Friday, 21 December 2007

‘The Metatemporal Detective’ – Michael Moorcock (Pyr Books)

It’s always a big deal when Michael Moorcock has a new book published. I don’t know enough to name all the big hitters who have influenced the development of the fantasy genre but you can bet anything you like that Moorcock’s name will be in there somewhere. His latest offering hearkens back to the labyrinthine ‘moonbeam roads’ of the Multiverse and at the same time is a homage to the pulp fiction he used to read as a child.
Seaton Begg and his assistant ‘Taffy Sinclair’ work for the Metatemporal Investigation Department, a top secret British Home Office section that investigates crime across the dimensions. ‘The Metatemporal Detective’ recounts some of Begg and Sinclair’s exploits across dozens of alternate worlds where they meet people whose names will sound strangely familiar… At the bottom of each case however is the notorious albino Zenith, a master criminal with an ulterior motive behind everything that he does…
‘The Metatemporal Detective’ manages to capture perfectly the ‘pulp feel’ of the authors that Moorcock has affection for. Hard-bitten detectives, beautiful women, gun fights and car chases sit within these pages and some of the double crossing kept me guessing right up until the end of each story. Some of the conclusions that Begg comes to aren’t fully explained but this seems to enhance his character rather than detract from the story. I thought there was also a real sense of the ‘old British colonial supremacy’ running throughout and this made an interesting counterpoint to some of the more hard-bitten elements. It seems that those ‘pesky foreigners’ can’t get anything right without British help, this is in keeping with the tone that Moorcock is aiming for but I think people would have to bear this in mind when reading otherwise it could come across as faintly patronising.
What is also special about ‘The Metatemporal Detective’ is the way that Moorcock interweaves figures from our history into his mythos, grounding the reader in the idea of ‘alternate realities’and also using these names as a means of passing some kind of social commentary or judgement. When this works it works really well, introducing characters such as Einstein (and even Hitler) shows the reader that this is an alternate reality of Earth and gives them something to hold onto. However I found that a couple of the characters Moorcock chose to make ‘comments’ about were a little too ‘recent’, in our history, and the stories almost came across as being merely vehicles for Moorcock to have his say. On the whole the stories were all of a similar quality (good) but personal preference took control and there were some I enjoyed more than others. ‘The Mystery of the Texas Twister’ was perhaps my least favourite but I really enjoyed ‘The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius’ and ‘The Girl who killed Sylvia Blade’.
All in all, a very entertaining read that made my daily commute go very quickly. A good one for fans, who are looking for their favourites, as well as the casual reader who may be looking to try Moorcock for the first time.

Eight out of Ten

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