on 5 August 2012
This is down as the second book in the Last Call series although in reality its a standalone from the first book and characters from both novels come together in the 3rd book.
I've no doubt that this book could be a marmite affair. The basic premise is that there are a group of ne'er do wells who survive by eating the ghosts of the recently deceased. However in this novel two powerful ghosts have resurfaced Edison and Arthur Sullivan a famed hollywood producer and our hungry bad folk are after them and their relatives and friends.
Its hugely inventive with Edison and Houdinis life stories altered a bit to show that their activities were largely dedicated to protecting themselves in the after life.
Its also very surreal in places and you have to pay attention as the main characters inhabit the real world and the spirit world and both get confused at times.
But it just has the right crazy, imaginative, fun filled and challenging balance for me and Powers stories stick with you well after you've finished them.
The story feels as though it rambles a bit at times but overall this a great read.
on 28 May 2001
Hearing that it was a sequel to the superb Last Call, I eagerly anticipated reading Expiration Date. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Powers excels at mixing reality with myth until the boundaries between them begin to blur, but this aspect of his work is sadly absent from Expiration Date. The plot focuses on a young boy, raised as a contender for the position of Fisher King, who accidentally inhales Thomas Edison's last breath and becomes possessed by his ghost. This triggers a chase by a variety of occult types who want Edison's ghost so that they can inhale it for the "ultimate high". So far, so good. However, the nature of the ghosts is never properly explained, and inconsistencies abound. For instance, Edison's ghost thinks and speaks like a normal human, whereas other ghosts are portrayed as mere fragments of consciousness. Why is Edison different? Does this have anything to do with the reason why the "ghost-eaters" want him? This is never explained. Added to this is an unsympathetic main character, a quite ridiculous villain (the fact that she is called "Loretta deLarava" doesn't really help the suspension of disbelief), and a lot of nonsense about "masks". The result is not a good read. There are, however, some redeeming features. The one-armed amnesiac Sherman Oaks is an interesting character, as he slowly begins to realise just how old he is, and the inclusion of Tim Power's trademark secret history, concerning Thomas Edison, Harry Houdini and Henry Ford, is as welcome as ever. On balance, though, this is a book to be avoided. Read something like Last Call or the Anubis Gates to see just how good Tim Powers can be.
on 18 November 2003
I normally can read a novel of this length in a couple of days. This one took me ten to finish. When this happens, it indicates one of two things: either the book is an extremely complex, difficult read or it simply did not engage me as a reader, did not make me want to hurry back to its pages. And for this book, both reasons apply.
The story line itself is a very convoluted mating of urban ghosts, two rather well known historical figures, and a large set of major characters who are apparently unrelated to each other at the beginning but who eventually are all intertwined. The driving force behind the plot is the idea that ghosts can be captured, bottled, and inhaled by the living, imparting their memories and life essence to the inhaler. Certain people have become addicted to this habit, and will do anything to capture a really strong ghost, murder being almost the least of that 'anything'. Into this idea Powers drops the ghost of Thomas Edison, a man almost reverentially talked about in schools for his multitudinous inventions, but not exactly the nicest man in the world, as a really powerful ghost that everyone who is capable of sensing his presence wants to get.
The set of ideas that Powers introduces here is impressive: inhaleable ghosts, 'rotten' ghosts that once inhaled make it impossible to inhale more ghosts, the possibility of a freshly dead person's ghost continuing to use his body, ghosts who slowly obtain a substantial physical form by ingesting trash, an ingested ghost's personality may take over the consciousness of the inhaler, and many more. None of these ideas are directly laid out at the beginning of the book, but slowly become obvious as you proceed through the story - but while you are learning Powers' ghost rules, you are likely to feel somewhat confused.
Also impressive are the portraits Powers paints of Edison and Houdini, combining known historical facts and foibles of their characters with his story line in an almost seamless mix. His descriptions of Los Angeles, both past and present, add to the sense of realism that is so necessary for a book of this nature to succeed.
The large set of characters, though, is the major problem with this book. While Pete Sullivan, Angelica Elizalde, and Koot Hoomie Parganas, the three major point-of-view characters, are each described with enough detail about their past and their current thought patterns to enable me to recognize them as real people. What they failed to do was emotionally engage me. And this same problem applied to Solomon Shadroe, Sherman Oaks, Neal Obstadt and all the other characters here - I could not find myself caring what happened to all of them. Perhaps this is because for a large portion of the book, there does not seem to be any definite goal that these characters are trying to reach - a real plot direction doesn't emerge until almost two thirds of the way through the book. While this is certainly a common trait in the modern 'life realistic' novel, where things 'just happen' and people bounce from one experience to another with no goal or direction, here it hurts, as the point is not to paint reality but to present the fantastic as commonplace.
This also points up the fact that there is almost no deeper level of meaning to this book. The actions and events portrayed do not have any relevance to everyday living, nor are the character's reactions explored in enough depth to provide new insight into the human condition. This leaves the book as an 'entertainment' only type story, which is perfectly fine as an objective for a novel, but without strong reader engagement with the characters or a strong plot, the entertainment level does not tip the meter very far into the 'enjoyable' range.
Some great ideas, some impressive historical research, but stretched across too nebulous a plot from too many viewpoints to be a real page-turning grabber.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
on 20 January 2010
I don't know why so many fans & regular readers of Powers are often so down on this book. I thought it was a worthy companion to Last Call, similar in setting but a completely separate novel in it's own right. In this world of ghosts & ghost junkies, the supernatural balance is suddenly rocked by the presence of a great, highly powerful ghost released unwittingly by a teenage boy called Kootie, which he blindly inhales, becoming possessed by it. It is no spoiler to say this ghost is that of Thomas Edison. According to Powers' take on history, Henry Ford contained Edison's last breath on his deathbed inside a glass jar so that he could protect it forever from the fiendish ghost hunters who would be out to get possession of it & ingest it. Over time, Ford was robbed of the jar, and it ended up in the hands of Koot Paraganas' parents, and it was hidden inside a statue of Dante's Inferno. Once the boy releases the ghost in the bottle, this starts the ball rolling for a number of events, as Kootie becomes the object of high rolling ghost hunters, who ingest the ghosts to ultimately not just gain a high, but to gain a twisted sort of immortality. Some of these ghost hunters have been alive so long they have forgotten who they once were, and even how old they are, as the personalities of the ghosts they have greedily inhaled have polluted their very being. (By the way, did you know that ghosts are not just created by death, but when you are born you give off "birth ghost"? Well, you do now).
At the same time, a man called Pete Sullivan is contacted after not hearing anything for several years by his twin sister Sukie, claiming that someone they once worked for is out looking for them. This person is Loretta DeLarava, another ghost junkie who is in fact after the ghost of Pete & Sukie's dead father so she can ingest it. Their father's ghost has just returned from the sea, from inside the belly of a giant, prehistoric fish! So, to avoid being found by this woman, and to protect their father's ghost, they must use a powerful "mask", which is none other than a mummified finger belonging to the great Houdini, along with plaster casts of his hands which Loretta had once stolen from the grave of Houdini, and which Sukie had stolen from Loretta back when working for her.
Anyway, enough about the plot. There is far, far more to it and you are best off just reading it. Typically, real characters are given their own mythos by Powers in this book, and themes & quotes from both Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass are present throughout the entire story, along with references to Jonah and the Whale, and probably far more things I missed due to not being intelligent enough to pick them up first time through! Personally, I really enjoyed Expiration Date, but as others have said, it probably would not be the best place to start if you are new to Tim Powers. Probably The Anubis Gates would be more accessible to begin with.