Book Review: Warlord of the Air

warlordoftheair_jpg_size-230One of the things I’m coming to respect about Titan Books is that they’re reprinting some of the lost genre greats.  Granted, I wouldn’t exactly refer to Michael Moorcock as “lost,” but some of his works are a little harder to find sometimes since they’ve gone out of print.  In this case, Warlord of the Air was printed in 1971, and up until January 15, it’s been out of print.  Sometimes you can find a used copy, but the option for a new one is here once more.

From the publisher:

It is 1973, and the stately airships of the Great Powers hold benign sway over a peaceful world. The balance of power is maintained by the British Empire – a most equitable and just Empire, ruled by the beloved Kind Edward VIII. A new world order, with peace and prosperity for all under the law. Yet, moved by the politics of envy and perverse utopianism, not all of the Empire’s citizens support the marvellous equilibrium.

Flung from the North East Frontier of 1902 into the world of the future, Captain Oswald Bastable is forced to question his most cherished ideals, discovering to his horror that he has become a nomad of the time streams, eternally doomed to travel the wayward currents of a chaotic multiverse.

The first in the Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy, The Warlord of the Air sees Bastable fall in with the anarchists of this imperial society and set in train a course of events more devastating than he could ever have imagined.

Think of this book as a precursor to the modern steampunk genre.  It’s narrated by the author’s fictional grandfather (also named Michael Moorcock) and is written to mimic the style of the Victorian / Edwardian era.  Moorcock is one of those guys who can do that well, so if you’re inclined towards such things, I’d recommend the book based on that alone.

The tale that the narrator offers is one of time travel, straight from the mouth of Oswald Bastable.  He has gone from the Himalayas in 1902 to the same spot in 1973, where he believes himself to be without aid of rescue… until he spots an overhead airship.  The 1973 that Bastable recounts is that of one of peace for 70 years, and apparently the people who live there believe it to be quite dull.  All of the classic steampunk technology is extrapolated into this alternate future, and Bastable tells us how he finds himself in the middle of an uprising after an encounter with “an offensive little California scout leader called Reagan.”  This and other simplified parodies of historical figures can be found within these pages.  From here, Bastable’s patriotic spirit encounters the idealistic challenges caused by rampant imperialism, and he finds himself throwing in with the rebels.  This conflict leads to a huge battle over China and the use of a secret weapon over Hiroshima.  Bet you already know what it could be.

The fun doesn’t stop there, as this is the first in the Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy.  Keeping in mind, this is a genre novel from 1971 with social and political overtones, it’s probably a bit simplistic for modern readers who might be well read.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however.  The story is still a lot of fun, and while the setup happens at a leisurely pace to establish the world and its events, those familiar with Moorcock’s writing style will find this to be right in line with many of his works.  The result is far more world-building in a short space than you might have thought possible, but it’s a quick adventure, and it’s purely setup for more, as first acts of a three-act story often are.

Warlord of the Air is available from Titan Books.  For those who enjoy steampunk and/or Moorcock, it’s recommended.  I’d also recommend it for those who have a fascination with genre novels of yesteryear.  Let’s face it, they just don’t write ’em like this anymore, and it’s a treat to read something every so often that can make a social statement and still have fun in the process.