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  • TITLE: Dinner at Deviant's Palace
  • AUTHOR: Tim Powers
  • AWARDS:Best Novel PKD Award; Short-listed 88888888888Nebula for Best Novel


The setting is a post-holocaust Los Angeles 100 years into the future. There is no electricity, no running cars, no guns, no real government or police, and no explanations. Long Beach is an island, with San Pedro Bay filling in at about Southgate . "Ellay" proper is surrounded in a big wall to keep out undesirables like the San Berdoo Army which is scourging toward it, or Hooters, those mean, leather-clad outlaws who ride customized bicycles instead of Harleys. The detail is rich with deterioration, makeshifting, and irony, especially for –ex or present Los Angeleos readers. For example, Venice , that "savage carnival of a town" (Ace, ISBN 0441148786, 2nd printing, c.1985, p.41), is "like the abandoned toys of a long-departed child", where the beachfront is used solely for drug trafficking, prostitution, and "to dispose of inconveniences" (p.214), which means to say, it has remained pretty much unchanged.

The protagonist, Gregorio Rivas, is a pelican-playing musician, but has achieved legendary status in this burned-up community as a Redeemer. In today's lexicon, he would be called a de-programmer or de-briefer, as his job is to extract rich brats from cults and deconstruct their brainwashing. The Jaybird cult is founded and run by Norton Jaybush, who makes Jim Jones look like Fatty Arbuckle on the malfeasance meter. It is a short-term fix to survive the savagery of apocalyptic residue, as Jaybirds are required to take the Sacrament which melds their minds with Lord Jaybush, "as if each one of them was just one visible loop of a vast, vibrating worm" (p.40). The results are usually turning into a mumbling, stumbling, zombie Far-Goner, becoming the active ingredient for the instantly-addictive drug called Blood, or, the vastly desirable choice, death.

Stripped of its embellishments, Dinner at Deviant's Palace becomes a pretty simple and straightforward rescue tale of Saint Gregorio verses Jabba—I mean Jaybush—the Dragon to save Princess Urania. A modern addition is Sister Windchime, a strong and competent heroine who is NOT the Princess, and predictably "leave[s] by the Dogtown gate" (p.294) with our hero at novel's end.

The worth here is in the descriptive atmosphere and numerous amusement rides along the plot's midway. But it's a ring toss. Some are simply groaners like horses pulling Chevys—horsepower, get it?—over a century of ruined tarmac. I never did figure out why fifths of brandy would make manageable currency. Transforming a deck of fifty-two cards into a mystical Tarot is a marvelous idea and could have dichotomized Jaybirding, but was dropped early on. And I never did visualize the escape from the Holy City on a barge inside a Blood barrel.

However, Rivas carrying a somnambulistic Far-Goner around over his shoulder so he can hear Messiah Jaybush's thoughts loop-de-loops with wacky resonance, while the hemo-Gollum's—I'm sorry, I mean hemogoblin's—conceptualization, pursuit, inner dialogue and arresting conclusion is on a par with riding the ferris wheel just one more time. But the real roller coaster here is the logistics, purposes, and personalities of the Jaybird cult. It is terrifying and timely, heinous yet spellbinding as a suicide bomber in the middle of Century City.

All in all, I had a marvelous time with a few laughs, some thrills, and a little indigestion here and there. Was it the corn dogs or the cotton candy, I wonder?

© copyright 03/14/2006 by Larry Crawford

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