The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (1983) 464 p.

The Anubis Gates begins with Brendan Doyle, a middle-aged historian, being invited to England as an expert on Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He is surprised to find his employer wants his talents because he has discovered a gateway through time and is intending to escort a number of wealthy people (at a price) back to an evening in 1810 to listen to a lecture by Coleridge himself. (Surely, by the way, I’m not the only one who could think of more interesting things to do for an evening in 1810 London than attend a lecture?) It’s not giving too much away to say that Doyle find himself separated from the group, misses the return cut-off, and finds himself stranded in the 19th century.

I picked this up after reading about it on some 100 Greatest Science Fiction Novels list or another, but it’s probably more of a fantasy novel. The time travel is caused by ancient Egyptian magics, and Doyle is delivered not to an accurate representation of 1810 London, but rather a London spiced up with various magical background monsters and villains – some of which are positively cartoonish. I don’t mean that Powers is deliberately creating an alternate past – it’s more of a “just below the surface” world, and apart from the initial jump (and a later interlude) time travel isn’t even a dominant aspect of the story.

The Anubis Gates is a very schlocky novel, and my feelings about it are mixed. It’s a readable book, for the most part, with a number of neat moments and a relatively intriguing plot. But towards the end it suffers under the weight of too many plot threads and ideas, with Doyle hanging about at a few historic scenes for absolutely no reason. Powers’ prose is no more than mechanically competent, with a guarantee of at least one cliche or stock phrase every page, and his characters are largely cardboard cut-outs; I only finished it two weeks ago, but had to get up and find it again while writing this because I couldn’t remember the main character’s name.

Overall, not an outright bad book, but not a good one either. Read it if you’re into this sort of thing and don’t have anything better closer to hand.

The Anubis Gates at The Book Depository