Nomad of Time Streams by Michael Moorcock
Out of all speculative fiction authors, Michael Moorcock dominates my TBR list. Part of that is his prolific back catalogue, and part of it is the fact he has written so very much in so many genres. The Nomad of Time, which has recently been re-released in its three original books on Kindle, is a book I have been curious about ever since I started reading the Steampunk genre. The settings it describes, a sequence of alternate timestreams, contain many of the trappings of the genre: airships, empires, steam technology, and Victorian-Edwardian morality. Yet, perhaps because it preceded the genre per se, it has a rather atypical feel to it in comparison to many steampunk books.
The three books in the volume - The Warlord of the Air, The Land Leviathan and The Steel Tsar - follow the adventures of Captain Oswald Bastable. The character is introduced through a curious literary device wherein Bastable recounts his memoirs to Moorcock’s grandfather (and in the last book, Moorcock himself). The majority of the book is thus Bastable’s narrative, describing his bizarre journey across three alternate realities.
On a military mission, Bastable enters the mysterious Temple of the Future Buddha in the Himalayas. During an assault on the Temple, Bastable is inexplicably transported to an alternate future wherein airships are the key mode of transport, and great empires live on. Initially awed by this future, Bastable begins to scratch beneath the surface of the ingrained prejudices and oppression of the ruling classes. He trains as an airshipman and serves as a member of the Air Police. A disaster aboard leads to his disenchantment and his association with a group of ‘rebels.’ Through these colourful terrorists his own Edwardian sensibilities are challenged, and he first encounters the mysterious Mrs Perrson, a character who appears in all three books (and other of Moorcock’s work, like The Dancers at the End of Time).
The second book, The Land Leviathan, draws Bastable back to the Edwardian era, but in a world ravaged by biological warfare. This post-apocalyptic setting still has empires of a form, and strange alternate technology - submarines, air boats and so forth. The key protagonist in this book is an African warlord who, via the displaced Gandhi, develops a key relationship with Bastable.
The final book, and the one I found the darkest, was the Steel Tsar. Bastable finds himself in an alternate World War Two, involved in the war between Japan and Russia. Via a Japanese prisoner of war camp, located on the island where the book first begins, Bastable becomes drawn into a Russian civil war, precipitated by Stalin.
There is no doubt the books are cleverly written. The use of real historical figures in the various worlds gives it a strange integrity (there is Lenin, Stalin, Joseph Conrad, Gandhi, Churchill, Makhno). The linkage of the nuclear weapons and the destruction of Hiroshima are a theme which unites the time streams, and which torments Bastable through the books. The evolution of Bastable’s political ideology, from his traditional narrow-minded Imperial sensibilities to being a proponent of Socialism, is the key journey of the trilogy. Moorcock paints the politics with broad strokes, tackling Imperialism, racism, communism, socialism, anarchism (I’m running out of ‘isms’ here!) and it feels rather heavy handed in places. And therein lay my main issue with the books. Despite the first person narrative, I struggled to warm to Bastable. He seems oddly dissociated from events at times, as if a passive observer carried along by the momentum of the histories he is involved in. His evolving morality didn’t quite convince me. The pace of the plot was well judged, maintaining interest and throwing suitable twists as we propelled towards catastrophes in each world. The depth of world-building was perhaps the only casualty of this, and personally I would have enjoyed more fleshing out (I suspect that is the history nerd within me).
In summary, it has a clever plot, Moorcock’s quirkiness, unsubtle politics and great airships. Definitely worth a read somewhere down your TBR list, especially if you enjoy alternate histories or are Steampunk curious.
This Nomad of Time Streams book review was written by Ross Kitson
Have you read Nomad of Time Streams?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
Nomad of Time Streams reader reviews
7/10 from 1 reviews
There are currently no reader reviews for this book. Why not be the first?
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
Perdido Street Station
The metropolis of New Crobuzon sprawls at the centre of its own bewildering world. Humans and mutants and arcane races throng the gloom beneath its chimneys, where the rive...
The Anubis Gates
Brendan Doyle is a twentieth-century English professor who travels back to 1810 London to attend a lecture given by English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This is a...
The City and the City
When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Besźel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector T...
The Difference Engine
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
The computer age has arrived a century ahead of time with Charles Babbage's perfection of his Analytical Engine. The Industrial Revolution, supercharged by the developm...
A colossal fantasy of incredible diversity and spellbinding imagination. A human cargo bound for servitude in exile... A pirate city hauled across the oceans... A hidden mi...
The Aeronaut's Windlass
Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have rule...
It is a time of revolts and revolutions, conflict and intrigue. New Crobuzon is being ripped apart from without and within. War with the shadowy city-state of Tesh and riot...
The Mensch with No Name
Edward M Erdelac
The Merkabah Rider continues his journey across the American Southwest of 1880 in search of the renegade teacher who destroyed his mystic Jewish order in the second volume ...
The Shadow Conspiracy
1816, the year without a summer. A group of geniuses descended on Geneva and, in an attempt to save the body and mind of Lord Byron, perform dreadful and forbidden experime...
The Weavers of Saramyr
An evil that comes from within the empire's centre, a sect of magicians close to the throne intent on killing any child born with magical powers. But now the empress ha...
The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats
Sir Richard Francis Burton's expedition has returned from the future, bringing with it knowledge of technologies that must remain secret if history is to proceed as it ...
A young clockmaker's apprentice, who is visited by the Archangel Gabriel. He is told that he must take the Key Perilous and rewind the Mainspring of the Earth. It is ru...
The Good, the Bad and the Infernal
One day every hundred years, a town appears, its location and character different every time. It is home to the greatest miracle a man could imagine: a doorway to Heaven it...
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
A clockwork man is abandoned in Trafalgar Square. A ghost displays a craving for diamonds. A lost aristocrat returns ten years after being lost at sea and instigates riots ...
Sea of Ghosts
When the last of the Gravediggers, an elite imperial infiltration unit, are disbanded and hunted down by the emperor they once served, munitions expert Colonel Thomas Grang...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
Best of 2016
Journey to the Black City
On an Earth that is very much like our own, the civilizations of ancient man have been crushed; the giant glaciers that cover the northern part of the globe continue, even now...
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
Edinburgh, 1874. On the coldest night the world has ever seen, Little Jack is born with a frozen heart and immediately undergoes a life-saving operation. But Dr Madeleine is no conventional medic and surgically implants a cuckoo-clock into his chest. Little Jack grows up different to other children: every day begins with a daily wind-up. At scho...
The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow's Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow...
A Tale of Time City
Diana Wynne Jones
When Vivian is evacuated from London in 1939, she expects to be staying in the countryside. Instead, she is whisked away to Time City – a place that exists outside ti...
The Guns of Empire
As the roar of the guns subsides and the smoke of battle clears, the country of Vordan is offered a fragile peace... After their shattering defeats at the hands of brillian...
At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth....
Events are coming to a climax in the Banished Lands, as the war reaches new heights. King Nathair has taken control of the fortress at Drassil and three of the Seven Treasu...
For Kivrin Engle, preparing an on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the four...