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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Nomad of the Time Streams

Michael Moorcock

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To purchase A Nomad of the Time Streams

Title: A Nomad of the Time Streams
Author: Michael Moorcock
Genre: Novel
Written: 1971-81
Length: 522 pages
Availability: A Nomad of the Time Streams - US
A Nomad of the Time Streams - UK
A Nomad of the Time Streams - Canada
Zeitnomaden - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : largely entertaining adventures in alternate histories

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Moorcock's Oswald Bastable-trilogy offers some entertaining adventures in alternate histories. The character is a nice invention, and, while he is an acquaintance of Moorcock's grandfather (who becomes somewhat obsessed by the mystery-man), quite interesting. Unfortunately, the contemporary Moorcock never seems quite sure how to handle him. The "famous chrononaut" Una Persson, who appears in all these realities (including Moorcock's contemporary one), seems to interest him more, and by the last volume he doesn't seem quite sure how to deal with Bastable at all.
       By the introduction of The Steel Tsar, where readers learn Bastable has become a member of "the famous Guild of Temporal Adventurers", it's clear pretty much all is lost. The earlier explanations for Bastable's time-shifts were poor (inexplicable, even), but at least they were as much a mystery to Bastable himself, and it was the adventures around these that were largely the best parts of the novels; by the last volume the time-shifts no longer play any role, nor is there much surprise at or adjustment to the new worlds (and times) he finds himself in.
       Moorcock goes for political and social commentary in these novels: imperialism, especially, and racism and unjust subjugation generally are shown for the horrible consequences they can have. Technology, too, is shown as much as a threat as a boon to civilization: there are always terrible weapons that destroy what humanity has become -- and lead to conditions we would consider barbaric. Some of this is effectively done, especially the small-scale stuff. But when Moorcock unleashes his titanic metal machines (the land leviathan ! the steel tsar !) it's like straight out of a bad comic book -- and undermines the valid parts of his fictions as well.
       Bastable shifts too much not only in time but in conviction. He sees (and agrees) with all manners of political positions -- and risks his life for them too. It's an odd sort of naïvete. Believable as the confused character first thrown into an alternate future in The Warlord of the Air, Bastable in fact becomes less convincing as a character (and much flatter) in the subsequent novels. He apparently learns from experience, but in an artificial, hackneyed way: instead of growing he almost seems to wither away as a character.
       Moorcock's ambition is suggested in The Land Leviathan, Bastable noting:

     I think it was then that the notion first occurred to me that perhaps I had been selected by providence to be involved in a countless series of what might be called alternative versions of the Apocalypse -- that I was doomed to witness the end of the world over and over again and doomed, too, to search for a world where man had learned to control the impulses which led to such suicidal conflicts, perhaps never to find it.
       It might have seemed like a good idea at the time to Moorcock, but sensibly he soon discarded it (not soon enough to save the Bastable-series, though). Once Bastable believes he is a chosen one, once he believes he has such a purpose, the books are lost. Moorcock would have had to make something different of them -- to really follow through on this idea, for which he clearly did not have the heart. But unfortunately, the winning lost character he had invented in the first volume was lost in this mess too.
       Aimless Bastable, trying to simply make do, returning to Teku Banga in hopes of returning to his world is far more interesting than Temporal Guild-member Bastable.

       Still, Moorcock tells some good stories, and he does offer some decent spins on history (though most of these are far too simplistic, and not satisfactorily fleshed out). For breezy entertainment it suffices, and there are some very good bits. Beneath it all one also wonders what could have been: between the writing and the original Bastable and some of the ideas this had the making of a fine novel (or series of novels).

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Michael Moorcock: Other books by Michael Moorcock under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Michael Moorcock, born in 1939, is a prolific British author.

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