This is the first book in an alternate history trilogy (that is certainly steampunk, although it predates the first use of the term. Suffice to say, there are airships and an exploration of colonialism). I tend to cordially dislike classics because of the slow pacing and lack of character depth, and I did not expect to finish the book. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, and was close to the end before I became very bored and annoyed.
This was published in the early seventies, and for a long while I was quite intrigued by the main character. He was an overly patriotic British soul, a touch racist in his awareness of how not racist he was, and somewhat taken with the decades of colonialist success (in an alternate 1973). I just wasn’t sure if he was MEANT to be a bit of an idiot, or if the author was simply unaware that that was how he came across (which is quite forgivable, when he was writing more than forty years ago). It turned out that Moorcock was aware of what I thought he was unaware of, and was unaware of what at first he seemed to find perfectly obvious. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to read the book to see what I mean.
However I can tell you that the political evolution of the hero intrigued me at first, and then abruptly bored me very much indeed. This occurred at the point that I realised the political content of the novel wasn’t a feature – it was the main event. Boooooorrrrrriiiiiiinnnnngg.
And yes, like most classics the pacing was slow, the characters underdeveloped, and women were basically nonexistent. Some people will enjoy this book. It was probably one of the earliest comments on colonial days (certainly fitting the political side of the “punk” in “steampunk”). But I won’t be reading any more Moorcock, thanks.
Free sample (when the hero is on holiday after a nervous breakdown):
But it is when you have begun to recover your energy, both mental and physical, that you begin to realise how bored you are – and within two months this realisation had struck me most forcibly. I began to nurse a rather evil hope that something would happen on Rowe Island – an explosion in the mine, an earthquake, or perhaps even a native uprising.