Three Days to Never

Last updated
Three Days to Never
ThreeDaysToNever Cover.jpg
First edition
Author Tim Powers
Genre Fantasy
Publisher Subterranean Press
Publication date
July 2006
Media type Hardcover
ISBN 1-59606-049-2
OCLC 63122894
813/.54 22
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. [1] The novel was shortlisted for the Locus Fantasy Award in 2007 [2] as well as the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in the same year. [3]



The action mostly takes place in Southern California, in a few days during August 1987. Professor of English Frank Marrity is visiting his recently deceased grandmother's house in order to get her affairs in order. To keep his 12-year-old daughter Daphne occupied, he puts her in front of a television set with a VHS videotape of Pee-wee's Big Adventure . When Daphne watches it, she strikes out pyrokinetically, burning both the tape and her teddy bear in her bedroom upstairs. This psychic action attracts the attention of foreign agents who know much more about the Marrity family's lives than they do—for example, that Frank's grandmother was Lieserl Maric, the daughter of Albert Einstein, and that she was friends with Charlie Chaplin. The three of them had created a time machine, which Lieserl had kept in a small outbuilding called the Kaleidoscope Shed.

Frank and Daphne meet an old man who introduces himself to Frank as Frank's missing father. In reality, he is an older Frank, from the year 2006, who intends to use the time machine to restore his earlier, happier life.

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. 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 join the Mossad team.

Another team, The Vespers, co-opts Frank's brother-in-law, Bennett, to deliver the Marritys to the Vespers for $50,000. Bennett leads them to Grammar's house, but then changes his mind and saves Frank and Daphne from assassination. Frank contacts Lepidopt and tells him how to find the time machine. By a matter of minutes, Lepidopt's team fetches the machine before the Vespers and old Frank can get to it. The Mossad team bring the time machine components to the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, California.

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.

Both teams, using different magical abilities, gradually converge upon each other. The novel climaxes with a shootout at the El Mirador Medical Plaza in Palm Springs. 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 save the Marritys, though he himself dies.


The Marrity Family

The Mossad team

The Vespers

Critical reception

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." [4]

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." [5]

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." [6]

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." [7]

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." [8]

Thomas M. Wagner of, 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." [9]


Grammar Marrity's house is located at 204 Batsford Street in Pasadena. Tim Powers's wife Serena's maiden name was Batsford. [1]

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  1. 1 2 Fawcett, Kim (1999). "A Conversation With Tim Powers: An interview with Kim Fawcett". SF Site . Retrieved December 27, 2014. 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...'
  2. "2007 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-21.
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  6. Santella, Andrew (August 20, 2006). "Fiction Chronicle". The New York Times . p. Sunday Book Review. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
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