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Gloriana or the Unfulfilled Queen
Michael Moorcock
Gollancz, 368 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: 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
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 David Soyka

Gloriana or the Unfulfilled Queen For what will prove to be the ominous term of 13 years, unprecedented peace and prosperity characterizes Queen Gloriana's rule over the Albion empire and its various protectorates and allies, in antithesis to the madness and bloodshed of her father, King Hern. The power behind the throne, the architect of the elaborate myth of Gloriana that promotes and maintains this Golden Age, is her trusted Chancellor, Lord Montfallcon, who endured great personal sacrifice to survive the intrigues and purges of, and finally triumph over, Hern's corrupted court. Ironically, to ensure that nothing like Hern's tyranny ever returns, Montfallcon feels morally justified in commissioning certain covert "dirty tricks" to buttress the underpinnings of Gloriana's sovereignty. The end justifies the means in Montfallcon's design; however, these means, while temporarily propping up the throne, are ultimately proved unstable and weak, resulting in a quite different edifice than the architect intended.

Although an author's note pointedly claims that his novel is not "Elizabethan Fantasia," it does draw upon Edmund Spenser's famous poem, The Fairie Queen. The queen in question was Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, so called because of her refusal to marry and share her power. While it provided certain diplomatic flexibility and maintained Britain's independence in not literally being wed to another political faction, it also resulted in some civil uncertainty in not producing a direct heir. Among other names, Spenser refers to Elizabeth as Gloriana. In Michael Moorcock's version, Gloriana is "unfulfilled" in a sexual sense that subverts the notion of a "virgin queen" in ways it was never intended. Thanks to Captain Quire -- an anti-hero who kills without remorse in furtherance of his art, i.e., the ordering of events towards some greater purpose, albeit a purpose ostensibly defined by whoever employs him -- Gloriana ultimately does becomes fulfilled, though not quite in the way you might expect.

It does seem, at first, a bit strange, then, to claim this is not an Elizabethan fantasy, given its setting and allusions to a famous Elizabethan poem. Despite some talk about visitors from alternate worlds -- a sort of kidding aside in that the realm of Albion is an alternate England and that these visitors, such as one "Adlophus Hiddlerus," come from "our" world -- and mechanical creatures, these are merely sidebars. For those who like to split hairs over such things, this is strictly speaking a romance rather than a fantasy. And because it is a romance, you know that somehow or another, despite how Gloriana and her realm are plunged into the deepest tragedy, things will work out happily. And they do, but you have to read closely for the irony in how they work out and that this particular resolution is a bit different from the typical "happily ever after." Indeed, the "somehow or another" in which the noble if anguished Gloriana and the nihilistic opportunist Quire properly consume their relationship and compensate for all the wrongs, unwitting (Gloriana's) or witting (Quire's), is certainly not conventional for the genre, fantasy or romance or whatever. In its place is a feminist statement, all the more ironical, perhaps, in that a male author makes it.

As I am writing this, the clearly defined forces of good and evil, Christians and devils but both in pagan garb, are poised to clash in Dolby Surround Sound at your local cinema; meanwhile, back in a "real world" of economic uncertainty, the prospect of actual conflict in which the corpses do not arise after the director yells, "Cut," is simplistically characterized as a struggle between "good" and "evil." Gloriana or the Unfulfilled Queen subverts the traditional fantasy tropes epitomized by Tolkien and turned into commercial hash by his many derivatives, as well as the romantic idealism of the medieval poets where such work finds its roots. At the same time, and perhaps more of interest, it rails at the rotting undercarriage of the general body politic. Also noteworthy is that Gloriana was written long ago in a universe far away, but still not so different from ours -- 1978. It reappears today thanks to the Fantasy Masterworks series of Gollancz as Volume #22, and the author says that it is "significantly revised from all previous English language editions." Though I read this around the time of its first incarnation, I can't really say what the revisions are or how they change the narrative, for better or worse. I can say that it remains relevant and a hearty antidote to much of the crap that is being peddled these days, whether by fantasy book publishers or the political fantasies of world leaders. And, even if it weren't, it's still a helluva lot of fun to read.

Copyright © 2003 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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