Oct. 30th, 2009

starlady: (jack)
Powers, Tim. On Stranger Tides. New York: Ace Books, 1987.

I am trying (and admittedly mostly failing) not to hold the fact that Tim Powers isn't Neal Stephenson against him (Powers, that is, not Stephenson).

Let me back up. I read this book because it's been optioned for the plot of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, for obvious reasons: a pirate named Jack goes in search of the Fountain of Youth. Clearly the movie people decided it would be cheaper and easier to pay the author before rather than after the movie; this way they can do what they want to the book and not worry about getting sued. So I read this book with a strange sort of double vision, both for itself and with an eye to how things could possibly be adapted for the PotC characters. But by the end I was convinced that the movie will do a better job with the material than the book, no matter what the movie does.

John Chandignac, ex-puppeteer, is sailing to Jamaica to confront his uncle about the inheritance the uncle stole from John and his late father when their ship is taken by pirates under the command of Phil Davies, one of Blackbeard's captains, with the help of Oxford don turned mad sorcerer Benjamin Hurwood, who nefariously plans to reincarnate his wife's soul in their daughter Elizabeth's body, with the help of his evil fat apprentice sorcerer Leo Friend. It's an intrinsic part of Friend's character that he is evil, fat and perverted. There are also magical negroes and a marked Madonna-whore complex on the part of the female characters (hint: Elizabeth isn't a whore because she's unconscious for most of the book).

The best I can say is that Powers obviously did his homework, except when he didn't (Englishmen quoting Dante in the 1710s? No). Having read the general time period brought to such glorious and frenetic life in Stephenson's Baroque trilogy, all the modern neologisms (at one point Hurwood rants about quantum mechanics under another name) and general infelicities of period dialogue that the characters utter in this book grate extremely. I did like, though, that Juan Ponce de Leon is still lying on the beach drinking rum two hundred years after he went looking for the Fountain. Welcome to the Caribbean.