Sunday, 22 July 2012

Michael Moorcock: The Blood Red Game (1974)

Edition: Mayflower Science Fiction, 1974
Review number: 1459

The contents of this novel are actually from the very beginning of Moorcock's career, appearing as a pair of stories in a science fiction magazine in 1962, at around the same time as the first Elric novel, which was much more of a signpost to the type of writing he was going to go on to become known for. This packaging of the stories together which appeared in the mid-seventies must have seemed rather out of step with the cool New Wave work he was writing at the time; The Blood Red Game is, by contrast, clearly derivative from pulpy SF writers like E.E. "Doc" Smith and AE Van Vogt, especially the latter. (I should perhaps mention that, according to Fantastic Fiction, the two stories also appeared as - extremely short - separate novels in 1966.)

The first story, originally entitled The Sundered Worlds, has a hero, Renark, who has the psychic ability to sense the universe as a whole. He realises that it is beginning to contract, threatening the total destruction of humanity, a slightly strange premise that is apparently forgetting that it would take billions of years to contract the universe, even if the contraction occurred at almost the speed of light. No explanation is given of why it poses such an urgent problem, or even any indication that the contraction is very fast. The sundered worlds of the title are a small group of planets which travel between dimensions, and Renark thinks that they will hold the key to saving the galaxy. So he, with a small group of friends, travels to the sundered worlds the next time they pass through our universe, even though no human has ever returned from similar trips.

The second story, sharing its title with this book, follows immediately on from the end of The Sundered Worlds, so much so that I suspect some re-writing was done to cover the join for publication as one. The story now sees humanity facing a different external crisis, being forced to participate in a series of incomprehensible psychic games against alien species, for the amusement of more powerful beings.

In themselves, the two stories are fairly mediocre. To the Moorcock fan, they do have interesting ideas which relate to important concepts behind his later work, including an undeveloped form of the multiverse, with clashes between universes playing a part as they do in several later stories. I can see that they would have been of sufficient interest to a magazine editor in 1962 to publish, but I don't think that anyone would have bothered to re-package them as a novel without Moorcock's name associated with them - if, say, they had been the only published stories by someone who went on to become an advertising executive or a banker, instead of a world famous and hugely influential science fiction editor and author. As things turned out, it is still interesting to read them in the context of Moorcock's other work.

My rating - 4/10.

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