At the start of his celebrated career—before his widespread acclamation as one of the most original contemporary fantasists in America—Tim Powers published a pair of exciting science fiction adventures. Long considered lost classics, these two novels were early indications that a true master had arrived on the science fiction/fantasy scene.
In The Skies Discrowned, a young artist and swordsman becomes a political criminal, marked for death after witnessing an assassination. Francisco Rovzar’s strange odyssey through his planet’s lawless underworld and his transformation from naïve young boy to hardened freedom fighter is an intriguing adventure with action on every page.
An Epitaph in Rust unfolds in a grim future Los Angeles, following a young man who escapes a bleak life of servitude in a monastery. Hunted for a seemingly insignificant transgression in a city driven mad by the mayor’s explosive destruction and the subsequent murderous rampage of the android police, young Thomas finds refuge with a troupe of actors who have more than Shakespeare on their minds.
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The Skies Discrowned and An Epitaph in Rust
The Complete Novels
By Tim Powers
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Tim Powers
All rights reserved.
The crowd in front of the Ducal Palace always fascinated Francisco Rovzar. The great stone arch of the barbican seemed to frame a picture of all human endeavor and misery. Here a curbside magician produced gouts of flame from his mouth, there a cowled priest shambled along, flicking passersby with holy water from a leather bag at his belt. A knot of moaning women waved rolled, ribbon-bound petitions at the procession of judges who hurried out of the cleric's gate to get some lunch before the afternoon sessions commenced. Grimy children in tattered clothes or none at all howled and chased each other through the gutters. Smoke from the fires of sausage vendors and jewelsmiths curled in gray ribbons up into the blue sky.
Francisco prodded his horse forward, through the gate. The guard recognized him and waved his slingshot amiably. Francisco waved back at him, then turned to make sure his father was following. The old man was rocking unsteadily in the saddle, muttering and frowning fiercely. His horse was stopped.
"Come on, Dad, we're going in," Francisco called. His father gave the horse a spasmodic kick, and it trotted up beside Francisco's mount. "Pull yourself together, Dad," said Francisco worriedly.
"I'm all right," the elder Rovzar said with an exaggerated nod. "Hell, when I did that portrait of Bishop Sipstand, I was so drunk I couldn't see him. I painted him from memory, and he said it was the ... the best painting he'd ever seen. Don't worry about me, Frank."
Frank smiled and shook his head, but he was still uneasy. Only two hours ago he had dragged his father out of a tavern in Calvert Lane, and it had required a cold shower and four cups of coffee even to get the old man as coherent and presentable as he was now. He always did love to drink, Frank thought, but since Mom died he's been getting drunk all the time. He's still the finest portrait painter within a hundred planets, but how long can that last?
They were within the walls of the palace now, the horses' hooves clicking on cobblestones. A footman sprinted up to them and bowed.
"If you'll let me take charge of your horses, you can go right in. The Duke is ready to see you."
"Thank you," said Frank, dismounting. He pushed back his straight black hair and set about getting his father out of the saddle. "Hah! Carefully now!" the old man barked as he began to slide off the horse's starboard side. "That's it, now! Feet first, feet first!" Frank caught him and set him upright on the pavement, with a smoothness born of much practice.
The footman regarded the pot-bellied, gray-haired old master with amused contempt. "You're late," he smirked, "but I guess I needn't inquire why."
"No," said Francisco, turning on him savagely. "Not unless it's a part of your modest duties to question the Duke's guests."
"I beg your pardon, sir," said the footman, suddenly meek. "I certainly never—"
"Take the horses," interrupted Frank, having pulled the saddlebags off his mount. The footman took the two sweaty horses away, and Frank led his unsteady parent across the yard to the open doors of the keep. A guard in blue-steel armor, who carried an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, escorted them up a carpeted flight of stairs and down a hallway, to a pair of doors in whose mahogany surfaces was carved the story of Frankie and Johnnie.
The guard yanked a bell pull on the wall and discreetly withdrew. In a moment the doors were opened by a young, tow-headed page who bowed and motioned Frank and his father into the room.
"Ah, there you are, Rovzar!" boomed the Duke Topo from a splendid tall chair of mosaic-inlaid ebony that was set in the center of the room. His bulky person was enclosed in a baggy pair of blue silk trousers and a green velvet coat. Ringlets of hair, so shiny as to seem varnished, covered his head and clustered about his shoulders.
"Your Grace," acknowledged the older Rovzar. Father and son both bowed. The room was lit by tall, open windows in the eastern wall; bookcases hid the other three walls, and a desk and chair were set in one corner. In the middle of the room, facing the chair in which the Duke sat, was a wooden stand supporting a framed canvas ten feet tall and five feet wide. The canvas was a nearly-finished portrait of the Duke, done in oils. It presented him dressed and seated as he now was, but it conveyed a dignity and strength, even a touch of sadness, that were presently lacking in the model.
"You're looking a bit jaded, Rovzar," the Duke observed. "Feeling all right, I trust?"
"Very well, thank you, and all the better for your Grace's concern," said the old painter. Frank stared at his father, admiring, as he always did, the man's ability to shake off the effects of alcohol when the situation demanded it.
"You think you'll finish it this session?" asked the Duke.
"It's not unlikely," answered Frank's father. "But I can't say for sure, of course."
"Of course," nodded the Duke.
Old Rovzar put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "Okay now, Frank," he said, "you set up the palette and turp and oil while I say hello to the picture." He crossed to the painting and stood in front of it, staring intently. Frank unbuckled the saddlebags and opened the boxes they held. He laid out a dozen crumpled paint tubes and poured linseed oil and turpentine into two metal cups. He unwound a rubber band from a bundle of brushes and set them in another cup. The page, standing beside the sitting Duke, looked on with great interest.
The double doors opened and a slim, pale young man entered. He wore powder blue tights and a matching shirt with ruffles at the throat. A fancy-hilted sword hung at his belt.
"Costa, my boy!" greeted the Duke. "Finished with your piano lesson so soon?"
"I despise pianos," the Prince informed him. "Is he still working on that picture?" He walked over and peered at the canvas closely. "Hmmm," he grunted, before turning and walking to the window. His attitude implied that this painting wasn't bad, in a quaint way, but that he'd frequently seen better. Francisco remembered the Prince's tantrums after he had been told that he was not to be included in the painting—for a week Costa had sulked and, in the months since, tried to make it clear that he regarded Rovzar as an inferior painter.
Frank's father was sketching lightly on the canvas with a pencil, oblivious to the world. What is it that's different about young Prince Costa this morning? wondered Frank. He's quiet, for one thing; usually he made himself tiresome with frequent questions and distractions. One time he had brought a drawing pad and pastels and made an attempt to portray the Duke himself, with much squinting, and theatrical gestures. But now he simply stood at the window, staring down into the courtyard.
Frank's attention was caught by his father's blocking-in of the background. With a few passes of a pencil, the artist's wrinkled hands had converted a patch of blankness into several bookshelves in perfect perspective. He set about defining the shadows with quick cross-hatching.
Suddenly it occurred to Frank what was different about Prince Costa. This was the first time Frank had seen him wearing a sword.
"Where's my number eight camel hair?" asked old Rovzar, pawing through the brushes. "Right here, Dad," replied Frank, pointing out the one in question. "Oh, yes." The painter took the brush, dipped it into the linseed oil, and began mixing a dab of paint.
A loud bang echoed up from the courtyard.
"What's that?" asked the Duke.
Several more bangs were heard, then a series of them like a string of firecrackers.
"By God," said Frank. "I think it's gunfire." He could hardly believe it; guns and powder were so prohibitively rare and expensive these days. Panicky yells sounded now, punctuated by more shots.
"We're beset!" gasped the Duke. Prince Costa ran out of the room, and the Duke took his place at the window. "Troops!" he said. "A hundred Transport soldiers are within the bailey!"
Old Rovzar looked up. "What?" he asked. "I trust my painting won't be interrupted?"
"Interrupted?" shouted the Duke. "The Transports will probably use your canvas to polish their boots!" An explosion shook the palace, and the Duke scrambled back from the window. The pandemonium of shouts, shots, and screams was a mounting roar.
The Duke ran bobbing and puffing across the carpeted floor to the desk. He yanked out drawers and began throwing bundles of letters and documents in a pile on the floor. "How did they get in?" he kept whining. "How in the devil's name did they get in?"
Frank glanced at his father. "Do we run for it?" he asked tensely. The young page stared at them with wide eyes.
Frank's father scratched his unshaven chin. "No, I guess not. We're better off here than down in that madhouse of a courtyard. Just don't panic. Damn, I hope nobody sticks a bayonet through this," he said, staring at the painting.
The hollow booms of two more explosions rattled the windowpanes. "This attack must be costing a fortune," said Frank. The price of explosives made bombs a costly rarity in warfare, and they were generally used only in times of great need.
The Duke had struck a match and set it to his pile of papers; most of them were yellowed with age, and they were consumed quickly, scorching the rug under them. When they had burned to fragile black curls he stamped them into powder. "What else, what else?" the distraught Duke moaned, wringing his hands.
Suddenly, from beyond the double doors Frank heard a hoarse, triumphant yell, and then heavy-booted footsteps running up the hall toward the room they were in. The page ran to the doors and threw the bolt into the locked position.
The Duke had heard it too and sprang to one of the bookcases. His pudgy hands snatched one of the books from the shelf, and then he stood holding it, staring wildly around the room. The attackers were pounding on the doors now. The Duke's eyes lit on the painting and he ran to it with a glad cry. He stuffed the book—which, Frank noticed, was a leatherbound copy of Winnie the Pooh—behind the picture's frame, so that it lay hidden between the canvas and the back of the frame. This done, he ran back to his elegant chair and sat down, exhausted. Frank and the old painter stared at him, even in this crisis puzzled by the Duke's action.
Six bullets splintered downward through the doors, one snapping the bolt and two more tearing through the page's chest. The impact threw him to the floor. Frank's numbed mind had time to be amazed at the quickness of it.
The doors were kicked open and six men stepped into the room. Five of them were brawny soldiers who wore the gray Transport uniform and carried rifles, but it was the sixth, the leader, who held the attention of Rovzar, his son, and the Duke.
"Costa!" exclaimed the astounded Duke. "Not you ...?"
Costa drew his sword with a sharp rasp of steel: "On guard, your Grace," he sneered, holding the blade forward and crouching a bit. Bad form, thought Frank, who had spent a good part of his boyhood in a fencing school.
Bad form it might have been, but it was adequate against the Duke, whose only defensive action was to cover his face with his hands. Prince Costa hesitated, then cursed and drove the tempered blade into Duke Topo's heart. He wrenched it out, and the Duke sighed and bowed forward, leaning farther and farther, until he overbalanced and sprawled on the floor.
One of the soldiers stepped to the still-open window and waved. "He's dead!" he bellowed. Cheers, wails, and renewed shooting greeted this announcement. Frank could smell smoke, laced with the unfamiliar tang of gunpowder and high explosives.
The other soldiers seized Frank and his father. "Damn it," old Rovzar snarled. "You apes had better—" He kicked one of them expertly, leaving the Transport rolling in pain on the floor. Another raised his rifle clubwise. "Duck, Dad!" yelled Frank, at which his captor twisted his arm behind his back—Frank winced but didn't yell, fearing that he'd distract his father.
His father had leaped away from the descending gun-butt and made a grab at Costa's ruffle-bordered throat. One of the soldiers next to Frank stepped aside to have a clear field of fire. "No!" screamed Frank, twisting furiously in his captor's grasp. The soldier fired his rifle from the hip, almost casually, and the bang was startlingly loud in the small room. The bullet caught old Rovzar in the temple and spun him away from the surprised-looking Prince. Frank, painfully held by two soldiers, stared incredulously at his father's body stretched beside the bookcase.
"Take the kid along with the servants," said Costa. The soldiers, one of them limping and cursing, filed out, carrying the stunned Frank like a rolled carpet. Costa closed the perforated doors behind them. He was alone now except for the three dead bodies, and he looked thoughtfully around the room. He slowly walked to the desk, observing the open drawers and the pile of ashes on the burned carpet. He searched very carefully through the papers that remained in the drawers, but took none of them. He went to the window and put one boot up on the sill, with his hand on his sword-hilt—a dramatic pose, he had been told. In the courtyard three storeys below the day's outcome was clear. The guardhouse was a pile of smoking rubble, crowds of prisoners were being lined up and herded into carts, and the Transport banner snapped and fluttered on the flagpole.
Prince Costa's triumphant laughter echoed between the walls from the lists to the bailey, and the prisoners, all guards or servants or advisers of the old Duke, shuddered or ground their teeth in impotent rage.CHAPTER 2
Dominion, it was called—a hundred stars in a field five thousand light-years across—and it was the most ambitious social experiment humans had ever embarked upon. It was a nation of more than a hundred planets, united by the silvery nerves of the Transport spaceships, the freighters that made possible the complex economic equations of supply and demand that kept the unthinkably vast Dominion empire running smoothly. Wheat from the fertile plains of planets such as Earth was shipped out to the worlds that produced ore, or fuel, or simply provided office space; and the machinery that was manufactured on Luna or Alpha Centauri III was carried to more rural planets, such as Earth. Planetary independence was a necessity of the past—now no planet's government needed to struggle to be self-sufficient; each world simply produced what it was best suited to and relied on the Transport ships to provide such necessities as were lacking. For centuries Dominion was a healthy organism, nourished by its varied and widespread resources, which the bloodstream of the Transport ships distributed to all its parts.
Frank sat against the back of the horse-drawn cart, hemmed in by a dozen hot, unhappy kitchen servants. They moaned and asked each other questions that none of them knew the answers to: "Where are we going? What happened? Who are these people?" Frank was the only silent one in the cart; he sat where he'd been thrown, staring with intensity at nothing. From time to time he flexed his tightly-bound wrists.
The cart rattled south on the Cromlech Road, making good time since Cromlech was one of the few highways on the planet that were subject to maintenance. Within two hours they had arrived at the Barclay Transport Depot southwest of Munson, by the banks of the Malachi River. The cart, along with fifteen others like it, was taken through a gate in the chain-link fence that enclosed the Depot, across the wide concrete deck, and finally drew to a halt in front of a bleak, gray four-storey edifice. The bedraggled occupants of the carts were pulled and prodded out, lined up according to sex and height, and then divided into groups and escorted into the building. Just before he passed through the doorway, Frank caught sight of the sign above the door: DETENTION AND BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION CENTER.
After many centuries, encompassing dozens of local golden ages, Dominion began to weaken. The fuels—fossil oils from jungle planets, and radium—became perceptibly less abundant. Transportation became increasingly expensive, and many things were no longer worth shipping. The smooth pulse of the import/export network had taken on a lurching, strained pace.
Excerpted from The Skies Discrowned and An Epitaph in Rust by Tim Powers. Copyright © 2004 Tim Powers. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe First Concrete Evidence,
The Skies Discrowned,
Book One: The Painter,
Book Two: The Swordsman,
Book Three: The King,
An Epitaph in Rust,
Book One: Rufus Pennick,
Chapter 1: Brother Thomas,
Chapter 2: A Day in the City,
Chapter 3: The Misunderstanding in Pershing Square,
Chapter 4: A Night at the Blind Moon,
Chapter 5: The Girl at the Far End of the Row,
Chapter 6: The Dark-Rum Queen,
Book Two: Nathan Gladhand,
Chapter 7: A Bad Dinner at the Gallomo,
Chapter 8: The Head in the Box,
Chapter 9: Deductions in Room Four,
Chapter 10: "With This Memory Bank ...",
Chapter 11: The Last Night of the World,
About the Author,