Returning to the world of a much-beloved story doesn’t always work; George Lucas can tell us all about that. Any revisiting, especially one done after a long hiatus from that world, runs multiple risks. It can come across as a cheap nostalgia ploy, lacking the inspiration of the original. Alternately, the author’s style and approach may have changed so much over the intervening years that the new material doesn’t feel like the old stuff, creating dissonance and distance in the fictional space. And sometimes there just isn’t another story to tell that lives up to the first one, and the lesser light of the return diminishes the affection felt for the original.
Then again, every so often it works out. Case in point: Tim Powers’ Nobody’s Home, a novella that serves as a punchy return to the ghost-riddled London of The Anubis Gates.
The story hits the ground running, with a disguised Jacky Sapp on the trail of the body-snatching monster who murdered her fiance. But the best laid plans of monster hunters gang aft agley, as she is forced to intervene to save the life of a young woman from the murderous ghost of her late husband, whose personality has undergone a posthumous change for the homicidal. The intervention costs Jacky dearly. Not only has her own quest been delayed, but by getting involved she’s made herself stand out to the ghosts clustering around the Thames, and this is not a good thing. If she’s going to survive, let alone continue on her quest for vengeance, she’s going to need to de-gauss her supernatural potential. Add in the fact that Harriette’s reprieve from the attentions of her dead husband is only temporary, and the situation looks desperate.
The only hope available is a mysterious figure named “Nobody,” who lives on a barge in the middle of the Thames and has a reputation for being able to deal with ghost problems of this sort. But when Nobody agrees to help them — for a price — the true cost of his assistance becomes shockingly clear. The question, then, is will Jacky be willing to pay it — and if not, what can she do to stop Nobody before he finds another “customer.”
Clocking in at a concise 80 pages, including a series of illustrations by J.K. Porter, the story doesn’t dawdle. There’s no time for slow buildup and measured investigation. There’s work to be done here, and as a result Powers pushes plot a little faster than is his usual wont. Doing so doesn’t hurt the story, nor does the lack of lengthy exposition. There’s enough here to clue in the reader who hasn’t read The Anubis Gates (or who hasn’t read it in a decade or two) as to what’s going on without derailing the story’s progress. As with all of Powers’ better works, the world is presented as functioning a certain way without defensive justifications of same, and the storytelling is better for it.
Is Nobody’s Home the best place to start with Powers, or with the world of The Anubis Gates? Absolutely not. It’s a secondary work, though no doubt its open-ended nature is going to lead to all sorts of speculation as to whether it’s a warm-up for an Anubis Gates sequel. Readers looking to edge their way into Powers’ oeuvre would do better to start with the original novel to increase their enjoyment of the novella. But for fans of the original who’ve been waiting patiently or otherwise for a return to old literary stomping grounds, it’s a must-read.