Nomad of the Time Streams / The War Amongst the Angels, by Michael Moorcock

Review by Mike Chinn

Despite the huge time-gap between these two books (and if they teach us one thing: time doesn't count) both are pretty well linked. Like most things in Moorcock's multiverse, familiar things and faces can turn up in unfamiliar guises.

Cover of The War Amongst the Angels

Nomad, numbered volume 6 in the Tale of the Eternal Champion, comprises all three novels of the time-lost Captain Oswald Bastable. The first, Warlord of the Air, was originally published in 1971 (see what I mean about the gap) although for this edition, the author has revised it ‘substantially’. It recounts how Bastable, in a manuscript left to Moorcock’s grandfather – also named Michael – describes his adventures in 1973 when he somehow ventured through a time-slip. Though it’s not a 1973 that would be familiar to anyone in this half of the century. Deliberately written as an author of 1903 would like the future to be: still Edwardian in many respects, still under the benign tyranny of the British Empire, the technology quaint and retarded (is he making the point, I wonder, that under the stultifying embrace of empire, progress in always stifled?). But in the East, a rebel warlord is rattling his sabre, and it appears he has something to match the dreadnought airships of the Empire: aeroplanes. The novel was, and is, a Wellsian parable, full of clever irony and comment, easily the best of the three. The Land Leviathan treads similar ground – this time with a black revolutionary determined to destroy America – whilst The Steel Tsar doesn’t even attempt to build up the alternative world Bastable unfortunately wonders into, but throws the reader in headlong. One almost senses a feeling of impatience: as though Moorcock had grown tired of the trilogy, and wanted to finish as quickly as possible. But even so: sub-standard Moorcock is better than many at their best.

And Nomad does introduce us to characters and concepts that still play important parts in the man’s novels: Rudolf von Bek in The Warlord of the Air, Una Persson in both Land Leviathan and Steel Tsar. Which leads neatly into …

The War Amongst the Angels. Supposedly the sequel to Fabulous Harbours, which was itself claimed to follow on from Blood, War certainly continues themes – if not actions. Mostly narrated by Rose von Bek, with occasional sections told by Jack Karaquazian, the cast also includes Sam Oakenhurst, Dick Turpin, Bill Cody, various Corsairs of the Second Ether, members of the Moorcock clan, Lucifer, and Captain Quelch. In fact, it’s as much a sequel to Jerusalem Commands as either of the Second Ether books. Characters crop up in roles familiar and unfamiliar; the author drops names of characters and books carelessly – Corum, Winds of Limbo, Shores of Death – there’s an albino with a black sword, this time named Ulrich von Bek, whilst relative Rudolf is alluded to. If I make it sound as though you need to be a Moorcock fanatic to follow this, then let me assure you: you don’t; though reading Blood and Fabulous Harbours would help. War has enough going on to compensate for any unfamiliarity a reader may have with the rest of his work. Time leaps back and forth at random, narrative changes from first to third person and back again without warning – to illustrate how fluid and precarious are the realities Rose and her companions inhabit. And the climatic battle, where Law, Chaos and the Singularity fight it out, is at once an echo of the finale of Stormbringer, and something much more wonderful.

Never has Moorcock’s concept of the multiverse and all its endless variety been more clearly stated.

Nomad of the Time Streams, Millennium £6.99

The War Amongst the Angels, Orion £16.99