Philip Pullman's Amber Knife, Moore's From Hell, Talbot's Luther Arkwright, Mieville's Perdido Street Station, Morrison's Invisibles -- you name them, they all recognise Moorcock as the originator of what is sometimes called 'steam punk' but which I call 'alternate urban adventure' since they tend to focus on the darker aspects of City Life. But what Moorcock also shares with these authors is his constant, unwavering suspicion of authority. Before this there were no steam-driven airships and the like,
no alternative futures, no examination of the underbelly of government, no dark, alternate Londons. This looks at three imperial dreams -- the British, the American and the Russian -- and shows in the first -- and by far the best -- Warlord of the Air how those empires are maintained by injustice, brutality and hypocrisy. Moorcock has not just given us a lot of good, original stories -- he has given many different authors who followed him a range of different methods. This is one method (the future as seen from the past) but Jerry Cornelius is another, Dancers at the End of Time are another and, of course, he changed the whole face of fantasy fiction with Elric and Co -- and that's without mentioning the literary fiction, the Pyat books, Mother London and all the non-fiction. In the 60s and early 70s Moorcock anticipated Black Holes and the Multiverse, both ideas once considered too outrageous by science, now highly respectable ideas debated in NATURE and NEW SCIENTIST. His scientific vision alone ranks him beside Wells and Clarke and his words have entered the language in the same way.
Oswald Bastable is a decent, idealistic young Army officer on the North West Frontier, circa 1900.
After some Haggard-like funny business in an old Temple, he awakes to find himself in the future --
a future he has anticipated in his own self-sacrifice -- i.e. a perfect Pax Britannica maintained by the mighty airships of a benign Britain. Why on earth would 'terrorists' wish to attack this perfect system ? No doubt from jealousy ? And why would Joseph Conrad (here
Korzeniowski the airship captain) support such
people ? This is also a very early example, if not the first, of post-modernist 'intervention' in genre. As well as playing games with Lord Jim and his creator, Moorcock takes Kipling's With The Night Mail and turns it on his head. Kipling supported his elite republican heroes against 'the mob'. As ever, Moorcock's heart is decidedly on the side of 'the mob' and that, again, is what makes this science fiction in the honourable tradition of Wells, London, Huxley and Orwell -- and just as influential on both literary and popular culture. The first novel is still the best. The others are excellent riffs on the main tune and worth reading. It still has the excitement of a new form being discovered and tried which gives it a special authority, makes it a particular joy.