Thursday, 2 March 2000

Michael Moorcock: The Land Leviathan (1974)

Edition: Granada
Review number: 445

As in the Jerry Cornelius novels, each of the Oswald Bastable series is set in a different world, an alternative vision of contemporary society. (This is accomplished by twisting a standard plot element of science fiction so that instead of time travel to different dates, Bastable travels to the same date each time with a different history connecting it to his origins in 1903.) The similarity with the Cornelius novels is increased by the way in which he meets the same characters each time, some of whom even being shared with the earlier series.

The premise behind the alternative history in this novel is that an inventive genius came up with a totally new power source in the early years of the twentieth century, and that the technological revolution which followed brought prosperity across the Earth. Through the short sightedness of governments, this lead to a massive wave of nationalism, and a series of totally destructive wars in which biological weapons almost brought the downfall of civilisation. Bastable arrives as the terrible plagues die down in Europe, and witnesses the expansion of an anti-colonial African empire, led by a man known as the "Black Atilla", determined to wreak revenge for the racism he encountered as a young man.

One of Moorcock's most pessimistic novels, The Land Leviathan makes strong points about racism and nationalism, even if in a somewhat exaggerated manner.

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