Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

February 2, 2011

Michael Moorcock – The Coming of the Terraphiles

Filed under: review — Tags: , , — Sam @ 2:22 am

I’m a big fan of Doctor Who, and I’ve been reading Moorcock since I was 12 or so. So I was extremely disappointed with this book.

It’s not good Who, since Moorcock doesn’t have much empathy with Eleven—the Doctor we see here might be almost any of them—and less with Amy. She gets almost nothing to do, and Moorcock doesn’t have her distinctive voice at all. In fact, since there’s a reference to “her unruly red hair standing on end” at one point, I’m not sure Moorcock has ever done much more than read a written description. The only plot she gets is in turning down an Earl’s proposal, and the flirtation goes on for half the book without any reference to Rory. Presumably, this adventure takes place during the period he spent erased from existence, but the Doctor doesn’t seem to think twice about it either.

It’s set in that last refuge of the SF hack, the Edwardian era IN SPACE, using that hackneyed plot device, the anachronistic mess of half-remembered history. So, in our Incredibly English Future, we have Wodehouse-grade peers & Chaps playing the ancient game of “arrers”, which is basically cricket and archery at once, interspersed with jousting, broadsword fighting (using swords three feet wide and a foot long), and Cracking Nuts With Sledgehammers. Amidst all that, a penniless young man and the daughter of a millionaire fall in love, and the young woman’s mother acquires and wears the most appallingly ugly hat in the multiverse. Oddly, everyone seems to want that hat, and not just as an excuse for Woosteresque hijinks.

I’ll spare you the rest of the plot; it doesn’t get much better. It’s nearly all Moorcock’s consistent Eternal Champion mythos, and what isn’t Moorcock appears to be more Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pastiche than it is Doctor Who. There are some extremely good concepts involved (Frank/Freddie Force and his Antimatter Men would have made extremely, er, appropriate villains for the Sixth or Seventh Doctors) but they suffer from trying to cram in far too many of them. Introducing us to Captain ‘Ironface’ Cornelius, Peggy the invisible burglar, Captain Abberly and the three singing Bubbly Boys, and Captain Quelch along with the First Fifteen not only dilutes the effect but ensures that none of them get enough screen time actually to be interesting.

It’s not good Moorcock, either—it doesn’t have any noticeable significance in his mythology, and doesn’t provide anything lingering except fluff. The plot ends with two unexpected oh-I-had-it-all-along moments, the McGuffin solving the Problem, a Heroic Sacrifice, and and a Happily Ever After. That’s not necessarily a problem, but if you’re going to go for a trad plot in a stock setting, you can’t do without intense emotional engagement, and I felt none of that at all.

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