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City of the Beast
Michael Moorcock
Planet Stories, 157 pages

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 Metatemporal Detective
SF Site Review: Wizardry & Wild Romance
SF Site Review: Close To My Heart: New Worlds: An Anthology
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: The Dancers at the End of Time
SF Site Review: Kane of Old Mars
SF Site Review: Sailing to Utopia

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

"I heard the beast thundering on behind me, giving out a strange mooing sound, and increased my pace as best I could. I found I could run very easily indeed and seemed to be lighter than normal"
City of the Beast is the first novel in a trilogy, featuring an incarnation of Moorcock's Eternal Champion, called Michael Kane. Not to be confused with the celebrated British actor of a similar name. This Kane is an City of the Beast all-American hero, whose life and times deliberately imitate Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars. For readers who have not encountered Burroughs Martian series, the name of the game is pure escapism. Those who prefer a high degree of scientific accuracy in their fiction will be disappointed. But, if your main priority is what used to be called a "rip-roaring adventure" then City of the Beast may be just the one for the job.

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Kane is a manifestation of Moorcock's Eternal Champion, but it is not necessary to know anything about this many-faced character, or the author's other works, in order to enjoy this story. The Mars that is presented is improbable, to say the least, but quite charming in the quaint way that SF stories were, before images from NASA space probes shattered all the illusions. Originally published in 1965 as Warriors of Mars under the nom-de-plume Edward Powys Bradbury, the story details Kane's first sojourn on Mars, after an experiment in teleportation accidentally sends him to the red planet. True to its source of inspiration, the tale is narrated as fiction by Bradbury, who meets Kane in France, and records his fabulous adventures for posterity. We learn that Mars is called Vashu by its humanoid inhabitants, and shortly after his arrival, Kane falls in love with the beautiful Shizala, princess of the city of Varnal. Naturally attracted to the Earthman, Shizala cannot reciprocate, due to her betrothal to the shifty prince of Mishim Tep. Before this can deteriorate into the Mills & Boon of space, Varnal is attacked by the Argzoon, a race of hulk-like blue-skinned giants. It is at this point that Kane's fencing skills and general macho credentials come in handy. Predictably, the lovely Shizala is kidnapped, forcing Kane to embark upon a swashbuckling quest across Mars to rescue her from their filthy clutches. What follows is a fast paced romp, encompassing the familiar formula of chase, battle and evasion. There are underground cities, evil beasties, and pretty much every ingredient you'd expect in a classic pulp novel.

Moorcock's own style, when this book was written, was ideally suited to this work. What he was trying to do, was emulate the seminal magic of those who had inspired him, in a fashion that was affectionate, and something of tribute. At the time, Moorcock was a one man ideas factory, churning out stories at an incredible rate. City of the Beast was probably written in no more than two days. Moorcock recalls that the entire trilogy, took no more than a week. While this technique does not allow for scientific credibility, or in-depth characterisation, it is a whole lot of fun. There is a sugar rush of energy here, which carries along readers willing to forgive what the work lacks. If I have one criticism, it would be that this book cannot rise above the quality of a shadow. Kane is not Carter, Shizala is not Deja Thoris, and Vashu is not Barsoom. City of the Beast and its sequels are without a doubt entertaining, but the real thing is still preferable, and available.

Copyright © 2008 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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