The story of Karl Glogauer is an interesting one, tying together Jungian psychology, Moorcock's revolutionary tendencies, an inevitabilist view of history and the mythology surrounding the man known as Jesus.  Moorcock's exploration of psychology, time travel, and mythology centres on a simple question: if you went back in time to 30AD, and found Jesus was a drooling idiot... what would you do?  The answer that Glogauer comes to is simultaneously the height of cowardice and the height of bravery.

Moorcock's plot, therefore, is multifaceted; the opening up of Glogauer's past and what brought him to travel back in time to the early first century, and what happens to him in that time period.  The two coincide in that understanding his past and his thought processes is essential to understanding what he does; Moorcock's explanation of one individual's mental processes is fascinating, though perhaps more disjointed than necessary (even if Glogauer is a typical neurotic Jew... the last part being a plot-necessity, in fairness).  Of course, we know all about one plot; indeed, it's one of the most famous stories in the Western world, indeed possibly the most famous.  The other is rather more particular, and whilst sex-obsessed it also covers a series of discussions in which Moorcock manages to elucidate a philosophy and psychology with hints of Jung, among others; detailed and academic, it works rather well as a contrast to the first-century "present" of the novel.

Glogauer's character is the real purpose of the novel, his choices forming the crux and nexus of it, the centre of the whole thing; everything he does is analysed in terms of his past and the tales of the Gospels, giving the three very different interpretations equal weight, until the reader isn't sure what to believe about him.  Moorcock's ability to keep the story fresh and interesting despite the reader full-well knowing how it will end is incredible, and that's one of the real strengths of the novel: even in the face of a disjointed and at times truly terrible writing style, Moorcock keeps things compelling.

It's not a perfect book, of course - as I said, the writing style is disjointed and hard to follow, at times throwing things in that are straight-up cod psychology; and it's a little annoying in the neurotic self-analysing Jungian semi-agnostic Jew as a central character, something that's been a trope for far too long.  It's also a little annoying in the politics of Pilate, which really don't work as compared with the history; Moorcock should have done a little more research there, though that might be the nitpick of an ancient historian.

All in all, thought-provoking, and interesting, but perhaps not enjoyable or good in the traditional sense of the term, this novel has more Philip K. Dick about it than I'm used to in Moorcock's work... and that's not altogether a good, or bad, thing.
This is the first in the Oswald Bastable sequence and makes me want to seek out the rest of the series.  It follows the adventures of Oswald Bastable in an alternate future to his own time-stream, which is in 1902 (the future is 1972-3); it's a wonderful novella, combining elements of steampunk, alternate history, the true history, and little hints or references to what truly occurred.

Bastable himself is the narrator of the story, and he's a strange chap - a chap indeed, though.  Very much a character from the turn of the century, he has progressive-for-the-time views on race, but there is some shocking vocabulary in the novel; and he's also a British nationalist in a way that simply doesn't exist any more.  He's also a fantastic character, who arouses sympathy and interest in the viewer as being incredibly human and believable.  This applies to every character - whilst they're flawed, and Moorcock won't hesitate to point out and highlight these flaws - such as Bastable's occasional violence and his tendency to naivete, and other characters have similar issues.

The plot's a good one, as Bastable discovers the world of 1972, and how different it is to his own - and to Moorcock's; the differences are indeed stark and incredible, in a way that almost defies the imagination.  However, Moorcock is also an author who can make it believable; the differences don't seem to bear no relation to each other, and they aren't ridiculous - in some cases strange, and in others they change what we think of as inevitables, but overall the changes make a good deal of sense.  His plot is also a nice piece of China Mieville-style revolution-building; both making the characters and the readers revolutionaries, and yet avoiding the revolution itself, in a manner most typified by China Mieville's Iron Council.

This is an impressive novel, and a really good piece of steampunk; I really want to pick up more of Moorcock's work in this series, although - sadly - it seems to be out of print. A great piece.


Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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