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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Land Leviathan

Michael Moorcock

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To purchase The Land Leviathan

Title: The Land Leviathan
Author: Michael Moorcock
Genre: Novel
Written: 1974
Length: 175 pages
Availability: in A Nomad of the Time Streams - US
in A Nomad of the Time Streams - UK
in A Nomad of the Time Streams - Canada
Le léviathan des terres - France
in Zeitnomaden - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining if ultimately too simple alternate history tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Land Leviathan begins with author Michael Moorcock discovering a manuscript in a long-unopened safe where his grandfather had put it decades earlier. After the curious tale of time-travelling Oswald Bastable related in The Warlord of the Air (see our review), both Moorcocks were eager to hear more -- as, surely, were many readers.
       The long-lost manuscript begins with a prologue describing grandfather Moorcock's attempts to track down Bastable -- and then relates, in his own words, more of Bastable's adventures. The elder Moorcock recounts trying to publish the original story of The Warlord of the Air and slowly getting the reputation of being quite the eccentric. He gives up on trying to publish, and instead heads to China to see if he can find Bastable.
       These adventures are the most entertaining thing in the book. Revolutionary China of that time (the early 20th century) isn't particularly safe, and Moorcock ventures into quite hostile territory. Things eventually look bleak for him, but he does manage to survive -- saved by, of all people, Una Persson (sometime Bastable cohort in the future -- and a figure in other Moorcock-fictions).
       Moorcock does not meet Bastable again: apparently he is "trapped forever in the shifting tides of time". But Una leaves Moorcock with a manuscript in Bastable's own hand, which then makes up the rest of the novel.
       That story opens with Bastable relating how, after he left Moorcock on Rowe Island, he returned to India and Teku Benga, where his time-travelling adventures all began. Here, again, something happens (and, like in the previous book, the time-hopping is among the least convincing parts). But instead of jumping to the future, Bastable finds himself in an alternate present: it is 1904, but because of some incredible technological innovations made from the 1870s onward, the world developed into a very different place.
       Technological innovation did not work out well, in fact: the world is largely in a state of anarchy and war. Bastable hopes to head home to England, but there's little there to head home to. War and disease have done horrible things to the country and the people.
       There are some decent adventures along the way (as well as a reappearance of Una Persson), and eventually Bastable settles in one of the few safe havens: Bantustan, the former South Africa, which under the wise leadership of a certain Gandhi had managed a successful transition from colony to independent state. In a nice touch it's also a place with "no racialistic nonsense":

Black, brown, and white races lived together in harmony -- a model to the rest of the world.
       And on top of it it is a republic "based upon the theories of a German dreamer and arch-socialist named Karl Marx."
       Where The Warlord of the Air focussed on imperialism, The Land Leviathan focusses on race as an underlying problem of much world conflict. Here a Black Attila, Cicero Hood, is leading an African army to do justice (and take over most of the world in the proces). Europe has already fallen, and the next target ist the United States.
       Bastable, of course, finds himself first an emissary to Hood, and then drawn into the American conflict. Here, eventually, the incredible secret weapon of the title appears -- the "vast, moving ziggurat of destruction" is not quite the atomic bomb of The Warlord of the Air, but still impressive (and devastating). Bastable wavers in allegiance, finding cause after cause that seems worthy of help but then disappoints him.
       The Land Leviathan has some good adventures, and some clever bits but it's not as expansive as all this material and ambition requires. Moorcock seems to have lost interest in fleshing out his narrative after a certain point, rushing eventually ahead only so he can unleash his land leviathan, a machine that doesn't impress half so much as some of the technology hinted at elsewhere. (Earth-burrowing crafts, too, are a weak idea that he latches onto here.)
       There's enough here to entertain, but it doesn't live up to its ambitions -- or its early successes. Moorcock writes well, and if he had the patience to let his story unfold more slowly this likely would have been very good.

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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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