Forsake the Sky

Reviewer: Ian Leroux

Author: Tim Powers

Published: 1986

Reviewed: 2010-04-26

Publisher: Tor

I still don't quite know what to make of this novel. The front cover
illustration at first made me think of a Star Wars tribute, the back
cover synopsis (and the initial description of the setting) sounds a
lot like Dune, and the work as a whole resembles the offspring of an
unholy four-way between a fencing manual, a cookbook, a blood-soaked
revenge tale and Robin Hood.

The setting is at once the most intriguing and the weakest aspect of
the book: it's meant to be a far-future universe where the decline of
interplanetary transport has forced the population of trade-starved
worlds back to a late-eighteenth-century technological level. What
this really means is that Powers gets to mix in mid-twentieth century
American cultural references into his three-dimensional version of
Venice. The idea that the great poets, the dishes, and the painters
of reference will be the same several millenia hence on a far-flung
world as in our own time is where my ability to suspend disbelief
failed me.

Meticulous world-building this isn't. Not everyone cares. On the
other hand it offers a fast-paced tale of action and intrigue whose
terms of reference are pleasantly familiar (think Errol Flynn), some
hilariously sketched minor characters, and an upwardly mobile
protagonist who isn't related to, annointed by, or otherwise fated to
be a member of the elite who have all the fun in most fantasy novels.
And for those of us who've sometimes wondered whether underground
dwellings mightn't be cool, this book takes the concept a long way in
interesting directions.

The afterword informs us that this was Powers' first book (published
in an earlier version entitled "The Skies Discrowned," in 1976). That
would account for my impression while reading it that it was a young
man's exercise in authorial wish-fulfillment. But it's interesting to
see what fantasies a man like Powers started out from, what wishes he
wanted to fulfill, so I enjoyed it as a piece of forensic

Recommended as light fare to those with unpretentious tastes.