|LC Class||PS3566.O95 T48 2006|
Three Days to Never is a 2006 fantasy novel by Tim Powers. As with most of Powers' novels, it proposes a secret history in which real events have supernatural causes and prominent historical figures have been involved in supernatural or occult activities. The novel was shortlisted for the Locus Fantasy Award in 2007as well as the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in the same year.
The action mostly takes place in Southern California, in a few days during August 1987.
Frank Marrity (a widower) and his loving twelve-year-old daughter, Daphne, are drawn into a dangerous occult world when his grandmother (affectionately called "Grammar") dies in bizarre circumstances. Soon, Frank and Daphne are pursued by agents who know much more about their lives than they do—for example, that Grammar is Lieserl Maric, the daughter of Albert Einstein, and that she was friends with Charlie Chaplin—and that all three of them had discovered secrets to time travel and had found how to change prior events, perhaps to please themselves.
Frank and Daphne, who wish to live their normal lives (he teaches English at University of Redlands, she is also fond of English literature), find their lives invaded by secret agents and an old man who introduces himself to Frank as his missing father. In reality, he is an older Frank, from the year 2006, who has found himself in a miserable alcoholic life, but remembers an earlier time-line in which he was happy. Because Daphne died in that time-line, old Frank thinks that if she dies now, he will return to 2006's happy life.
Lieserl "Grammar" Marrity, with the help of her father Einstein and her friend Chaplin, had created a time machine (a "maschinchen"), which she keeps in a small outbuilding called the Kaleidoscope Shed. The machine's components are a swastika of gold filaments; a (fictional) cement slab with Chaplin's handprints, footprints and signature, dated 1928, from the forecourt of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre; a videotape of A Woman of the Sea , a lost film Chaplin made in 1926; and a pack of letters from Einstein to Grammar. The time machine, as described, works mystically as well as scientifically. This sort of synthesis of modes of speculative fiction (and of MacGuffins) is typical of Powers's combined-science-fiction-and-fantasy novels.
The Chaplin film has been recorded over a commercial VHS tape of Pee-wee's Big Adventure ; when Daphne watches it, she reacts with such horror and fear that she strikes out pyrokinetically and burns both the tape and her teddy bear in her bedroom upstairs. This psychic action attracts the attention of two groups of foreign agents who are searching for the time machine.
The apparently sympathetic agents are of the Mossad, one member of whom wishes to travel back in time to change certain events during the Six-Day War, which left him crippled, whereas an opposing group, called the Vespers, wants to murder Frank Marrity for reasons he cannot understand.
Old Frank warns young Frank and Daphne not to eat in an Italian restaurant, but they disregard this and go to lunch at Alfredo's. Daphne chokes on a bite of food and Frank performs an emergency tracheotomy, saving her life. When she is hospitalized, they are visited by Oren Lepidopt, a Mossad katsa, who pretends to be Eugene Jackson of the National Security Agency. While there, he sees a dybbuk appear on the hospital room television and attempt to possess Daphne, but Lepidopt rescues them. Believing his statements, Frank and Daphne, by default, join the Mossad team.
The Vespers attempt to kidnap the Marritys by co-opting Frank's brother-in-law, Bennett, to deliver them for $50,000. Bennett leads them to Grammar's house, but then changes his mind and saves Frank and Daphne from assassination. Bennett brings Frank, Daphne, and his wife Moira (Frank's sister) to a house in Hollywood Hills. Frank contacts Lepidopt and tells him how to find the maschinchen in Grammar's Kaleidoscope Shed. By a matter of minutes, Lepidopt's team fetches the machine before the Vespers and old Frank can get to it.
In Hollywood Hills, the Vespers group successfully kidnaps Daphne, at which point one of them, Charlotte Sinclair, a blind psychic, switches sides and joins Frank to save Daphne. Having lost her eyesight in an accident at the age of 19, she wants the time travel machine in order to cancel her present time-line and start over, avoiding both the accident and her conflicted present life. She and Frank are romantically attracted to each other.
The Vespers bring Daphne to their hideout in Palm Springs. The Mossad team, with young Frank and Charlotte, bring the time machine components to the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, California in order to use it as an aid for a séance, each of them hoping to accomplish their various goals. They experience a sort of hallucination of Powers's fanciful history of what "really" happened to Einstein, Chaplin and Lieserl during the 1920s and 1930s, including a psychic/time travel explanation of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake.
Daphne, captured and tied up by the Vespers, uses her mental powers to set their headquarters on fire. They tranquilize her and flee, but Frank's telepathic link has alerted him to what she did. The Mossad agents imprison Frank and Charlotte in the back of their van and head for Palm Springs, where Lepidopt is intended to time-travel to the Six-Day War; both teams, using different magical abilities, gradually converge upon each other. Lepidopt, with his hands on the Chaplin concrete slab, hesitates, and the Vespers surround the Mossad van.
The novel climaxes with a shootout at the El Mirador Medical Plaza in Palm Springs, in which several major characters are shot and killed. Lepidopt finally gets up the nerve to "jump" but travels back only two minutes in time; still, this is enough for him to change the time-line and to save Frank, Daphne and Charlotte, though he himself dies. The details are wrapped up in the Epilogue, when the three attend Grammar's funeral. Bennett Bradley shares the $50,000 with the Marritys.
The Vespers are "a secret survival of the true Albigenses, the twelfth-century natural philosophers of Languedoc whose discoveries in the areas of time and so-called reincarnation had so alarmed the Catholic Church that Pope Innocent III had ordered the entire group to be wiped out." They have discovered the Holy Grail, and hope to use it as a component of time travel; in the twentieth century, they worked with Adolf Hitler's Nazi government in order to get funding, though not for any political reasons. They often travel as a group in a black bus.
Science fiction author James K. Morrow, reviewing the novel for The Washington Post , admired Powers's "brio, bravado and a salutary measure of lunacy" in writing the book, and called it "a beguiling genre omelet, a mélange of forms ranging from alternate history to science fiction, urban fantasy to occult cliffhanger, espionage adventure to Ross Macdonald-style Southern California hardboiled detective thriller."
John Clute writes that the novel is a somewhat farcical "12-step to daylight" in which, happily, "Life is a game which can be played": "In this sounding house of story, a typical Tim Powers plot unfolds. As usual, there is no simple way to do synopsis: Not only are there two opposing Covert Forces attempting to gain control of the Grail-like MacGuffin, which does in the end change the world a few times before evaporating, but the central premise involves time travel, which can never be explained, not really. ... A certain proportion of Three Days is spent perplexing lay readers with exegeses of the theological and practical implications of Einstein's discovery, the time travel maschinchen he concealed after the 1933 disaster..." Clute says that the novel is not exactly clear, yet "the book ends in peace and closure, and it gives joy."
Andrew Santella wrote for The New York Times , "Powers's latest genre-blending thriller (call it an occult/fantasy/espionage/existential adventure with elements of paranoid rant) concerns shadowy groups of international intriguers racing to locate a lost discovery of Albert Einstein's that could quite literally change history. ... Frank Marrity, an English professor, and his 12-year-old daughter, Daphne, stumble on Einstein's secret and scramble to figure out what it means and how to keep it and themselves out of the hands of the mysterious groups—Mossad? the N.S.A.? Evil cabalists?—who are chasing them. Their predicament is about as dire as can be imagined, but it gives Powers's heroes the opportunity to confront their own pasts. You might finish this overstuffed novel still unsure about the connection between Einstein and astral projection, but if you give in to Powers's imaginative leaps and relentless pacing you may find that a mere quibble."
Adam B. Vary of Entertainment Weekly , in a mini-review, gave the novel a B+ grade: "In 1987, a widower dad and his young daughter are thrust into international metaphysical intrigue involving time travel, Jewish mysticism, and Albert Einstein. ... Deeply weird—Charlie Chaplin plays a key role—but it all somehow works in Powers' wily storytelling logic."
Comparing parts of the novel to C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength , Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time , and the writings of John le Carré, Graham Greene and Len Deighton, science fiction author John Shirley wrote, "The ride we take in this marvelous novel is glorious and gripping. And if we have a mind-bending panoply of the fantastic to absorb, we feel privileged to pay the price of entry—we accept it all as being part of the 'physics of the metaphysics' of the grimly glorious Powers universe."
Thomas M. Wagner of SFReviews.net, praising "Powers' creative brilliance," wrote, "Powers ingeniously imagines a world in which the most cutting-edge discoveries of physics walk hand in hand with paranormal phenomena, Kabbalist mysticism, and enough weirdness for any five seasons of The X-Files. ... If one were to glean a message from this story, it could be that, as much as we might dream of going back and changing events in our past that have hurt us to one degree or another, the point of life is to move forward through the pain, and not linger on it, tormenting ourselves by never learning lessons or growing as people. A lot of time travel thrillers would root themselves in the gizmo or the gimmick; Three Days to Never is that rare kind of thriller that never loses sight of the humanity beneath the surface."
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Powers has drawn on a number of motifs familiar to fantasy—vampires, Arthurian legend, voodoo, zombies, Egyptian and Greek myth, the Fountain of Youth, the Tarot deck—then mixed in themes more readily associated with science fiction, for weird measure—time travel, body transference, chaos theory, quantum mechanics.
To strangers I usually say I write science fiction books, just because if I said fantasy I don't know what they'd imagine I meant by that. To myself, I just think I write that stuff we read, that stuff that is kind of under the umbrella of, oh... Bradbury, Heinlein, Lovecraft, Sturgeon, Leiber... I think the distinction between science fiction and fantasy is an arbitrary one. Generally people who write one also write the other. And so when I'm writing I never think, you know, 'Is this one science fiction? Is this one horror?' I just think 'Well, it's that stuff. We'll certainly have something like ghosts wandering around, and...'
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