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The Dancers at the End of Time
Michael Moorcock
Gollancz, 664 pages

The Dancers at the End of Time
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 Dreamthief's Daughter
SF Site Review: Gloriana or the Unfulfilled Queen
SF Site Review: Behold the Man
SF Site Review: Michael Moorcock's Multiverse
SF Site Review: The War Amongst the Angels
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 Robert Francis

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The Dancers at the End of Time is a romance. And a comedy. And a mystery. And an exploration of morality from the perspective of a naively amoral society. All this, and a very well told, enjoyable story too.

Actually, I'm not sure if naively amoral, aggressively amoral, or stubbornly amoral is more appropriate. In this story our protagonist is Jherek Carnelian, one of the last humans alive on Earth. He lives at the End of Time, and the people of his world are essentially human godlings. All have the power to instantly fulfill their every whim, thanks to millennia-old technologies which none of them care to understand any more that gives them god-like powers and virtual immortality. So naturally, these people are locked in an endless battle with their age-old enemy, boredom. Every day is a search for something novel, but with the ability to create every whim, the one thing they can't seem to get right is creativity.

They instead try to mine the past for new diversions and fads, anything to pass the time or to use as a party theme. They are for the most part not scholars, and so their information on the past is superficial at best, whatever they can easily access from the decaying databanks of the near-dead cities which house the technology that sustains them. And, as they live at the End of Time, their era receives quite a number of time travelers. The time travelers add to the store of knowledge of the past, and occasionally are added to the menageries that the citizens of the End of Time keep. There is a bit of a competition between the people at the End of Time as to who can maintain the most interesting menageries -- whoever has the most novel time traveler keeps a higher standing in the court of public opinion, for as long as their latest acquisition maintains its novelty.

Into this world is thrust Mrs. Amelia Underwood, a model citizen of Victorian England. Daughter of a missionary, married to a pillar of the church and community, Mrs. Underwood finds herself in a society more sybaritic than she could ever have imagined. The people at the End of Time are licentious, libidinous, capricious, and possess no proper idea of good behavior, social responsibility, or guilt. She would have been easily convinced that she was on Holiday in Hell, or at least Sodom and Gomorra, except that she quickly realizes that her erstwhile captors (remember the menageries) are not intentionally cruel, let alone evil. Rather, their "improper" behavior is born of a child-like innocence.

Mrs. Underwood is quickly rescued from her captivity by Jherek Carnelian. Jherek, it happens, had been "studying" the 19th century and its completely alien concepts of moral rectitude, righteousness, and that most unnatural of all concepts, self-denial. More importantly, Jherek had just decided that his new role would be that of the "lover" (in its romantic sense) and who better to fall in love with than a 19th century woman who could teach him all about propriety and guilt. However, Jherek doesn't realize what he's up against. Mrs. Underwood does not immediately requite his professed love -- she's a married Christian Lady after all. Although Jherek points out that from his point of view Mr. Underwood has been dead for millions of years, Mrs. Underwood (quickly picking up the nuances of time travel) points out that if she was abducted into the future, she could therefore reasonably expect that she could perhaps someday return to the 1896, when Mr. Underwood would still be alive.

Mrs. Underwood does find herself transported back to 1896, and Jherek follows her. Of course, robbed of the technology which grants his every whim, Jherek finds himself as much an outsider in Victorian London as Mrs. Underwood did at the End of Time. And this trip into the past triggers further slips through time, as Time itself shows its abhorrence of paradox, and deals with it the only way it can. Throughout it all, Jherek doggedly pursues the affections of his intended, learning that the effortless gratification he's been accustomed to has been nothing more than hollow fancy, as his initial whim matures into sincere love. And Mrs. Underwood's moral underpinnings begin to desert her as she realizes that the love she professed for her husband was an antiseptic, sterile construct of unnatural attitudes when compared to the pure passions of Jherek.

As a backdrop to this developing romance, Mr. Moorcock has also provided us with a mystery. It turns out that it was not chance that brought Mrs. Underwood out of 1896 at just the right time for Jherek Carnelian to fall in love with her. And the further mishaps which plague their growing love appear to have a guiding hand behind them. These manipulations provide the basis for this story to be included into the Tale of the Eternal Champion, as they promote a personal growth in Jherek which is at odds with his amoral upbringing.

The Dancers at the End of Time is a compilation of three previously published novels, An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands, and The End of All Songs. It is a part of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion Cycle, which is being re-published by White Wolf in 15 volumes. The Dancers at the End of Time is Volume 10. I had only read previous incarnations of four of the preceding nine installments, and 8 out to the total 15, yet I greatly enjoyed the story. For those not familiar with the Moorcock's Eternal Champion Cycle, it probably holds at least 50 books, grouped into the 15 volumes by White Wolf. All of these stories are inter-related, and minor characters in some of the stories are major players in the others (especially the time-traveling characters). However, rather than thinking of this work as a continuous narrative, I think it is more apt to view it as a central theme explored through 15 different situations.

The Eternal Champion, who appears in one incarnation or another in each of the 15 volumes, can be thought of as the champion of Balance. When a world gets too far out of balance, when Order or Chaos (or similar manifestations) threaten to completely overwhelm its opposite, the Eternal Champion appears to somehow address the problem and restore Balance. This Balance can take many forms, and is the basis for each of the Tales of the Eternal Champion.

The incarnation of the Eternal Champion that most readers are probably familiar with is Elric of Melniboné, doomed warrior, mage, and last emperor of a dead people. Elric, in a campaign of bloody personal vengeance against the Lords of Chaos (the supernatural patrons of his people) becomes the agent of Balance in a world where Chaos threatens to run unchecked. As you can guess, the Elric series involves lots of blood, gore, magic, and truly classic fantasy. Almost at the other extreme is The Dancers at the End of Time, where Jherek Carnelian (referred to as "the last of my dandified heroes" by Mr. Moorcock in his introduction to his volume) in a genteel comedy of manners ends up restoring some Balance to a world where whim had ruled all.

The folks at White Wolf, and Mr. Moorcock, should be congratulated for re-printing the Eternal Champion Cycle. Thanks to the numbering of the volumes, we now have the ability read these in the order that the author intended, and I expect our insight into this complex and thoroughly engaging Multiverse to be greatly enhanced by so doing. More importantly, the author's Introduction in this volume has provided very interesting insights into Moorcock's intent with these tales. Moorcock explains the Eternal Champion concept, the Multiverse, and Jherek Carnelian's place in it all much more elegantly (and far more succinctly) than I could ever manage here. I can only assume that the other volumes are similarly introduced, and contain even more of this nature.

Copyright © 1998 by Robert Francis

Robert Francis is by profession a geologist, and, perhaps due to some hidden need for symmetry, spends his spare time looking at the stars. He is married, has a son, and is proud that the entire family would rather read anything remotely resembling literature than watch Jerry Springer.


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