Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: The Warlord Of The Air, by Michael Moorcock

This review copy was provided by Titan Books, who just last month re-released this classic novel, originally published in the 70’s. Which I think is awesome, since Michael Moorcock is among those writers who stand accused of starting the whole steampunk thing.

The Warlord Of The Air is the story of Oswald Bastable, a man from 1902, who is mysteriously jolted out of his own time, and into the world of the (then) present, 1973. But this isn’t the 1973 that we all know and love. Oh no. 

The British Empire is still very much intact and alive, and colonialism rampant throughout the world. The atomic bomb has not been developed, nor has heavier than air flight. Instead, the skies are alive with airships, from the luxury liner Loch Etive to the run down old ship, The Rover.

The story is written in the style of H. G. Wells, which is kind of interesting, but it doesn't slip into excessive rambling, as writing of that time period often does. All the nostalgia of the style, none of the annoyances, I would say. H. G. Wells, and other writers of the time, often started a story with the premise of it being a recounting of events - either the story is being told to another character, or the narrator is committing remembered events to paper. The Warlord Of The Air follows this tradition - the narrator of the first chapter is the man who discovers Bastable, after all the events of the story have occurred, and convinces him to tell his story.

Bastable himself is a likable enough character, if naive. He's innocent enough that I could forgive him for being so staunchly supportive of British colonialism, believing the world to which he'd been sent a utopia. While his blind support of the status quo got to be a bit of an eye-roll after a while, when he did finally realize the cruel injustices of colonialism, it was a slow enough transition that it was believable. He's not a stupid character, he just knows what he knows, and a big part of the story is his discovery of the world.

The funny thing was, I realized this story is structured very similarly to The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, which I disliked quite a bit for being little more than a masterpiece of world-building hung on nearly no plot. The difference between the two though, is the world of The Warlord Of The Air is much more integral to the main character's emotional arc, which kept me much more engaged in the story. William Mandella of The Forever War observes his world in a cold, emotionless way, whereas Bastable describes 1973 with wonder and excitement, and later frustration and despair, and that world - the point of the story - changes him as a person in the end. William Mandella's character is unaffected and unchanged by his experience.

Overall I enjoyed it very much, and I'm glad someone's making sure this classic stays in print. You can pick it up here.

Ten Cylinders.

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