My father, as a young man – younger than I am now – loved Science Fiction. I seldom have time to read that kind of litterature now, but occasionally when I visit my mom I randomly pick one of those cheap paperbacks from the early seventies or late sixtees and read a few pages. If it captures my immagination I read on.
Michael Moorcook was not previously known to me, but it is no surprise that I liked this book. It is very political – Moorcook apparently is a anarchist individualist, very critical of writers in the genre lik Heinlein who more than flirt with fascism.I of course agree with the anarchism but not with the individualism. (He’s also critical of religion, though that does not feature in this book). The book is the first of a series of three, now sold in one volume, that form part of a cycle of books that are related to each other in the sense that they take place in the same universe (but in different periods of time, though it seems some charachter still appear in several storylines).
The book begins in 1902, when the protagonist is thrown forward into 1972 (the book was published in 1971) but its an alternative 1972 that is different in at least two ways: Airships and steamengines rule; and the old european empires (plus japan and america) still rule the colonies). There is a resistance movement, very similiar to the pre-Sovjet Union left, split into various groups disagreeing on doctrine and methods (There is more than a reminiscens of Dostojevsky’s Demons here) and an old Lenin makes a cameo appearance as a essentially failed revolutionary. The interesting thing is that what is missing is capitalism: the empires agree on fixed prices. This at least accounts for a difference in the way technology has advanced – the rebels are technologically more advanced.
The main character develops from an initial admiration of the British empire, calling himself a patriot, to being forced to see the negative side of impirial rule (the masses kept at bay by violence) and joining the rebels. But there is a final twist to the story, that I won’t share/spoil that makes this more interesting than a simple political pamphlet discuised as fiction.