Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Time Dweller

© 1979 by Michael Moorcock

I remember reading some of Michael Moorcock as a kid and coming away with the sense that this was something dangerous, something above my ability to fully comprehend, something that I should not be reading. Though I can’t quite put my finger on the exact memory, it had something to do with making due and surviving in a futuristic wasteland.

I know; there’s only been about a quarter million stories written within that setting.

That story is lost to the shadowed and fragmentary depths of my subconscious. All right, I can live with that.

As an adult I’m well aware of Moorcock’s fame and high regard in the SF community. A few years back I decided I would make attempts to experience this for myself, much more older and much more wiser than that previous visit to one of his worlds. I bought the first thing I came across, one of his Elric books, and came away quite disappointed and disillusioned.

A few years slip by …

Back in January I did my semi-annual trip down to a certain used book store in central New Jersey and found The Time Dweller, by Michael Moorcock. A quick perusal and I decided to pick it up. I then read it around the time I was hospitalized two or three weeks ago.

What do I think? Hmm. Let’s see.

First, a trend I’ve noticed.

A lot of the old school SF writers put out books like The Time Dweller. Probably they’re pressured by their publishers to do so. Maybe the author has a bad case of the block or wants to take a year off; maybe the publisher is itching to cash in on a hot writer. Who knows. But what happens is someone bundles up a bunch of the author’s previously published short stories, all grouped around a theme, a pass it off as a self-contained novel.

This was most famously and successfully done with Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. But I’ve also read a few others that just don’t work. They don’t click as stand alone novels. It would be better if the publisher didn’t even try; as a reader I feel somewhat cheated. But maybe I’m just being overly picky. It’s late afternoon, I’m watching two toddlers, it’s eighty-five degrees out and I still have to mow the lawn.

The first two stories in this attempt at a fractured novel of sorts, “The Time Dweller” and “Escape from Evening,” are kinda related. They both take place in the same, er, place, Earth in the distant future. The moon and sun shine with dimmed power through brown clouds. Slugs (“oozers”) are replacing man as the dominant species. Each involves a city founded as an experiment and populated by those who don’t believe man is limited temporarily. A good idea, but not much developed in the stories. Not bad reads, but they left too many promises unfulfilled for me, I think.

Then the stories cease to have any connection. The final six are highly erratic in quality – some are really good and some head-scratchingly so-so. There are tales about a pyrokinetic madman, a werewolf, a man driven mad by ancient ruins. Two men track a woman – all sole survivors of nuclear holocaust – up a soaring mountaintop. There’s a murder mystery involving Hitler, Bismarck, Einstein, Stalin – and a killer Venus flytrap plant.

But the best read was a 54-page novella nesting in the middle of the collection: “The Deep Fix.” What a great read! How I wish it was a full novel. All the elements of a weirdly good SF piece are there. We have an end-times scenario involving psychotic disease. We have a frantic, drug-addled scientist trying to save humanity. We have strange side-trips into Alice in Wonderland worlds featuring blue men, vampires, sultry seductresses and hard-boiled detectives driving Ferraris. Which world is really real, and what the heck is going on, anyway? It’s like Dark City meets The Matrix meets 28 Days Later, if it was pitched in a Hollywood exec’s office today. And the ending is just perfect – it wraps everything up tidily and with a bit of humor, to boot.

Nerd that I am, I graded the stories after I read them, and came up with: B, B+, A, C, C-, B+, D, A-, and C+. That averages, I think, somewhere around a B-. Which sounds about right, as a grade for the entire collection.

Would I pick up another Moorcock novel? I think so. It’s a minor personal mission to find my way back to that futuristic wasteland I first tracked through so many years ago …

No comments: