bookrev: The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock
A detective that can travel the multiverse, the constant struggle between Law and Chaos, the Albino, blimps/dirigibles, rail travel and electric cars (with no oil). Plus guest appearances by Nazi’s and thinly disguised former Texas governors are a few of the ingredients that make this collection of short stories enjoyable. Is it fantasy? Mystery? Sci-fi? Steampunk (whatever that is)? Who cares? It’s a fun read, capped with an excellent new original story.
The liner notes (behind the fantastic John Picacio cover, depicting the Albino as he has haunted my dreams since reading Elric in high school 100 years ago) say that Sir Seaton is “a homage to…Sexton Blake”, a character I have not had the pleasure of encountering, and others by Dashiell Hammett et al. Sir Seaton Begg is quite recognizable, though, even for the uninitiated: always searching for clues (even in the Enquirer), puzzling it out, always on the side of the law.
All but the last, The Flaneur des Arcades de l’Opera (and, IMHO the best) have been published elsewhere. Notes on each of the stories:
The Affair of the Seven Virgins: Seaton Begg’s first encounter with Zenith the Albino, a player in the war between Law and Chaos, another version of Von Bek et al in the multiverse. The runesword makes it’s first appearance as Zenith and company try to take the English government for a large sum of bullion in ransom for seven virgins, relatives of Zenith.
Crimson Eyes: The first story to introduce Dr. “Taffy” Sinclair, as government officials are getting offed with interesting looking wounds. Back history given on Zenith the Albino’s family, and the Von Beks responsibility to defend the grail at all costs. The government officials had corruptly used the grail to further their financing, and Von Bek/Zenith fed their souls to the runesword. But Sir Seaton Begg figures out the mystery, and (spoiler alert) ends up with the Grail.
The Ghost Warriors: As a fellow Texan, one of my favorites: western meets detective meets the multiverse! Zenith leads Begg and the “Masked Buckaroo” on a chase to only Zenith knows what ends!
The Girl Who Killed Sylvia Blade: This was the one story that seemed out of place.
The Case of the Nazi Canary: Enter Adolf Hitler and other prominent members of the Nazi party. “Alf” has been accused of the murder of his young cousin, and Hermann Hess calls Sir Seaton in to clear Hitler’s name. The albino makes a brief but strategic appearance.
Sir Milk-and-Blood: A very short retribution / political commentary piece, with a couple of Irish bombers getting their “just release”, courtesy of Zenith.
The Mystery of the Texas Twister: Back to Texas again, in a timeline where the states are split into several warring countries. This was by far my most favorite story, with Texas under the King George (with his ranch in Crawford) running a electricity monopoly and trying to start a war with California and other neighboring states while keeping an efficient battery/engine off the market. Countess Von Bek makes an appearance as an old acquaintance, either ally or foe in this case; and the Masked Buckaroo briefly returns as well. Zenith appears as mainly a greedy power mad violin player in this one, bent more on revenge that on his maudlin destiny in the multiverse. But even with that one caveat, still an enjoyable read.
London Flesh: Another shot piece, telling the tale of a supernaturalist who enlists Zenith’s help to kidnap a tram full of Londoners, masking their true plan. They are of course thwarted by Begg and Sinclair, and some surprising companions.
The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius: The fascination with Hitler returns, as Sir Seaton must enter an alternate time line and solve a murder at Herr Chief of Police Bismark’s war torn estate. Herr Hitler plays a minor policeman who is ordered to escort Sir Seaton around as he tried to solve the crime. My fave, Albert Einstein makes a brief appearance in a bar (go Al!). But no Zenith in this one.
The Affair of Le Bassin des Hivers: Only a passing mention of Sir Seaton Begg in this story, but Zenith and the Countess Von Bek come along to help Begg’s French counterpart, Commissaure Lapointe solve a murder where it appears that the murder happened in one dimension of the multiverse and the body was deposited in Lapointe’s version. Each of the civilized countries have their own metatemporal agencies, it seems. Two excellent descriptions here, one an interesting attempt to explain the multiverse:
Lapointe was discussing the worlds of the multiverse. separated one from another by mass rather than time. Each world was of enormously larger or smaller scale to the next, enabling all of the alternate universes which made up the great multiverse to coexist, one invisible to the other for reason of size. Not until the great French scientist Benoit Mandelbrot developed these theories (Z = z + c squared) was it possible for certain adepts to increase or decrease their own mass and cross from one of these worlds to the other. Mandelbrot effectively provides us with maps of our own brains, plans of the miltiverse. This in turn led to the setting up of secret government agencies designed to create policies and departments whose function was to deal with the new realities.
And, one of a series of excellent descriptions of the Albino:
His skin was pale as alabaster. His hair, including his eyebrows, was the color of milk and his gleaming, sardonic eyes resembled the finest rubies. Dressed unusually for that age, the albino wore perfectly cut morning dress.
Gotta get me some white eyebrows!
The Flaneur des Arcades de l’Opera: Sir Seaton Begg, Dr. Sinclair, the French Metatemporal detective Lapointe and his deputy LeBec, seek to thwart a Nazi plot to throw the world once again into war. In this multiverse, Germany was defeated in Poland, and Hiltler and the Nazi’s became terrorists. The French believe Zenith and the Countess Von Bek are in league with the Nazi’s in this plot, and enlist Sir Seaton’s help. It includes an encounter with…
“the legendary Cosmic Balance which regulated the entire multiverse, weighing Law and Chaos, good and evil, truth and falsehood, life and death, love and hate, maintaining the equilibrium and therefor the existence of all created manner.”
No spoilers here, but another player from the multiverse also enters the fray. An excellent final story for an excellent collection
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