How the Tim Powers method for secret histories keeps my creative juices flowing.

Cory Doctorow
13 min readJul 31, 2022


Lake Mead is the massive reservoir that was created when the Hoover Dam stopped up the Colorado river, creating a reliable supply of water for Las Vegas casinos .

It’s drying up.

As the western superdrought starves the region of water, Lake Mead’s water level is falling to historically low levels, exposing the various things that people had consigned to its (seemingly) eternal depths.

Things like corpses.

The mob’s habit of dumping its victims in Lake Mead is the stuff of legend, but now the legend has been confirmed, with new, grisly remains being exposed by the drawdown of the lake.

Every time I read about a new discovery from the bottom of Lake Mead, I think of Last Call, Tim Powers’ World Fantasy Award-winning novel about Vegas gamblers vying to become the living avatar of the Fisher King. It’s an indescribably great novel about gambler’s superstitions, Egyptian mythology, and the mob history of Las Vegas.

It opens with the mob boss Bugsy Siegel’s head being stolen out of a Vegas morgue and tossed into Lake Mead by a French mystic named Georges Leon, who — in this tale — was secretly responsible for Siegel’s death. Last Call turns Lake Mead into a mystical prison for magically charged things (like mobsters’ head) and every time I fly into Vegas and espy the Hoover Dam from the plane window, I think of that novel.

The 1985 Ace Books cover for Dinner at Deviant’s Palace.
John Berkey/Ace Books

Tim Powers’s books have a way of sticking with you. I started in 1985, with Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, one of the most memorable post-apocalyptic novels you could hope to read, full of “eyeball kicks” (stellar, memorable, wildly imaginative imagery), like the horse-drawn muscle car featured in John Berkey’s cover for the original Ace Books paperback.

While Deviant’s Palace is unmistakable Powers-ish in its themes and imagery, it is atypical of Powers’ main body of work, which is characterized by his “secret histories,” like Last Call and Hide Me Among the Graves (a secret history of…



Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog: https://pluralistic.net; Mailing list: https://pluralistic.net/plura-list; Mastodon: @pluralistic@mamot.fr