Good evening and welcome to ESPN s coverage of the 1st World Championship of Assumption Poker Tournament at the Mandalay Bay Hotel Casino in Las Vegas I m your host Mike Honcho and with me is three time poker champion Billy Busted Flush Stark Billy, you can certainly feel the excitement and tension in this room tonight Mike, you got that right We all used to think that poker tournaments for money were a big deal, but ever since the recent revelations that magic is real and that much of that power can be harnassed by the use of plain old playing cards, the entire gaming world has been turned upside down Tonight, we ve got the ultimate in magic poker challenges, a game of high stakes Assumption where the winner will not only be able to claim the very bodies and souls of the other players to become virtually immortal, he will also become the new magical King of Las Vegas while the ladies will be competing to become the Queen This opportunity only comes around about every twenty years And if the game didn t have enough drama, Billy, I understand that several of the players have some history and bad blood between them Bad blood and spilled blood in some cases, Mike First, let s check out Georges Leon, the current king Georges overthrew the last king of Vegas, legendary gangster Bugsy Siegel, and then extended his own life by essentially killing one of his own sons Georges has launched the current Assumption craze by using the card game to get people to unwittingly sign over their bodies for his future use Certainly a player to be respected and feared, Billy But tonight he ll be facing another son of his, Scott Crane That s right, Mike Georges actually attempted to take Scott s life force when he was just a kid, but the boy was saved by his mother even though he lost an eye in the process And since he s one of the mystical Jacks who can assume the kingship, you know what that makes him A one eyed Jack Can Scott hope to contend against his father, Billy Well, Scott was a professional poker player, and he s a blood heir to the throne However, the recent unexpected death of his wife, and subsequent alcoholism has left him vulnerable to his father and other threats from Dionysus And those aren t even his biggest problems, Mike You see, Scott has actually already lost his claim on his body in a game of Assumption he played twenty years ago with his father when neither knew who the other one was That certainly makes it long odds against Scott Crane But what about his foster father, Ozzie Crane Now, Ozzie is one crafty old card player, and he knows all the ins and outs of the magic business But he s stayed away from the magic end of thing for years so we re not sure what he ll bring to the table Adding to the family drama, we ve also got Diana, a daughter of the goddess Isis that Ozzie saved and raised This young woman will be playing to save the lives of her own sons and take on the role of Queen Exactly, Mike We ve also got several other wild cards in the mix like Arky Mavranos, a friend of Scott s who is dying of cancer and came along to try and tap into some Vegas magic and find a cure You ve got to respect a man who rejects traditional medicine and pins all his hopes on finding a miracle in a casino, Billy There s also a variety of other Jacks who want to take the throne and see Scott and Diana as the leading candidates to take out It has been one wild week here in Vegas with gun fights, magic, kidnapping, murder and beheadings And that s before the card game has even started These players certainly better hope that it s true that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas or the survivors will be looking at some long jail time, Billy Whatever happens, you can be sure that it should be a thrilling game, Mike I just hope we all live to see who wins We ll be back in a moment to kick off this game of Assumption right after a word from our sponsor, Budweiser. Now that I m no longer professionally obligated to review 200 contemporary novels each year as part of running the CCLaP website, I ve been using 2018 to indulgently make my way through the complete works of a number of authors who I ve always wanted to be completists of and one of those authors is Tim Powers, who has gotten famous over the years for blending multiple types of genres into New Weird tales about secret histories that are taking place around us in plain sight I started with his 1983 Philip K Dick Award winning The Anubis Gates , where he combines time travel, the birth of Romanticism in the early 1800s, and the occult elements of ancient Egypt then next I jumped back to his very first novel, 1976 s The Skies Discrowned , a straightforward space opera that s disappointing precisely because of its lack of originality, okay on its own but prophetically plodding when you realize what kinds of startling work was to come from him a few decades later.But the whole reason I decided to read Powers in the first place, and the books that garnered him such a passionate fan base to begin with, is his Fault Lines trilogy from the 1990s, starting with 1992 s Last Call which I just finished a few days ago And wow, it s easy to tell with this one why people started calling him a master of a new genre that he and only he is writing in ostensibly an urban fantasy novel from those 90s years when that genre first became so immensely popular, he somehow managed here to weave together the history of tarot cards, the Christian myth of the Fisher King, Bugsy Siegel and the birth of modern Las Vegas, body swapping, astral projection, and the seedy underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles, into a unified narrative that not only isn t an incoherent mess, but is actually a dazzling, mesmerizing thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat for over 500 pages.That s really the thing that s so exciting about this book, and why people get so hooked on Powers because he s essentially making up his own unique mythos and magical history as he goes here, in a way like you ve never heard another writer ever describe a secret magical history, but that contains a kind of inherent in universe sense to it a world where people perform ad hoc contemporary rituals using found pop culture detritus that hearken back to ancient rituals using much primal material, substituting things like kazoos and cigarette smoke in order to replicate arcane rites from thousands of years previously It s an infinitely clever way to tell a contemporary urban fantasy story, not least of which is because you have no prior frame of reference to the universe he is unfolding in front of you, making every turn of events a new surprise that goes in directions you could ve never guessed beforehand.An unforgettable book, Last Call this week joins that small list in my head of Favorite Novels I ve Ever Read In My Life, and I m excited now about tackling the next book in this series soon, 1996 s Expiration Date.
Former professional poker player Scott Crane s life is falling apart, having just lost his wife and been on a beer binge, when aspects of his past have come back to haunt him Specifically, a bizarre card game twenty years before where he may have lost his soul But what do his foster father and foster sister have to do with it And why is everyone trying to kill him Last Call is really hard to summarize accurately You could say it was about a man who lost his soul and tried to win it back Or you could say it was a modern retelling of the Fisher King legend Or a story about Bugsy Siegel and the rise of Las Vegas Or you could say it was all of those things and.The story started slow, establishing what had happened before and giving the reader hints at the magic Powers was working That portion reminded me of Neil Gaiman s American Gods and Roger Zelazny s Lord of Light, both books about ancient gods or archetypes in the modern world Once the two thirds mark was passed, the book kicked into high gear and the suspense level sky rocketed The last one hundred pages flew past The characters were well developed, even the villains and supporting characters.While I didn t think it was as good as The Anubis Gates, it was at least as good as Three Days to Never Tim Powers fans and fans of Gaiman and Zelazny should give this one a read. Summary Reminded me of a mash up of early Stephen King and Neil Gaiman I loved it I m running miles and miles behind on my reviewing, but I have to say something about this book so let s bullet point I thought it was a fantasy thriller based on poker I hadn t read any Tim Powers before and I found it hard to get psyched about the concept It won me over pretty damn quick It s excellent really, truly, I was a fool for not reading it sooner Let me get one hang up off my chest the blurb on the front The Game Poker The Stakes One man s soul That s a great tag line punchy and dramatic Shame it s entirely wrong The Game Assumption The Stakes A dozen people s bodies Doesn t quite have the same ring, does it This is a book about tarot cards I know a fair bit about tarot I ve got half a dozen of them tattooed on my back The idea here is that tarot cards and myths are symbolic representations of murky gods that lurk in the the human subconscious, and by manipulating that symbolism you can do a kind of magic So a hand of cards, read in combination, represent a certain fate good luck, good health, falling out of love, etc By trading those hands in card games, when the gods of the cards are paying attention, you can trade fates.With us so far Good It s a great concept.So one guy our Big Bad has figured out a couple of tricks with the cards, which has allowed him to claim people s bodies from them, pushing their minds down into the collective subconscious while he flits between multiple bodies like a kind of possessing spirit But his collection of bodies is getting old, and it s time to harvest the next crop of bodies, which he laid claim to thirty yeara beforehand.Our hero is trying to avoid that fate.His gang is cool and quirky The atmosphere throughout is tense but grounded The fantasy edge is deniable and dreamlike, but powerfully creepy at times.I didn t love the hero, Scott he felt a little bit flat, like an everyman character There s no denying it s effective, but it s never a tactic I can fully endorse my favourite protagonists have a bit individuality but I think it s partially this trait that reminds me of Gaiman that and the exploration and reinterpretation of symbology in mythNow, I still have 40 books I ve read that have reviews outstanding some of which I read over a year ago so I really should write something but in conclusion this is great book, far better than I expected give it a go, you re in for a treat After this I read Spillover I was avoiding this book, and then I decided to read it during my busiest weeks of the term, which in retrospect was a mistake, since it took me two weeks to read In Ben s reading world, that is an eternity.This book comes to me courtesy of an ARC of the Subterranean Express edition, which I received when they shipped me The God Engines I was pleasantly surprised, and I shelved this book to read it when I could get to it Every time I took it off the shelf and glanced at the back cover, however, I ended up giving it a pass.Last Call is set in Las Vegas and deals with Tarot, Grail symbolism, ritualistic magic, and manipulation of statistics None of this stuff really interests me I lack the ability to get excited about the myths and legends that have arisen out of the culture of mid twentieth century America So I started reading this book with the attitude that I didn t want to like it, probably wouldn t like it, but I should get it over with and read it anyway.At first, this attitude was mostly vindicated But then Powers began tossing out little tidbits that piqued my mathematician s curiosity He presented the poker powers in terms of probability, statistics, and of course, Mandelbrot That was kind of cool And for a bit, it was almost enough to make me forget why this book is difficult for me almost.But let me say some good things about Last Call now The dialogue is often good, and many of the characters random though they seem are fascinating in their own way Despite his understandable use of archetypes, Powers never quite succumbs to stock characters and one dimensional villains Deep down inside, this is a father son conflict, and all of the myriad plots and players dance around this central idea.Most of the characters I liked happen to be on the side of the good guys I liked Scott, most of the time, and Archie and Ozzie and, of course, Diana, who is kind of badass toward the end there I didn t like Georges Leon or Ricky, or whomever you care to call him , nor did Trumbull do much for me And Al Funo annoyed me in a way that few characters in fewer books have managed to do.In addition to the characters and the dialogue, I can also praise Powers writing in general He knows how to keep the action going, how to advance the story, and how to whet your appetite for exposition I can sort of see what other people admire and appreciate about Last Call, even if it does not enchant me in the same way Owing to my disinterest in the subject matter, reading this book was of a chore than an enjoyable diversion I had to tell myself to turn the page, and the story just seemed to keep on going for hundreds of pages than it needed.The plot is convoluted and confusing, and I never really get a chance to care about it all that much This is a story about the fight for survival, but so much of it is spent not knowing what the hell Scott is fighting I had to force myself to pay attention and try to figure out what was happening even then, I found myself skimming through some chapters, just sort of hoping it would all work out in the end.I guess what I m trying to say is that my reading of this book was far less involved than most books I read, to the point where I did consider putting it aside than once I didn t, and maybe that was the wrong decision, or the right decision I don t very much know But I doubt this review was very helpful to you, as ambivalent and vacillating as it sounds to me Last Call registers on my radar as static, just random background noise with very little in the way of intelligible signal. I wanted to like this book much than I did there was much in it that appealed to me, but as with Powers The Anubis Gates, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed Much of this reaction will be due to my lack of familiarity with both tarot and especially poker I fooled around with tarot cards in my late 20s, but never really committed myself to learning the art And I think the kids at the back of the school bus tried to teach me poker during my high school years, but that was many decades ago and my memories are hazy at best.There is a lot going on in this book and it speaks to Tim Powers skill as a writer that he managed to successfully weave it together into a cohesive story Here are some of the elements he incorporates archetypes Jungian psychology, mythology of Egypt, Greece and Rome, the Arthur Legend and the Fisher King, T.S Eliot, Bugsy Siegel, Las Vegas and Lake Mead.As in The Anubis Gates, there is a body snatching element to deal with as well These are the only two books of Powers repertoire that I ve read, so I found it interesting that they both had this esoteric characteristic in common Come to think of it, poetry featured prominently in TAG as well, so it is obviously a great interest to this author.Book number 292 in my Science Fiction Fantasy Reading Project.