Monday, September 24, 2007

Review: The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock is a legend in the SFF world, mostly as a result of his Elric stories, written in no small way as a (critical) response to the fantasy tropes most often associated with J.R.R. Tolkien. Beyond his stories of Elric and the development of the multiverse, Moorcock has penned well-regarded literary novels, such as Mother London and Byzantium Endures, and is an acclaimed musician. So, it is with some amount of embarrassment that I admit that The Metatemporal Detective is the first work of Moorcock’s that I’ve read.

The Metatemporal Detective collects the stories Sir Seaton Begg as he faces off with his with his counterbalance in the multiverse, Count Zenith the albino. Begg is often joined by his ever faithful partner, Dr. “Taffy” Sinclair as Moorcock pays homage to the crime fiction he loves – not only to the likes of Doyle’s eternal Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but more directly to his childhood favorite, Sexton Blake.

The crime fiction Moorcock creates in The Metatemporal Detective imagines worlds only possible in the multiverse. At times Moorcock achieves a steampunk-noir quality, where air ships and electric cars dominate a book without the internal combustion engine. The loose mosaic is brought together with the only new story, “The Flaneur des Arcades de l’Opera”, with implications to other events of Moorcock’s multiverse, while being entirely enjoyable for those who, like me, are not familiar with exactly what these implications are.

My immediate impression of Moorcock’s writing was one of awe and appreciation for someone who clearly is a master of language. The writing was an absolute joy to read while never becoming flippant. In mere moments, the mood was set and characters brought to life. This man knows how to write.

Interwoven in the mysteries of such varied settings as England, France, Germany, and an independent Texas are deeper issues. Moorcock’s multiverse is a struggle between Chaos and Order where things must be in balance. Begg seeks to right the wrongs of his nemesis, Zenith, even while respecting and sympathizing with his foe. Internal conflicts arise at times when Begg represents the likes Nazis and even Hitler himself; working for justice for all, even some of the most reprehensible people of any history.

Included at times is pointed political satire, most sharply realized in “The Mystery of the Texas Twister”. Moorcock portrays an independent Texas Republic slipping into an expansionist fascist regime run by a corrupt government headed by the likes of “King” George Putz and “Dicky” Shiner. At times I wanted to laugh and cry with such exaggerated satire while being reminded bit of home (having been raised in Austin), with my only disappointment in Moorcock’s homage to Shiner Bock beer and its attachment to “Dicky” Shiner.

While some are more memorable than others, there isn’t a bad story in the bunch. Moorcock demonstrates his mastery of language, sets the mood, and takes the reader on a trip through the multiverse, guided by the great metatemporal detective, Sir Seaton Begg. The Metatemporal Detective is one of the more enjoyable books that I’ve read in a while – 8.5/10.


Carl V. Anderson said...

I haven't read any Moorcock, but this sounds great. Would you recommend it for a Moorcock virgin like myself?

Neth said...

-Carl, it worked for me, so I would say so.

I've also heard great things about Mother London, which often makes best of lists (like those of Jay Tomio and Jeff VanderMeer that have provided me with some great reading).

As for the Elric books, I have no real idea where to begin. But I hear there are omnibuses and that they are short.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Neth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

oops sorry about that. I had the link in my favorites so I just copied the link from there. Please remove the comment. Here is a standard link.
My apologies

Carl V. Anderson said...

Thanks Neth, it really does sound interesting.

Anonymous said...

Mother London is a great read, but the first 100 pages are pretty unforgiving, particularly for someone new to Mike's work.

I suggest Blood: A Southern Fantasy as a better starting point.


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