Sunday, March 29, 2020

Reviewing Michael Moorcock’s The Nomad of the Timestreams Trilogy

This month I am reviewing a long-time favourite series of mine, The Nomad of the Timestreams trilogy – The Warlord of the Air (1971), The Land Leviathan (1974), and The Steel Tsar (1980). These books were among my first exposure to the alternate history genre.

The primary protagonist of all three novels is one Captain Oswald Bastable, a Victorian soldier in the British Indian Army, circa 1902. In the opening novel, he’s sent to put down a rebellion in the north-east of India only be taken prisoner in an ambush. He manages escapes into the Temple of the Future Buddha but that's when his troubles truly begin. There’s an earthquake, and suddenly Bastable is thrust forward into the year 1973. Only it’s not our 1973.  Neither the First World War or the Second World War, the Great Depression or the Cold War has happened. Instead the great European colonial powers, along with the the United States and Japan, continue to rule the globe. Upon being rescued by a British airship, his adventures only start. After a shorts stint as an air policeman, he gets involved with a motley band of anarchists and revolutionaries, many of whom we meet in different guises in the throughout of the series.  

Like some latter-day Flying Dutchman, Oswald Bastable is fated to cross from timeline to timeline finding only war but never peace. We next find Bastable in The Land Leviathan, in another 1902, where society has all but collapsed after a devastating global war. After another series of adventures, Bastable finds himself at the side of the “Black Attila,” an African leader set to conquer the world.  For me, this is probably the strongest of the three books, although the story of Bastable himself actually the slimmest, if only in page count. In many ways, it reminds me of the later works of H.G. Wells, in particular The War in the Air (1902) and The Shape of Things to Come (1933), in his distrust of technology and the blind faith in that progress that most of us still have.

The books are connected by the conceit that author Moorcock is actually relating a true story though his grandfather and then much later, himself.  This adds an extra layer to the story and a dash of whimsy.  And frankly, a part of me would love to believe the stories were true. 

Together the trilogy is both a criticism of imperialism, racism, and of our blind faith in technology and utopia.  All of these concerns are as valid today as they were back when the books were first published. Definitely worth an online hunt.


I’m writing this blog in my second week of working from home, like so many of us are.  The COVID-19 coronavirus, which seemed like a blip on the horizon last month for so many of us is now a daily reality.  I sadly believe that things will get worse before they get better.  But an important thing to remember is that things will get better and the current situation indeed will pass. How the situation will pass is in large part, how we respond as a species in the coming months. I would like to believe that we would emerge as more caring and connected, not only for each other but for the world around us.

Until that time, stay safe and look after yourselves and each other. I’ll be back next month. 

In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.