The Anubis Gates

Tim Powers
The Anubis Gates Cover

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers: Time Travel Done Right


The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers is time travel done right.

It's been over thirty years since The Anubis Gates was published, and the story of treachery, time travel, and long dead gods has aged well.

But then, what should I have expected? It's Tim Powers. As I think I saw someone else mention about the author, who else could combine Egyptian mythology, Lord Byron, quantum mechanics, sorcererous clowns, and time travel? It is at times dark, other times indulgent, and occasionally syrupy with fantasy. It is, at all times, a complex mystery unfolding.

It's the 1980s. Brenden Doyle, an expert in the 19th century poet William Ashbless, is hired by a neurotic millionaire to provide the historical context for a lecture given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Except the lecture is to be given in 1810, and Doyle is to deliver his pre-lecture lecture to a team of time travelers who will attend meet Coleridge in person.

Everything goes according to plan, until Doyle finds himself stranded in London, penniless, pursued by murderous cultists of ancient Egyptian gods, and unmistakably out-of-place in time.

Powers has a fantastic knack for writing with the kind of abandon that makes important details look like afterthoughts or excess description. It's only later, as the plot unfolds, that what was previously thought unnecessary reveals itself as crucial to the story. It makes the opening chapters feel almost scattered and confusing, but provides later chapters with a solid foundation.

This is all the more interesting in the read because the pieces that Powers lays out for his story come from so many different directions. Part of why he's able to do it successfully, I think, is his reliance on real historical events as mile-markers for his characters. Using real events as a template for the events of his The Anubis Gates, he then strings them between them with the fantastic and creative. The world he describes is alive, colorful and bright, helped along by vivid writing that adeptly adjusts language, accent, nomenclature, and description to match the geography and historicity of his settings.

Using history as his backdrop--especially times and places so disparate--does require some leaps, though, and as the pages pass, there were moments when I wondered if Powers would get to the point, whether he would be able to tie up all of the loose ends. I wouldn't say the plot was dragging, but I did occasionally feel like a leap of was going to be necessary to get on with things. So much time had been spent laying the ground work, and now the leap was going to be dramatic to pick up the pacing.

Powers brings it all together in a dénouement that is both not entirely unexpected, but pleasingly surprising. He wastes no time in satisfying his reader, meeting expectations, and answering questions. If you're looking for examples of classic science fiction--or fantasy? then The Anubis Gates is a satisfying story, strangely unfolded, but fulfilling to the end.