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The War Amongst the Angels
Michael Moorcock
Avon Books, 298 pages

Art: Bill Binger
The War Amongst the Angels
Michael Moorcock
Michael Moorcock has published over 70 novels in all genres. These include several series that share to different extents a common multiverse: the Cornelius Chronicles, The Dancers at the End of Time, Erekose, The Books of Corum, Hawkmoon: The Chronicles of Castle Brass, Hawkmoon: The History of the Runestaff and the classic Elric of Melnibone Saga. He has also edited an anthology of late Victorian science fiction, Before Armageddon. Under the pen name E.P. Bradbury, he published a series of novel-length pastiches of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels.

Moorcock was born in London in 1939 and began writing, illustrating, editing and printing fanzines under the MJM Publications imprint at a young age. He became the editor of Tarzan Adventures at 16 (some sources say 17), and later the Sexton Blake Library. In 1964 he became the radical editor of the experimental and frequently controversial British SF magazine New Worlds.

A multiple winner of the British Fantasy Award, Moorcock is also a World Fantasy Award and John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner for his novel Gloriana. He won the 1967 Nebula Award for his novella "Behold the Man." He has twice won the Derleth Award for Fantasy (for The Sword and the Stallion, and The Hollow Lands), and the Guardian Fiction Prize (1977) for The Condition of Muzak. He has been shortlisted for both the Booker and Whitbread prizes, Britain's most prestigious literary awards. Moorcock currently lives in London, Spain and Texas. Moorcock has also recorded music, both solo and with the progressive rock group Hawkwind.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Dancers at the End of Time
SF Site Review: Kane of Old Mars
SF Site Review: Sailing to Utopia
Michael Moorcock Interview
Michael Moorcock's Musical Contributions
Bio-bibliography: Michael Moorcock
Bibliography: Michael Moorcock
Vote for your favourite Moorcock novel
Michael Moorcock Tribute Site
Michael Moorcock Tribute Site
Elric of Melnibone site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

The War Amongst the Angels completes the trilogy begun with Blood: A Southern Fantasy and Fabulous Harbours. Unlike many of Moorcock's early fantasy series, which, while couched in a complex multiverse, follow a fairly linear narrative plot, The War Against the Angels resembles more closely (if anything) the somewhat experimental Jerry Cornelius novels.

In The War Against the Angels the plot shifts backwards and forwards in time, across dimensions, and from one narrative voice to another. Those expecting the sort of action-driven fantasy-adventure of Elric will find that at best only one fifth of the book follows this pattern, while the remainder is partly biographical and partly about the relationships between the characters.

Given the unconventional structure and contents of the novel, it is not entirely clear to me whether having read the first two books in the series would have made reading this book and sorting out the characters any easier. While I enjoyed the book, I certainly wouldn't recommend it as an introduction to Moorcock.

Nominally, the book is about Rose von Bek (née Moorcock), niece of the author, but the pen behind the works published in his name. While once married to the von Bek family presented in Moorcock's The War Hound and the World's Pain and other titles, Rose is now divorced from von Bek and enamoured of the mysterious Sam Oakenhurst. Another lifelong passion exists between her friends Colinda Dovero and the swashbuckling gambler extraordinaire Jack Karaquazian. Another character is the current multiverse version of the 18th century English highwayman Dick Turpin, whose wild escape to York on Black Bess was immortalized in the mid-19th century novel Rookwood by William Harrison Ainsworth (to whose memory, amongst others, Moorcock dedicates his book). Yet another character is the 19th century American scout, frontiersman and showman Buffalo Bill Cody.

Rose and these friends must stop a war amongst the angels that risks permanently upsetting the balance between Order and Chaos -- the theme of most of Moorcock's multiverse-linked series. In the Second Ether, Rose and Karaquazian can steer a giant ship which serves as the platform for their resistance to the forces of evil and the status quo. However, this mission doesn't come up until well after a quarter of the book has discussed Rose's childhood in post-WWII England and Dick Turpin's turning from robbing stagecoaches to tramcars. The actual confrontation between the forces of Order and Chaos only occurs in the last 50-or-so pages of the book.

Is The War Amongst the Angels a fantasy novel that Moorcock, in his stretching of the boundaries of fantasy -- as he stretched the boundaries of science fiction when he edited New Worlds magazine back in the 60s -- has extended into "standard" literature, or is it simply a semi-autobiographical novel presented in the framework of heroic fantasy? Is it brilliantly bold literature that redefines fantasy or self-absorbed drivel masked in complexity? This is hard to say, and it is why one either embraces the new amalgam -- in this sense, follows the lead of Moorcock's protagonists who refuse to be bounded by the ultra-conservative stagnant stance of their enemies -- or dismisses the entire effort as an inappropriately liberal interpretation of fantasy or conventional literature.

To dismiss Moorcock's work out of hand, however, would be akin to dismissing those who, like James Branch Cabell (Jurgen, 1919) or, in particular, Hanns Heinz Ewers (Alraune, 1911; The Sorcerer's Apprentice, 1907; and Vampir, 1921), were brave enough to stretch the limits of fantasy only to have their books banned.

This isn't to say that The War Amongst the Angels is for everyone; certainly the average 13-year-old novice fantasy reader would not get much out of this book, nor would anyone not ready to accept innovative, even experimental fantasy. So if you are looking for a bit of a challenge in your humdrum fantasy-reading life, pick up Moorcock's latest and enjoy.

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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