke, but when he goes outside and sees 1957 San Francisco, he becomes disturbed and overwhelmed. Sophie takes him home and fills him in on everything that happened earlier during their first meeting (when she didn’t believe he was from 2012) and she tells him about the manuscript. It’s something that she’d been translating for a job before she realized how dangerous it was. Now she’s hiding from the doomsday cult that wants the manuscript back.

Richard isn’t sure he understands or believes any of this, but when he arrives back in 2012, he realizes that what Sophie said must be true. Now he knows he must be going back to meet Sophie earlier in the day, and if he doesn’t do everything right, he fears he may obliterate himself with a time paradox. And, he has to make sure the guys from the cult don’t get their hands on that manuscript.

Tim Powers’ story gets even weirder from here. It’s a lot of weirdness to pack into a 160-page novella and it works really well. Richard and Sophie’s reactions to time travel are believable and Powers doesn’t ignore the problems of time paradoxes, but uses their potentiality to make us think about free will, determinism, and how small single events might affect our entire future. Powers has also provided an intriguing twist on a time-travel plot; when Richard meets Sophie the first time, it’s the second time for her but when he meets her the second time, it’s the first time for her. Here Tim Powers demonstrates how well he can craft a plot — it’s really tight and very impressive.

I didn’t quite believe in the romance between Richard and Sophie — they know each other for only a few hours during which one of them thinks the other is either crazy or a liar. But if we decide to believe, we see that Powers has created quite a tragic romance! He emphasizes this with a lovely repetitive motif in the plot, the imagery, and the poetry. (This is something I’ve never said before: I wish there had been more poetry!)

Salvage and Demolition is being released by Subterranean Press. There are interior illustrations by J.K. Potter (whose work I don’t much care for). This is an impressive novella that I’m sure to recommend and read again.

Publication Date: January 31, 2013. Salvage and Demolition, the astonishing new 21,000 word novella by Tim Powers, begins when Richard Blanzac, a San Francisco-based rare book dealer, opens a box of consignment items and encounters the unexpected. There, among an assortment of literary rarities, he discovers a manuscript in verse, an Ace Double Novel, and a scattering of very old cigarette butts. These commonplace objects serve as catalysts for an extraordinary–and unpredictable–adventure. Without warning, Blanzac finds himself traversing a ‘circle of discontinuity’ that leads from the present day to the San Francisco of 1957. Caught up in that circle are an ancient Sumerian deity, a forgotten Beat-era poet named Sophie Greenwald, and an apocalyptic cult in search of the key to absolute non-existence. With unobtrusive artistry, Powers weaves these elements into something strange and utterly compelling. The resulting story is at once a romance, a thriller, and the kind of intricately constructed time travel story that only the author of The Anubis Gates–that quintessential time travel classic–could have written. Ingenious, affecting, and endlessly inventive, Salvage and Demoliton is a compact gem from the pen of a modern master, a man whose singular creations never fail to dazzle and delight.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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