The Soirées of Infinity

by Arthur B

Listen: Amelia Underwood has come unstuck in time.
Far stranger than any of his sword and sorcery work, but more structured - thanks to the stylistic influences it takes from Victorian literature - than the equally strange but extremely experimental Jerry Cornelius or Karl Glogauer stories, Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time stories are some of his more widely-celebrated ones. The tales unfold at the titular End of Time, the ultimate in Dying Earth-inspired settings. Earth, despite all odds (or perhaps with the aid of far future technology) has survived an impossibly long time, and is witnessing (but not paying attention to) the heat death of the universe. Earth is sparsely populated by a very limited number of extremely powerful individuals - all of whom know and are social peers with each other - and a few anachronistic time travellers and space travellers who are comfortably accommodated in these godlike entities' menageries.

It's not even entirely clear that the Dancers are human - in one story a Dancer speculates that they might be replicants, in the rather pointless Elric at the End of Time Moorcock asks LOL WHAT IF THEY ARE THE CHAOS GODS - and given their expansive ability to transform themselves according to the arbitrary parameters of their own choosing it's not especially relevant. What is important is style and social approval, for which they vie furiously. The upcoming end of the universe is something they are vaguely aware of, but not really motivated to pay attention to, for what's death but just one more experience to sample when it comes?

The main Dancers trilogy is the story of how one of the Dancers came to care about things like life and death and morality and the modes of behaviour proper to societies which don't consist of a bunch of gods on first-name terms with each other. It's also the story about how Mrs Amelia Underwood, a middle-class lady displaced from Victorian England, finds a compromise between loosening the social bonds which had restricted her whilst still retaining her sense of her own identity and those aspects of her society and culture she actually wants to hold onto.

In the process of writing the trilogy, Moorcock also wrote some short stories (one of which he expanded into a novel), which I'm also reviewing here. Some years after completing the series, Moorcock returned to it to write Elric at the End of Time, a short story which was originally developed to be published alongside artwork by Rodney Matthews (a surefire way to generate stacks of cash for both parties) but which was also published in the Elsewhere SF anthology and shoved in a collection of Elric odds and sods whilst the art book was delayed. I'm not reviewing that because I don't own it and it really adds nothing to either the Elric series or the End of Time series and it's kind of dumb. (Summary: Elric goes to the End of Time. He is scared. He meets one of the End of Timers and recognises him as Lord Arioch. The one who might actually be Arioch sends him home. The end. It's ludicrous because the character concerned behaves nothing like Arioch.)

Because I like the main trilogy so much, I'm almost tempted to keep my review to that and to also not review the apocryphal shorts that were released during its run. Unfortunately, I kind of have to, because they're terrible and I wouldn't want anyone rushing off to read them because I hadn't warned them about it. But let's not trouble ourselves with such things right now: there's the good part of the series to deal with first.

Jherek and Amelia: the Main Course

An Alien Heat

We meet Jherek Carnelian as he and his mother, the Iron Orchid, make ready to attend a party thrown by the Duke of Queens (the theme is "The Great Fire of Africa"). The Iron Orchid is proud of her son for many reasons - he's a good lay, he's one of the few residents of the End of Time who was actually born in the conventional manner as opposed to springing into being as a full-grown adult, and most of all he's a tremendous trendsetter and an inspiration to fashionable society. Jherek's secret is his talent for picking out the tastiest and most enjoyable concepts from the dim and distant past - as recorded by the AIs entombed in the rotting, abandoned cities that dot the landscape of the End of Time - and coming up with fun things to do with them; the merry japes surrounding his resurrection of "flags" as a concept are still remembered three hundred years later. ("I enjoyed Flags," he said. "Particularly when My Lady Charlotina made that delicious one which covered the whole of the western hemisphere.")

Lately, Jherek has been mulling over the idea of morality. Such a thing is more or less entirely useless in an era in which death itself is a momentary inconvenience, illness and age are long-forgotten affectations, and most residents have nigh-godlike powers thanks to the power rings they wear, through which they can command the energies of the rotting cities. (Well, aside from the occasional time traveller or visitor from space who ends up getting kept in an End of Time resident's menagerie for their own protection, but they hardly count.) Still, Jherek's interested in the idea, because learning about things like "guilt" and "self-denial" and "sin" and all that sounds like it has all sorts of potential for fun. He's still mulling over the concept at the Duke of Queens' party when he makes the acquaintance of Mrs Amelia Underwood, who having been abducted from Bromley in her native era of 1896 finds the irrepressible personalities, mutable flesh, and unashamed sexual frolics of the End of Time to be a bit overwhelming.

Realising that Amelia, hailing from an era which knew all about morality, could teach him all he needs to know about the subject, Jherek decides he'd like to get to know her better - but to do that, he needs to get her out of the menagerie of the gloomy giant Lord Mongrove. It's a chore, certainly, but it's worth doing nonetheless - after all, Jherek's very good friend, mentor, father-figure and fuckbuddy Lord Jagged of Canaria has had the spiffing idea that Jherek should try falling in love with Amelia whilst he's at it. It's certainly an original plan - nobody's fallen in love for ages - and for his part, Jherek finds that this whole love this is a lot of fun. (That said, it does seem to be a bit addictive and it seems to have distressing side effects.) On Amelia's side, she begins to warm to Jherek once she realises that he is a total innocent with no real moral teaching as opposed to the deliberately sinful libertine she had taken him for.

Just as Amelia is on the verge of admitting her feelings for Jherek, she ends up whisked off back to 1896 through the machinations of My Lady Charlotina, who is playing at "revenge" (due to Jherek having stolen the valuable space alien Yusharisp from her menagerie in order to trade him to the sad giant Lord Mongrove for Amelia's freedom). As well as making Jherek discover "sadness", this also puts Amelia in peril - for, as Brannart Morphail (the last scientist) has theorised in his work on the Morphail Effect, only travel forwards in time is stable: if you attempt to travel backwards in time, the accumulated anachronisms will eventually eject you to a random point in the future. If and when the Morphail Effect kicks in, Amelia might be flung to who knows what time period - and it might not be one as comfortable and safe as the End of Time. There's nothing for it but for Jherek to borrow one of Morphail's time machines and make a hop back to 1896, on an epic quest in search of Bromley - on which he will discover such wonderful concepts as "poverty", "suffering", "crime", "burglary", "murder", "incarceration", "prison", and "gallows"...

Oh, and according to Yusharisp the universe is ending, but that isn't fun and therefore isn't important.

So, what we're dealing with is Moorcock in full-blown comedic mode, with the laughs mainly derived from two sources: on the one hand you have the surreal nature of the End of Time itself, which resembles a pornographic Terry Gilliam cartoon inhabited by dandified gods who amuse themselves with partying, fucking, trolling each other, and making outrageously incorrect replicas of historical things (Jherek, for instance, isn't sure whether the couple in the Garden of Eden was Adam and Eve or Adolf and Eva). On the other hand, you have Jherek's innocent ignorance of the sort of social graces and polite manners which prevailed in the grim darkness of the distant past. At first, this comes through in his interactions with Amelia, in which he regularly scandalises her by being very direct about what he wants and she perpetually confuses him with her Victorian circumspectness about all but the most harmless of subjects; later, of course, it comes out in his visit to 1896, during which Moorcock fuses harsh social commentary with hilarious farce.

This is all very amusing, of course, but there are points there where the plot sails into tricky waters. For instance, there's a fair part of the middle section of the novel which consists of Jherek urging Amelia to play along and fall in love with him and Amelia telling him no, they can't, she's married after all and Jherek saying OK, let's get married then and Amelia rolling her eyes and explaining that it doesn't work that way. It's the sort of plot element which could lurch into extreme creepiness and obviously it's down to individual readers to decide whether it crosses the line for them, but for my part I think Moorcock does a decent job of making sure Jherek's behaviour towards Amelia doesn't cross the line to an extent where I cease to view him as a sympathetic character.

First off, it's quite clear that Amelia is, in fact, really quite into Jherek. She is on the verge of declaring her love when she is whisked back to her own time; she confesses it again when he's about to go to the gallows. Even before either of these confessions, we learn that she has a habit of loudly singing hymns to herself at night in order to make her naughty thoughts about Jherek go away, and she does this often enough to clearly establish that she is having these thoughts far too regularly to not be interested in Jherek on some level. In addition, Jherek is - in his bumbling, utterly ignorant way - more or less respectful of her privacy and the barriers she sets. It's established that other denizens of the End of Time have a habit of modifying the folk in their menagerie, but Jherek never does this to Amelia - she's his honoured guest, not a menagerie animal, and if he weren't happy with her as she is he wouldn't have gone to the bother of freeing her from Mongrove.

True, Jherek doesn't stop declaring his love for her, and he does declare an intent to eventually marry her, but he doesn't get all huffy when she tells him to stop and he does genuinely want to listen to her explanations as to why it's impossible, much as she'd have liked to under other circumstances. On the whole, he leaves her alone when she wants to be left alone, keeps her company when she is willing to accept his company, and she herself shows every sign of warming to him - more than that, she never once appears to feel threatened or in danger from him. Their relationship, on the whole, puts me in mind of that of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane at the start of Gaudy Night, if Harriet Vane were occasionally to start singing hymns to stop herself masturbating.

Then again, Jherek doesn't completely get off the hook. He might not be completely obnoxious about pestering Amelia, but pester her he does. She might have all sorts of naughty thoughts about him, but that doesn't necessarily give him the right to stalk her to her own century. He might not have kidnapped her, but his complete failure to even attempt to investigate who was responsible suggests he doesn't take the whole kidnapping thing seriously. The thing with Jherek is that, having grown up in what is effectively a transhumanist wonderland (the End of Timers retain human shape purely out of tradition and don't always stick to it - apparently the Iron Orchid was a giant spider when she had Jherek) in which the end of scarcity and mortality have rendered morality more or less entirely redundant, by our own standards (and Amelia's) he's a stunted manchild, as are the other End of Timers. They've never had to worry about anything beyond looking cool, they've never really had to analyse their behaviour towards each other because nothing they do has especially lasting consequences, and those who do manifest disapproval of the social order of the End of Time are often only doing it as an affectation.

He doesn't do anything very bad in the course of the novel, but he doesn't do anything transcendently good either. At the End of Time there are few deeds which he could do which could be described as being especially good or evil, aside from perhaps liberating the inhabitants of the menageries and either allowing them to return home or giving power rings to the ones who want to stay, except such a specific course of action wouldn't occur to him because he's never been forced to think about other people. In 1896 there are all sorts of very nice or very bad things which Jherek could potentially do, but because he's a powerless and naive innocent (his power rings don't work in History) he isn't really in a position to be a moral agent; he lacks the resources to do good, and although he is the accomplice to a tawdry act of burglary and murder he doesn't really understand what's going on until partway through the deed, and even when he does understand his impaired moral development means he doesn't really appreciate the consequences.

In short, An Alien Heat, underneath all the comedy, is a meditation on how a society can be Utopian in the broad brushstrokes but deeply damaging in the specifics. In principle, the idea of a society in which nobody dies, nobody goes without, everyone has access to godlike powers, nobody can do anything bad to each other which amounts to anything more than a temporary setback or transient embarrassment and nobody ever has to work hard sounds great. In practice, the End of Timers live such a privileged lifestyle that they never really have to think about other people's desires, and so any interaction they have with people who have to deal with such things as scarcity and mortality ends up completely warped - hence, for instance, the menageries of time travellers and space travellers - and their interactions with each other end up being completely shallow. Since there is literally nothing of substance or value left to work for - because anything can be conjured up with the wave of a power ring - the End of Timers while away the aeons throwing orgies in honour of how cool they are. (Snarky people - and I would never deny that I am one of those - would point out here the fashion for Victoriana which is inspired by Jherek's trip to the past perfectly mirrors the style-over-substance approach steampunk is often accused of.)

And really, this is why we can see Jherek as something of a hero: in the midst of playing at falling in love, he actually falls in love, and consequently ends up enduring all the real and genuine emotions (good and bad) which go along with that. In seeking to track down Amelia and save her from destruction at the hands of the Morphail Effect, he's doing something which actually seems important, which nobody else (aside from the manipulative Lord Jagged) attempts to do. He's the only End of Time native we meet whose life amounts to more than short-sighted self-indulgence and mutual masturbation; in other words, he's the only one who shows any sign of growing up and realising that there's more to life than the perfect little bubble they live in. The fact that he does this when there's really no compelling necessity for him to do so makes it all the more admirable, though by the end of the book he's still got a long way to go before he could be considered a moral agent.

Multiverse bollocks: Jherek Carnelian is very obviously a Jerry Cornelius analogue, right down to Snoozer Vine nicknaming him Jerry Carnell. The equally dandified Lord Jagged of Canaria is also a Jerry analogue, and since he is rumoured to be a time traveller from somewhere in the vicinity of the 21st Century then there's good odds of him being a fairly close relative of Jerry himself.

On top of that, the time machine Jherek uses to visit 1896 is of the exact same design as the one in Behold the Man - and since Morphail mentions that hails from around two thousand years before the period Jherek is visiting, it's almost certainly the very same machine. And like Karl Glogauer in that novel, Jherek ends up brought to the brink of madness, hassled by the authorities, and set up for execution.

The idea of Jherek being the last human being to be born in the conventional manner is reminiscent of Clovis Marca in The Shores of Death, which is a much more restrained dying earth story.

Lord Mongrove is a sad giant in a realm of Chaos, much like the sad giant in Stormbringer.

The Hollow Lands

Jherek's first trip to 1896 having ended in disaster, he begins The Hollow Lands feeling decidedly down in the dumps. As much as Jherek would like to have another go at finding Amelia and rescuing her from the Morphail Effect, Brannart still hasn't forgiven him for the loss of one of Brannart's favourite time machines and is refusing to lend him another one. Not even the fashion for Victoriana which has swept the End of Time as a result of Jherek's adventures can cheer our hero up! Still, his friends do their best, and soon enough he, My Lady Charlotina, Bishop Castle, the Duke of Queens and the Iron Orchid have stumbled across an enchanted forest someone built and forgot about and decide to explore it. Within it, they stumble across the fearsome Lat, led by Captain Mubbers - the first bona fide alien invaders Earth has had for a very long time indeed. Fleeing the Lat's rampage, Jherek stumbles across an ancient nursery maintained by the robotic Nurse, a facility locked in a 7-day time loop in order to keep the children within eternally young whilst they wait out the apocalyptic events that prompted their parents to hide them there.

Successfully explaining to Nurse that the era of the Tyrant Producers is long gone and the fearsome Pecking Pa is no more (and semi-convincing her that he is not in fact a small child), Jherek obtains the use of Nurse's time equipment and sets about using it to plan another trip to 1896. A little more prepared for the perils of the era, Jherek lucks out when he makes the acquaintance of one H.G. Wells, who happens to be heading to mythical Bromley and is happy to take Jherek along. Still, it's clear that Jherek still has a lot to learn about the era - for instance, how could he have been expected to know that Mr Underwood wouldn't take kindly to Jherek showing up and declaring his love for Mrs Underwood? For that matter, why are the police so upset to see Jherek walking about freely when they've already hung him once, and assured him that that would conclude their business with him? Well, at least Amelia seems to know how to keep a few steps ahead of them - if they could just get Mr Wells to point them in the direction of a reputable maker of 19th Century time machines they'd be all set. There might even be time for tea at the Cafe Royal, if Inspector Springer of Scotland Yard hasn't arrested them as dangerous anarchists first.

The Hollow Lands is where we get to see Amelia really come into her own. She isn't in An Alien Heat that much - there's the bit at the party, her stay at Jherek's place, and then her appearance during Jherek's trial in 1896 - but things are very different this time around. Whilst the first part of the novel focuses on Jherek, from the moment he steps through her front door in Bromley and they are reunited the novel becomes just as much about her as it is about Jherek himself. This is particularly apparent once the manhunt sequence swings into high gear, because Jherek's proposals for how to escape are so impractical (time machines not being nearly as common in Victorian England as he supposes) that it really comes down to Amelia to keep them ahead of the law. We had glimmerings of the fact that she's not the passive, proper lady she tries to look like for society's sake in the previous novel, of course, when she intervened in Jherek's trial, but between this and the revelations about her youth as a missionary's daughter it's clear that there's hidden depths to Amelia that neither we nor Jherek has ever really caught sight of. This is partially because Jherek never realised he ought to be interested in that, but also partially because the social context Amelia lived in during her marriage taught her to keep that all ruthlessly suppressed.

What's really impressive about The Hollow Lands, in fact, is the way it does this very elegant about-face partway through to bring Amelia to the fore as a co-protagonist, and also to genuinely change the nature of the series as a whole. An Alien Heat and the first half of this book essentially fit the mould of a (very, very weird) adventure story about a dude who falls in love and has to go do adventurous things in order to get the girl. By the end of The Hollow Lands it's clear the series has ceased being a love story where Jherek is the protagonist and Amelia is a prize for him to win and has become something a bit different from that: it's a philosophical scenario in which two people have become alienated from their respective societies thanks to their exposure to worlds where the assumptions they grew up with no longer apply. Jherek can't lose himself in the pleasures of the End of Time the way he used to because they no longer seem particularly important to him; Amelia, for her part, might try to return to the society of Victorian London, but she's doing it out of a sense of duty rather than that being how she'd want to live if she a free hand to decide, and she's outright rejected by her own society once it becomes clear that she's merely expressed feelings she isn't supposed to have expressed. This neatly sets up the philosophical ponderings of the final book.

Multiverse bollocks: Pretty minimal, actually.

The End of All Songs

Who could have known that so much temporal disruption would result from the Lat and Jherek's friends from the End of Time popping in at the Cafe Royal at the end of The Hollow Lands? Finding themselves in the Lower Devonian era, Jherek and Amelia are trying their best to make themselves comfortable - aided, amongst other things, by a picnic basket left behind by a kindly time traveller from an alternate Victorian era - and soon enough the arrival of Inspector Springer and the Lat spice things up immeasurably. Eventually, Oswald Bastable and Una Persson show up to work out what the racket is - it turns out the Guild of Temporal Adventurers has a HQ in the Lower Devonian - and they invite the time-stranded party back to theirs for coffee and a chat about cosmology, including some interesting ideas about the multiverse and the cyclical nature of time.

Returning to the End of Time, Jherek and Amelia await the coming of Lord Jagged, who has confessed his part in engineering Amelia's original abduction and supposedly has some sort of plan to sort out the whole end of the universe deal. As it turns out, Yusharisp's pessimistic predictions turn out to be true, but only if one treats the universe as a closed system - and given the nature of the multiverse, a solution proves to be simple. But whilst the End of Timers might be happy existing on a party world orbiting a small artificial sun sustained for eternity on recycled time, Amelia is conflicted. She loves Jherek and he loves her back, but she's not the sort of person who can be sustained on love alone, and despite having a talent for throwing wild parties of her own once she decides to let her hair down she can't help but think that the End of Time is just kind of shallow. And whilst she's acquired enough perspective on the morality of her era to realise how narrow and sad her upbringing was, she's also seen enough of the End of Time's amorality to know it isn't for her. And her sense of duty and residual guilt makes her feel somewhat perturbed that Mr Underwood - who has travelled forward in time in pursuit of her - seems to be going completely insane. How will she ever sort all this out?

Oh, and also there are a lot of weddings at the end because Victorian novels always ended with characters being paired off. Of course, since it's the End of Time marriages of one dude to one lady with an intended duration of "forever" are very much in the minority.

The final novel in the trilogy sees the personal crises of our two protagonists come to a head. On Amelia's side, she is struggling with her sense of duty; it compels her to at least attempt to reconcile with Mr Underwood and return to 1896, even though she doesn't really want to do either, but having seen a side of her which he cannot accept Mr Underwood firmly closes that door in her face several times over. But even though she cannot go back to the way things were, Amelia finds that she can't reconcile herself to the way things are right now either. Jagged's plan to use recycled time and energy siphoned off from other planes of the multiverse to sustain the Earth of the End of Time forever is elegant, but only serves to underline just how shallow and meaningless the End of Timers' existence is. She does her best to fit in - provided with power rings, she is able to throw parties that put the others' to shame - but at the same time she finds that due to her upbringing and personal history she can't feel satisfied unless she has some sort of mission or duty in life, and there's simply nothing of substance to be done at the End. (She can't even lobby for the liberation of menagerie inhabitants, since most of them were propelled home during the abortive apocalypse).

On Jherek's side, he's having to deal with emotional turmoils the likes of which he's never previously experienced. He's profoundly disturbed on seeing Amelia making her big attempt to behave like a typical End of Timer, and comes to realise that this is because she's forcing herself to put aside important aspects of her personality in order to fit in - and that, of course, forces him to reconsider whether their relationship is even possible, because the person he fell in love with is being eroded by the End of Time. On top of that, he's finally developed something resembling genuine empathy for other people; the crucial moment which reveals this is when Amelia disappears to go and try to rejoin Mr Underwood one last time the morning after she has sex with Jherek for the first time. Jherek is able to correctly interpret some of the more puzzling remarks Amelia made the previous evening in the light of the moral and ethical premises she works under and work out what she actually meant; this breakthrough is only possible because Jherek has made the effort both to understand Amelia as a person and to understand the values she prizes. But equally, his understanding of those values means he realises that Amelia couldn't be happy in the long term at the End of Time.

Jagged provides the solution: even though he considers time recycling option to be a more palatable solution to the problem of entropy, there's no reason why his original plan shouldn't go ahead. Jherek, who Jagged bred to have genes especially resilient to the Morphail Effect, and Amelia, who Jagged selected out of the teeming hordes of time as having a similar inbred ability to withstand temporal displacements, will be sent ahead, beyond the End and into the new time-cycle, where they can construct a new civilisation in the Lower Devonian, allowing the next time cycle to bypass millions of years of evolution and hardship in a single stroke.

This conclusion sets up the Dancers trilogy as being a deliciously blasphemous reinvention of the Garden of Eden story; Jherek and Amelia leave paradise not because they did anything wrong, but because they couldn't be fully developed human beings in such an artificially coddled existence. Transmission of the knowledge of good and evil from Eve to Adam is not a bad and naughty thing but a practical necessity, and occurs not by munching on some laughably poorly-secured fruit but on a sort of ongoing Socratic dialogue in which both partners bring something to the table. Amelia's highly developed sense of morality proposes all sorts of theories and axioms; Jherek, in his innocence, questions them in order to understand them better, prompting Amelia to reconsider them. In the process of doing so, we can anticipate that they will arrive at a moral philosophy suitable to the dawn ages, but with enough awareness of how morality is dependent on context to adapt to whatever developments come about.

I particularly liked Jagged and Amelia's interactions in The End of All Songs because even though Jagged was acting as he saw necessary for the survival of humanity in abducting Amelia at the start of the series, at the same time Moorcock never makes Amelia forgive Jagged for his kidnapping of her; nor, in my reading at least, do I ever get the impression that she's expected to forgive him. She doesn't lash out violently at him or anything - there's little she could do to him which he couldn't deflect - but she does make it clear that she considers him to be an arrogant and callous manipulator. She's willing to take his proffered escape to the Devonian because it makes the best of the situation she finds herself in, and the prospect of repopulating the Earth with Jherek appeals to her, but at the same time it's clear that she's going to be keeping an eye out for Jagged's attempts to manipulate the culture she and Jherek are going to spawn, even if Jherek himself has too rudimentary a grasp of ethics to realise how badly Jagged has actually treated him.

Because the novel finds Moorcock in a philosophical mood, there's a lot of rather long conversations, but they don't seem to be as much of a waste of space as, say, the waffling in The Revenge of the Rose tended to be. Part of this is because the sort of Victorian novels the series self-consciously draws inspiration from also involve a lot of long and rather roundabout conversations. Part of this comes down to the comedy. But mostly, this comes down to a lot of the philosophical dilemmas the characters face hinge on things we've spent the last two books learning to care about. Moorcock does not take the easy way out of siding definitively with the postmodern amorality of the End of Time, despite (I suspect) having more sympathy with it than with the very tightly confined society Amelia hails from; her sense of duty might, ultimately, be irrational, but the End of Time is hardly more rational, and whilst a lot of us would probably like to live in a Utopia of utilitarian hedonism Moorcock doesn't lose sight of the fact that for some people would find that personally dissatisfying, just as more or less any Utopia devised could look like a dystopia to someone who disagrees with its fundamental axioms.

I think this is the key difference which saves the series from being deeply creepy: despite it causing her personal difficulties in adjusting to new situations, and despite it being a hurdle to overcome in her relationship with Jherek, ultimately Amelia's upbringing or past isn't depicted as being something she should simply discard wholesale, and her insistence on remaining true to those principles she considers to be integral to her sense of self (as opposed to principles imposed on her by her society but which she's never really wanted to buy into). Though Amelia does set aside a lot of ideas which she had previously considered immutable, at the same time she does have principles she won't budge on, and whilst she recognises that they are at least in part a result of her upbringing it's also clear that they are a part of her identity and she'd be betraying herself if she let them slip simply to get by.

Of course, what makes this an particularly impressive entry in Moorcock's bibliography is that you can, if you want, read the novel as revolving all around Amelia just as much as it revolves around Jherek. For an author who has so often presented female characters as either cliches, prizes to be won, or personality-less ciphers, this is pretty good going.

As far as the actual apocalypse plot goes, the ending of that is somewhat more unsatisfying, but then again it had been played down so much in the previous two books this isn't such an issue - I think most readers simply won't be as invested in that as they are in Jherek and Amelia. There's parts where Moorcock resorts to preaching out of Jagged's mouth about how closed-minded people only see problems and scarcity when if you put your mind to it you can find solutions to any problem, which I guess in a multiverse where no world or solar system is truly a closed system is true but in the world you and I have to live in isn't necessarily helpful. But then again, with Jagged so regularly deflated by Amelia's cutting remarks you don't necessarily have to take what he says too seriously.

Multiverse bollocks: With Una Persson, Oswald Bastable and the Time Centre's HQ in the Lower Devonian all making an appearance (plus a Karl Glogauer cameo as a Time Centre technician), heaps of crossover stuff with the Jerry Cornelius and Bastable stories are inevitable, though honestly this (and the stuff in the first book) bugs me much less than Moorcock's crossovers usually do. I think that's because the crossovers are mostly with other Moorcock stories where time travel and universe-hopping has always been the premise, so having one set of time travellers meet another set fits better than, say, cramming a spurious Cornelius reference into an Elric story would. There's also a few references to the Conjunction of a Million Spheres, as also seen in The Quest for Tanelorn, though as far as end of the multiverse stories go this one is miles better. (Una even ponders whether the city she ends up in at the End of Time is Tanelorn.)

The fact that both Amelia and the Iron Orchid possess the genes which give them a degree of immunity to the Morphail Effect strongly suggests that they are incarnations of Catherine Cornelius, just as Jagged and Jherek are a pair of Jerries.

In the Time Centre, the overall structure of the Multiverse is depicted on the big screen as an enormous Chaos symbol, so (in this continuity at least) it seems that whilst Law might be an appropriate philosophy for those confined to a specific timeline, anyone who travels the multiverse to any great extent eventually has to accept that Chaos probably has the right of it, at least as far as large-scale cosmology goes.

Rape, Pedophilia and Misogyny: the Apocryphal Tales

(No, really, I'm not joking. This stuff is terrible.)

Legends From the End of Time

Ok, here's where the bibliography gets complicated. There was a bit of a gap between the release of The Hollow Lands and the completion of The End of All Songs, so to tide people over Moorcock wrote a string of novellas revolving around shenanigans happening at the End of Time whilst Jherek and Amelia were lost in time - Pale Roses, White Stars, Ancient Shadows and Constant Fire. Then the first three were collected in an anthology entitled Legends From the End of Time, and Constant Fire was expanded to novel length and retitled The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming (or, in some editions, A Messiah At the End of Time. Then, when the 1990s omnibuses were produced, the first three stories plus the novel-length Constant Fire were collected in one volume - confusingly also called Legends From the End of Time - with Constant Fire restored to its original title and with its ending changed a little in a burst of trying-to-be-feminist guilt. For this section of the review I'm going to cover the material in the first Legends anthology - the one without any version of Constant Fire - and then I'll deal with the novel in the next bit.

Pale Roses focuses on Werther de Goethe, Jherek's only peer at the End of Time who was born rather than constructed. Like the gloomy Mongrove, Werther makes a big show of gothing it up - his latest burst of creativity is an environmental installation on the theme of rain, complete with black rainbow. Mistress Christia, the Everlasting Concubine, is at her wit's end when it comes to finding a way to make him feel happy, or at the very least satisfied.

What Werther really wants is for his actions to have dire potential consequences - to taste those bygone days where you had to be careful about what you did. Above all, he wants to be able to sin, which apparently is something people did back in the day. However, a ray of sunshine soon comes into Werther's life in the form of a little girl - Catherine, a child who tells him that she is the daughter of two time travellers who have perished and left her all alone in the world. Werther didn't really have much of a childhood - his parents took no responsibility for him and Jherek, the only boy his age, was entirely too silly for Werther to get on with - so he gets really into crafting a sickeningly sentimentalised and perfect childhood for Catherine. Then he gets all upset when at a party he thinks the other End of Timers are making fun of him or impugning Catherine's innocence. Then he rapes her. Then he feels bad about it and kills himself. Then his friends resurrect him and congratulate him on his rediscovery of sin.

I can't reasonably pick apart this story unless I spoil the twist so here goes: it turns out Catherine was Christia all along, having transformed herself into a child to give Werther a convenient source of innocence to despoil and corrupt. This isn't really enough to make the story move away from ick territory, personally; I don't buy the idea that if a person clearly resembles a child but in the fiction they are a part of they are actually an adult or they get mature super-quick (looking at you here Stephanie "Baby/Wolf OTP" Meyer) or whatever that this removes the pedophilic overtones of a scene in which someone who clearly resembles an adult fucks them or expresses a desire to do the same.

On top of that, the fact that it is Christia cosplaying as a child makes the whole thing more creepy in some ways, not less. Catherine, the next day, gushes over how wonderful the experience was and expresses not trauma or hurt or betrayal or anything like that but puzzlement as to why Werther is upset about what he has done. When you combine this with the tone of the rape sequence, in which Catherine's body is eroticised despite the narrative ambivalence towards Werther's behaviour, and you have a situation where the story seems to waver between being horrified at what is going down and being titillating about it - and disturbingly, to my eyes at least, it seems to tend towards the latter.

Possibly this is a consequence of Moorcock writing in a cod-Victorian aesthetic and therefore not wanting to make the rape too grim. Possibly this is a consequence of the conceit of the End of Time as an entirely amoral place, narrated by an auditor who makes no moral judgements on the matters that unfold there. Frankly, however, I don't really think pedophilia and rape are subjects which really make for interesting thought experiments in amorality; given that there are plenty of creeps out there who tie themselves in knots trying to tell themselves and the world that those things aren't really amoral at all, I don't think they need anything they could even mistake for encouragement.

The story does at least acknowledge that what Werther did as a sin - but it dresses the sin up in a package which is clearly intended to prod the reader into understanding why Werther was tempted. On top of that, it seems to be angling for some sort of tedious armchair psychology theory about pedophilia being an attempt to make up for a lost childhood, and I don't think you can reduce it to those terms - lots of people idealise childhood and wistfully wish theirs were more like the ideal, most of those people don't fuck kids. At best, the story is deeply uninsightful and pointless. At worst, it's creepy as hell and will probably be triggering to numerous readers.

White Stars is inoffensive and easy-going. Lord Shark, an even greater misanthrope than Mongrove and Werther combined because he really doesn't have any use for people whatsoever (whereas Mongrove and Werther engage with society so that they can have someone to mope at), has rediscovered the ancient art of duelling, but finds sparring against his robot training partners to be dull - not least because none of them seem capable of giving him the sweet release of death. The Duke of Queens and the Iron Orchid show up one day, interrupting one of Shark's training sessions; the Duke thinks this duelling thing is a lovely game and wants to take part. Lord Shark quickly agrees and declares that the duel will be to the death, and no takebacks or Raise Deads; the way he sees it, either this will give him the peace of death or remove one more twit from the world. The Duke goes ahead, and the Iron Orchid learns about a new emotion called "worry" or "trepidation".

Meanwhile, some starship troopers from an ancient war against Alpha Centauri - of the sort which could be ripped straight from the pages of any golden age military SF novel - get temporally displaced and wind up at the End of Time. Everyone thinks these new visitors are just hilarious, and one of them - Trooper O'Dwyer - agrees to provide combat training to the Duke of Queens in preparation for their duel. However, most of the soldiers are convinced that they have a duty to head back in time to return to their war, and make an escape attempt. Lighthearted fun ensues, there's no rape or child-grooming, there's not much more to say about it.

I have plenty to say about Ancient Shadows, most of it in a Minority Warrior vein (so feel free to call me out if I botch this, folks).

It starts off with a decent enough premise; Dafnish, a time traveller from the 10th millennium, and her son Snuffles arrive at the End of Time. The time period they hail from is dominated by the Armatuce, a fusion of government, political philosophy and extended family born out of a past time of great scarcity and which is designed to put an absolute limit on people's demands of the Earth - to the point where they could provide plentiful food to their entire populace, but they haver about doing so for fear of the consequences. Obviously, the decidedly post-scarcity society of the End of Time comes as a bit of a shock to them. Snuffles loves it - what little boy wouldn't, even a little boy who has been stuck at that age for 60 years because the Armatuce leaders haven't given him permission to grow up yet? - but Dafnish finds herself decidedly conflicted, torn between her duty to the Armatuce, her desire that Snuffles take up that duty once he becomes an adult and she is liquidated, and the stark fact that at the End of Time she and Snuffles could lead an idyllic existence where they need never know want or fear again.

Idyllic, that is, she, if Mavis Ming would be nice enough to stop pestering Dafnish. A mid-21st Century time traveller - sufficiently close to our own time that some of us might live to see her off on her voyage! - Mavis lusts after Dafnish and isn't the sort to take "no" for an answer. Striking up a friendship with Snuffles to get closer to Dafnish, Ming eventually conspires to have Doctor Volospion, an End of Time resident, use his power rings to raise Snuffles to adulthood, thus breaking the bind Dafnish finds herself in. Tragic consequences ensue, Lord Jagged is judgemental at people.

So, to recap: we have our first End of Time story where a homosexual attraction is a driving feature of the plot, rather than being a passing fancy of some of the End of Timers treated with no more seriousness than any of their other flings. It ends in death and tragedy and involves creepy stalking which crosses lines Jherek didn't cross in his pursuit of Amelia. This is bad enough in itself, but it gets even worse when you take a closer look at Mavis Ming.

Mavis had an unhappy heterosexual marriage before she had an experience with another woman which made her decide to switch teams. As we will find out in the next novel, this is actually just a phase she is going through and to find contentment she just needs a real man to flog the gay out of her. But right now, she thinks lesbianism is the bee's knees and is an enthusiastic evangelist for homosexuality. She pesters other women with her clumsy attempts at flirtation and when they reject her she insists it is because they are repressed and that they'd really enjoy it if they'd just give her a try. You don't want to trust your kids with her either because as well as the mildly dubious implications of an adult conferring adulthood on a child in a secretive manner with sleazy undertones, she also effeminises Snuffles and encourages him to become an effete dandy. Perhaps she is out to destroy traditional gender roles. Or perhaps she's just threatened by masculinity! Who knows? Either way, keep your kids away from her!

You get the picture. Mavis Ming comes across in this story as an extremely negative (and, by now, kind of dated) stereotype of a militant feminist lesbian. She's even wearing dungarees when she first shows up, for crying out loud. Mavis is more or less the only character in the books who identifies as exclusively homosexual and she ends up being the villain here - and on top of that, she turns out to be wrong about her sexual preferences after all. Any diversity points Moorcock might have thought he gained for having the End of Timers all be pansexual polyamorists are surely squandered tenfold by this.

One of the ways the narrative tells us that what Mavis has done is a Terrible Thing is the bit where Lord Jagged gives Mavis and the adult Snuffles a telling-off. It's notable because it's more or less the only time in the stories an End-of-Timer expresses disapproval of anything in such thunderously condemnatory terms; even though Jagged arguably isn't like the others because he wasn't born at the End, he certainly shares their amorality, and he doesn't get even slightly cross at the characters who try to interfere with his save-the-universe plan in The End of All Songs.

No, from Jagged's demeanour and what he says we are prompted to consider that what Mavis and Snuffles have done is a mortal sin even in the End of Time's own terms (or at the very least, in Jagged's eyes). But precisely what Jagged is so upset about is confusing in itself. At points it is suggested that he might be harbouring feelings for D, but we have so little insight into his inner world that even if it is the case, we have little basis to suppose it isn't a transient fancy like any of his other dalliances. Part of his rant suggests he finds what has happened unaesthetic and boorish, but boorishness and unaesthetic things are cause for airy dismissal at the End of Time, not castigation. Of course, there's the whole thing where going back in time is desperately dangerous for Dafnish (and results in her getting killed, in fact), but if Jagged were that worried about it he could have simply arranged to prevent her going back - he has already been established as a manipulative cur who occasionally forces people into situations for their own good and for the good of the cosmos so there is really no legitimate reason for him not to meddle in that respect. Perhaps he's just upset that Mavis has out-manipulated him? After all, his interest in Dafnish seemed to be directed to some purpose or other, though what that purpose is meant to have been is beyond me.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Jagged's anger is that he seems to be annoyed at Snuffles too. And, indeed, the multiverse itself seems rather judgemental of Snuffles, because he spontaneously dies as a result of Dafnish's destruction and Jagged declares him unresurrectable. I guess the point is that the high-handed dismissal of Dafnish's cultural practices where the life of the parent is literally bound to the life of the child was a bad thing - Mavis was bad to do it, Snuffles was bad to go along with it. But then again, Snuffles has been a child for 60 years. You can't cut this one both ways. Does Snuffles have sufficient experience to express free agency despite being restricted to a diminished state of development? Well, in that case his decision to leave the Armatuce really ought to be respected and a solution should have been found which didn't involve anyone dying. If he doesn't have that agency, and we're not meant to hold him responsible for his actions to any greater extent than we'd hold any other six year old responsible, then he can't be blamed for what happened because we genuinely do not consider misbehaviour by a six year old, even severe misbehaviour, in the same light as criminality on the part of an adult. Jagged's abject failure to even attempt to save Snuffles is monstrous, the text's apparent stance that Jagged and not Snuffles is in the right equally so..

In addition to that, I think it is possible to respect a culture as expressed by those of its members who buy into it whilst at the same time supporting the right of members of that culture who wish to disengage from it or abandon some or all of its practices to do so. What little we know of the Armatuce from the story makes it clear that it's a horrifyingly totalitarian cult of austerity which has taken precepts born of necessity and twisted them into absurdity; that being the case, Snuffle's wish to abandon it seems sensible. Obviously the balance between a child's desire to learn about alternatives to their way of life and a parent's desire to raise a child according to the precepts of their culture is a tricky one, but Moorcock makes the Armatuce seem so nightmarish that the balance ends up going completely out of whack.

It's a real shame this story is as bad as it is, because the basic principle of travellers from a land of ultimate scarcity visiting a time period of unlimited excess could go in all sorts of interesting directions. Unfortunately, between the muddled ending and the demonisation of the sole exclusive homosexual in the series it's completely rotten. In fact, the scorecard for Legends isn't that great. White Stars is alright, but it isn't good enough to justify the effort which would be required to track it down in a format which doesn't come packaged with pedophilia and lesbian-bashing.

Multiverse bollocks: There's a reference to a hero of the past called Eric of Marylebone, which is obviously an Elric reference. On top of that, when Dafnish and Snuffles arrive at the End of Time the locals are playing at making stuff that flies, including a winged kitty which is a lot like Jhary's from the Corum stories (and from miscellaneous cameos in Hawkmoon and Elric tales).

There's also a glancing reference to Una Persson telling Moorcock about events at the End of Time so that he can write them down. This isn't without precedent - she delivers Oswald Bastable's race war memoirs to Grandpa Moorcock in The Land Leviathan - and it also sets the precedent for Una bringing the manuscript of The Steel Tsar directly to Moorcock when the early 1980s swing around and Moorcock needs a quick earner.

A character called Mavis Ming appears in The Chinese Agent, AKA Somewhere In the Night, a Jerry Cornell/Nick Allard spy spoof. She is almost completely unlike the one we have here but you know Moorcock's motto when it comes to names: "When in doubt, riff on something I wrote in the 1960s." (Actually, that's kind of his approach to writing in general.)

The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming, AKA A Messiah At the End of Time, AKA Constant Fire

It will be apparent to the reader that, on the basis of Ancient Shadows, we are supposed to regard Mavis Ming as a wicked, naughty Ming who needs a spanking (or drugs). Luckily, the Fireclown from The Winds of Limbo shows up at the End of Time and he's here to deliver that spanking! Or those drugs. There's a sort of spanking/drugs duality thing going on when it comes to the differing editions of this story, much like wave/particle duality except with more dilated pupils and bruised bums. But I'll get to that later.

So, premise: it's after the events of Ancient Shadows, and Mavis Ming is trying to move on. Despite having consistently identified as a lesbian for the past story, she's all of a sudden talking about how it would be really nice to meet a "real man" at the End of Time who she could fall for. She's in the middle of a seduction of master chef Argonheart Po when all of a sudden a spaceship arrives steered by none other than Emmanuel Bloom, the demented Fireclown from The Winds of Limbo arrives. Bloom declares that he's the Messiah and has come to destroy the world with fire and set the people free; people yawn and eventually see to putting up force fields to protect their stuff against his arson attacks. As well as being intent on presenting himself as a godlike figure, Bloom is also fixated on Mavis and intends to take her as his wife - and is convinced, despite all her protestations to the contrary, that she wants this too.

Mavis seeks the protection of her host at the End of Time, Doctor Volospion, who is interested in the Fireclown for his own reasons - he has a great interest (though a reductionist one) in the religious practices of the past, and his menagerie has a fine collections of prophets, seers and sages from across the ages. Adding Bloom to the collection would be good - even better would be getting hold of the Holy Grail, which Bloom claims to be a keeper of. And with Mavis as a bargaining chip, Volospion might be in a position to get rid of the two biggest bores at the End of Time in one fell swoop...

Now, there's obviously meant to be a parallel going on between this story and the main Dancers series. In both, you have someone who's meant to be an incarnation of the Eternal Champion (Jherek in the main series, Bloom here) falling in love with someone who rejects him (Amelia/Mavis) and pursuing her anyway. However, Mavis and Bloom's story pans out very differently to Amelia and Jherek's. Whereas Amelia and Jherek both change over the course of their story, both of them becoming more accepting of (and at least partially buying into) the other's point of view, Mavis is essentially moulded into a form pleasing to Bloom, who for his part doesn't change at all. Whilst Amelia really does love Jherek from early on but is held back from pursuing that by her sense of duty and by her social upbringing, Mavis (it is hinted) loves Bloom on a purely subconscious level and is prevented from expressing her love for him for much more obscure reasons. (The text seems, to me, to suggest that it's something to do with her pride - ugh.)

As if that's not enough, there's more: Amelia overcomes her reluctance as part of a process of thinking about her upbringing and the society she grew up in and recognising that there were some aspects of what she had formerly considered her duty she could no longer stand by, either because she no longer believed in them or because it was no longer really possible for her to be true to them. Ming's objections are overcome by the Fireclown violently forcing a form of enlightenment on her. Amelia becomes a proactive part of her narrative, able to take action at her own initiative and able to see through Lord Jagged's manipulations and to choose to object or go along with them on her own terms. Mavis is a master manipulatee who fails to realise until it is far too late that Doctor Volospion has sold her to the Fireclown in return for the Holy Grail, and essentially has a long sequence of things happen to her.

In other words, this a version of Jherek and Amelia's story, were their story openly and rabidly misogynistic. This might, of course, be intentional on Moorcock's part, a means of showing a contrast perhaps - but why this contrast? Is there some shortage of misogynistic narratives in fantasy/SF? I certainly haven't noticed one.

And make no mistake: the narrative here goes out of its way to try and convince the reader to despise Mavis Ming. She is depicted as vacuous and self-obsessed, her vapid conversation causing great irritation to all the residents of the End of Time (despite them also being kind of shallow themselves) and her utter lack of insight causing her to fail to realise how disliked she is until someone snaps at her. Doctor Volospion yells at her and calls her stupid and fat - which is a bizarre insult for him to choose, considering that body-shaming is surely ludicrous in a time period when people resculpt their own bodies radically on a whim. (Even if this inconsistency is meant to be a hint at Volospion's origin as a time traveller from the past, even so the text offers no suggestion that the other End of Timers fail to recognise the whole "fat" thing as an insult.) Mavis also takes being called "stupid" to heart, and considers herself to be stupid and clearly has low self-esteem as a result of not being taken seriously, but at the same time the text gives us every reason to see why she isn't taken seriously: because she's completely tactless and witters on about her own concerns perpetually and turns every conversation into a conversation about herself, habits which are genuinely kind of awful when they manifest in real life, so I'm not sure how much the text is saying "Mavis sells herself short and you are selling her short too, you naughty reader" and how much it's saying "Mavis really is kind of dumb and awful".

Moreover, by the end of the story Bloom is fairly clearly the winner: he has Mavis, he's tricked Volospion into accepting a fake Grail, he's got everything he wanted and the text seems to celebrate this. What he does to Mavis (which varies from edition to edition) is celebrated as a liberation of her from her own self-imposed shackles. His duping of Volospion is a hilarious joke on Volospion, and the fact that the Grail appears to him and Mavis seems to suggest that whatever force is behind the Grail in the Multiverse (I suspect it's Moorcock's arbitrary authorial fiat) approves of what's happened - after all, the Grail appearing to you is meant to be a fairly unambiguous sign that you are pure of heart and a perfect knight and gentleman, etc. etc.

This is a particularly unappealing aspect of the book because what Bloom does to Mavis once he has her at his mercy is grotesque. What this actually is depends on what edition you are talking about. In the edition I read for this review, Bloom attains the unification of Mavis' body and mind (whatever the fuck that means) by flogging the shit out of her, over and over again, whilst she cries and screams and begs for him to stop until the pain brings her this odd sort of enlightenment. I suppose this sequence could be intended as erotic. Certainly, there's the whole "I am going to do this shit to you until you like it" angle which seems to be a big component of rape fantasies - and since Mavis fully expects Bloom to rape her before the flogging begins, we're certainly in that sort of ballpark.

At the same time, though, if it is intended as erotica I have no idea whose kink is being served here. If you like to spank or be spanked (or both), and it turns you on to read erotic fiction about that sort of stuff happening, then it seems to me that it would be helpful to your enjoyment if at any point either of the participants in the process seemed to be enjoying it, or if the process itself were presented in a sensuous and exciting way. Bloom, conversely, treats the flogging as a chore, something that he has to do once in order to get the relationship underway but which is never going to happen again - when Mavis asks whether he's going to flog her again ("It was almost a request.") he's very clear that it's not on the cards any more. Mavis doesn't enjoy the process of being flogged at all; she's all glowy afterwards, but this isn't presented as sexual afterglow so much as it is enlightenment - Bloom tells her that the feeling of emotional completeness she feels after the flogging will never, ever fade, which in my experience isn't how sexual satiation works. And the actual description of the process makes it sound like Mavis is being completely brutalised in a rather mechanical and rapey sort of way.

Of course, maybe this is just Moorcock being bad at writing kinky sex scenes. Certainly the novel doesn't lack for indications that this might be a direction things are going in, with Bloom constantly declaring that Mavis will, when she realises her true desires, throw herself at his feet and let him be her master. As far as a denouement to this particular strand, though, it kind of falls flat. If you were hoping that there'd be some sort of plot twist where the whole "fall at my feet and call me master" thingy doesn't happen after all, nope, sorry, you're out of luck. If you were finding yourself getting excited by the prospect of the "fall at my feet and call me master" bit then what you actually get is, I suspect, not going to satisfy.

The aspect of this sequence being personally transformative is also kind of dodgy. BDSM is not therapy, kink isn't a cure for anything, and CBT in a sex context is a very different thing from CBT in a mental health context. The only major personal discovery you are likely to make about yourself trying fetishy sex for the first time is that you really do like fetishy sex, or that you didn't like it as much as you expect, or that you'd be enjoying yourself a lot more if you partner were more into it/less incompetent. Not only is the flogging sequence only superficially presented as a dominance/submission thing, it's also fairly clearly not meant to be interpreted solely from that perspective, though I find the potential interpretations troubling. Are we to understand that the old, imperfect Mavis - the one who's presented as being kind of vacuous and self-obsessed and spiteful - has been stripped away by this process and replaced with one more in tune with herself and those around her? Are we to understand from this that someone we have been encouraged to dismiss as a stupid fatty can become a compliant and good companion with the application of a firm beating? Jesus.

Of course, after some decades it would dawn on Moorcock that the implications of this scene are not good, so for the omnibus revision of the story he changed it. This time around, apparently Bloom uses a drug to help Mavis turn on, tune in, and drop out. Firstly: using a drug to make someone consent to being your sex partner isn't actually that much better than achieving the same goal through violence because it's still trampling over their consent, so the Fireclown is still a rapist of some variety whatever version of the book you're reading. Secondly, even taking out the flogging leaves all of the "I will make you mine and you are going to love it" talk intact, so it's hard not to take Ming's acceptance of Bloom after the drugging in much the same way as her acceptance of Bloom after her flogging in the original text. The most gruesome and violent aspect of the structure is excised, but the misogynistic scaffolding remains.

In short, it's fucking terrible whichever edition you read and Moorcock should be ashamed. I guess it's to his credit that he is but even so, I don't think the tweaks he made really deal with the novel's problems, which really cry out for a root-and-branch purging and rewrite.

Multiverse bollocks: Well, there's the Fireclown of course. That's a pretty big one. Oh, and Doctor Volospion's collection of religious zealots includes worshippers of "the Sword of the Stallion", which is most likely a reference to the second Corum trilogy. The appearance of the Grail at the end of the story is highly reminiscent of its appearance at the end of Phoenix In Obsidian. At one point Bloom dresses as a pierrot, which is a reference to the Jerry Cornelius stories. In fact, at the start of the story Moorcock says that this particular tale wasn't related to him by Una Persson at all, but by a different time traveller who, based on what we are told about him, is obviously meant to be Jerry Cornelius. Moorcock concedes the possibility that Jerry might be trolling him into writing total bullshit, which would be a good excuse for this crap if only he weren't blaming a figment of his imagination for it; sorry Mike, but you can't pass the buck to fictional characters, that isn't how it works.

The Picky Buyer's Guide

It's notable that all the End of Time stories which don't involve Jherek and Amelia rely on the same initial setup as the main novels in the series do: people who either are time/space travellers or at the very least claim to be arrive at the End of Time, they react to the End of Time's culture, the End of Time simultaneously reacts to them. It does seem that Moorcock simply couldn't come up with any stories which just had the End of Time denizens playing their daft games and having their little quarrels, which granted wouldn't offer much of substance for a novel-length story but which seems to me to be the sort of thing you could easily spin a silly, fun short story or two out of. Then again, Moorcock's never been one to just settle for silly fun; it's clear that the Jherek and Amelia business is where his heart is when it comes to the End of Time, and it's equally clear that the stories which don't include them are all intended to make some sort of point too.

What is clearest of all is that the stories without Jherek and Amelia are just plain inferior, perhaps for those reasons: having conceived of the End of Time as a backdrop for Jherek and Amelia's story and calibrated it accordingly, Moorcock struggled to do anything else with it. Stick to the core trilogy, which ranks as one of the best things Moorcock has ever done.

Buyer beware: if you want to spurn my advice, be aware that some editions of the Legends From the End of Time omnibus which includes Constant Fire/Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming/whatever the fuck you want to call that piece of shit novel are severely botched - as in they excise all of Constant Fire except for the final, revised chapter. Full details here, on Moorcock's wiki.

Here's how the buyer's guide looks now:

     The Stealer of Souls [1]
     Stormbringer (post-1977 edition) [1]
     The Eternal Champion (the novel, not the omnibus)
Clovis Marca:
     The Shores of Death (AKA The Twilight Man) [2]
Michael Kane:
     City of the Beast (AKA Warriors of Mars) [3]
     Lord of the Spiders (AKA Blades of Mars) [3]
     Masters of the Pit (AKA Barbarians of Mars) [3]
Alan Powys:
     The Winds of Limbo (AKA The Fireclown) [2]
Jerry Cornelius:
     The Final Programme [4]
     A Cure For Cancer [4]
     The English Assassin [4]
     The Condition of Muzak [4]
     Gold Diggers of 1977 (AKA The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle)
Professor Faustaff:
     The Rituals of Infinity (AKA The Wrecks of Time) [2]
Karl Glogauer:
     Behold the Man
     Breakfast In the Ruins
Konrad Arflane:
     The Ice Schooner
     The Black Corridor
Oswald Bastable:
     The Warlord of the Air
Jherek Carnelian and Amelia Underwood:
     An Alien Heat [5]
     The Hollow Lands [5]
     The End of All Songs [5]

[1] Collected in Elric or the Del Rey edition of Elric: the Stealer of Souls.

[2] Collected in The Roads Between the Worlds.

[3] Collected in Warrior of Mars or Kane of Old Mars.

[4] Collected in The Cornelius Quartet or The Cornelius Chronicles (2-volume UK edition, or 1st volume of the US version).

[5] Collected in The Dancers at the End of Time.

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Comments (go to latest)
Michal at 02:09 on 2012-06-25
I like to think one of the Dancers is the proprietor of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
Arthur B at 02:27 on 2012-06-25
Probably Argonheart Po, he's the master chef amongst them.
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2012-08-01
From the discussions I've seen on ferretbrain, the main trilogy at least seems to be regarded as a highlight of Moorcock's writing career, yet it's also (I'm pretty sure) the least commented article. Huh.

whilst a lot of us would probably like to live in a Utopia of utilitarian hedonism Moorcock doesn't lose sight of the fact that for some people would find that personally dissatisfying

I don't think I'd get along at the End of Time at all. Setting aside the mistreatment of time travelers, there doesn't seem to be all that much oppression going on, which is pretty much my first criterion for any society that's fit for human beings to live in; but it sounds like there's no meaning and no purpose to people's lives—when there's nothing to achieve, there can be no struggle to achieve it. Some people might be able to live happily and healthily in such a society, and more power to them—I personally would probably go mad.

If you were hoping that there'd be some sort of plot twist where the whole "fall at my feet and call me master" thingy doesn't happen after all, nope, sorry, you're out of luck.

I think I prefer the prophecy twist in Timothy Zahn's The Last Command, where
Mara Jade really does kneel at the villainous Jedi C'baoth's feet as predicted … just long enough to stab him in the chest.
Arthur B at 22:46 on 2012-08-01
Setting aside the mistreatment of time travelers, there doesn't seem to be all that much oppression going on, which is pretty much my first criterion for any society that's fit for human beings to live in;

You monster.
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2012-08-02
Robinson: Setting aside the mistreatment of time travelers, there doesn't seem to be all that much oppression going on, which is pretty much my first criterion for any society that's fit for human beings to live in;

Arthur: You monster.

*slaps forehead* Bugger! Thank you for catching that, Arthur. (And how the hell did I miss it?)
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