Friday, October 18, 2013


I recently finished reading THE WARLORD OF THE AIR by Michael Moorcock. It's the first book in a trilogy entitled "A Nomad of the Time Streams." First published in 1971, WARLORD (and the other two titles in the series, THE LAND LEVIATHAN and THE STEEL TSAR) has recently been reprinted by Titan Books.

The series concerns the adventures of Oswald Bastable, a British soldier of the early 20th century who becomes unstuck in time and travels to points in the future of various alternative time lines. In WARLORD, the story begins in 1903 when Bastable is sent to negotiate with the leader of a legendary city located deep within the vastness of the Himalayas. Through a process that is never fully explained, Bastable is hurled seventy years into the future into the world of 1973. But it's not the 1973 recorded in our history books.

In this world, neither WWI nor WWII ever occurred and as a result, the imperial powers that were in existence at the beginning of the 20th century are still well and thriving. The British, German, Japanese and American empires (along with a few smaller powers) are in control of a world in which the primary mode of transportation, commerce and warfare are one and the same: airships.

The first two thirds of this rather short (215 pages) novel is mostly a travelogue of Bastable and his adventures as a stranger in a strange land. The titular character, the Warlord of the Air, doesn't make his appearance until page 150. The Warlord is an Asian of mixed descent who has built a veritable Shangri-la in a hidden valley in China. Here, in a perfect utopia, he hopes to bring to fruition all of the best pursuits of mankind: arts, science, philosophy, agriculture, spirituality and more. It's a perfectly level playing field in which all men, women and children are equal.

 But in the midst of some interesting discussions about various political ideologies, war breaks out when the valley is attacked by airships from the imperial powers. There are some terrific aerial combat sequences that are far too short. In order to stop the war, Bastable and the Warlord must fly an airship out of China to Japan, specifically Hiroshima, where the airships of the imperial powers are being repaired and refueled at a massive airbase. Once above the base, the Warlord drops his secret weapon, an atomic bomb and the subsequent blast hurls Bastable back to 1903. But it's not our 1903. To be continued...

THE WARLORD OF THE AIR is an engaging novel. It reads quickly and I did enjoy it but I wish  Moorcock had gotten to the real heart of the story, the Warlord and the conflict that follows, a bit faster. I have copies of the other two books in the series and I will definitely read them but not before I read something else for a change first.

Michael Moorcock is a major figure in the history of science-fiction, both as a writer and editor. He was editor in the 1960s of  NEW WORLDS,  a British science fiction magazine. During his tenure as editor, Moorcock published many important works by authors of the "New Wave" movement of science fiction. He's written dozens of novels and currently resides in the Central Texas area in, of all places, Bastrop. I've never met him but I'd like to do so one day. 

No comments:

Post a Comment