THE SAILOR ON THE SEAS OF FATE
by Michael Moorcock
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When I first read Michael Moorcock’s Elric novels, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate was the second book. A series of three linked short stories, the last was a re-working of the stand-alone short story The Jade Man’s Eyes. These stories, which are now set after the events of The Fortress of the Pearl were then the only record of Elric’s exploits during his year of exile from the Melnibonéan throne.
Although “Sailing to the Future” begins on the wasteland coast of Pikarayd, Elric quickly finds himself taken aboard a strange ship piloted by a blind captain and his mute helmsman brother. The ship takes Elric on an adventure to another plane of existence, a concept which was introduced in Elric of Melniboné, but here Moorcock goes further. By the time the book was written, he had begun detailing the adventures of Corum, Dorian Hawkmoon, and Erekosë and had determined that all of these heroes were different aspects of the same character, as was Elric, and known as the Eternal Champion.
Along with a ragtag collection of lesser heroes, these four are sent on a mission to save the multiverse from the powerful magicians Agak and Gagak, described as brothers and sisters. The four champions get along reasonably well, although Moorcock barely differentiates them, almost relying on the reader’s familiarity with their own series to account for who they are, and a lack of familiarity with those works merely means the characters don’t a have particular depth.
The eventual battle between the Eternal Champions, called the Four-Who-Are-One, and Agak and Gagak is someone anticlimactic, leaving the reader wondering what was so catastrophic about their plans that all four heroes were required to come together, or why these four and not others. The story almost feels like it is a draft waiting to have the climax more fully fleshed out.
In “Sailing to the Present,” Elric is dropped off in a world close to his own, but not quite the Earth of the Young Kingdoms. Unfortunately for him, it is the closest the Captain will come to Elric’s world and his best bet for getting him. It turns out that the world he finds himself in is a sort of reservoir for the flotsam from Elric’s world. The first people he finds are a group of bandits lost on this world and when they attack him, he is only able to achieve victory when one of their apparent number, Count Smiorgan Baldhead, turns on his erstwhile companions. Following the victory, Elric and Smiorgan become instant friends.
The story offers more information about the multiverse that Moorcock has created as well as fleshing out a little Melnibonéan history, for Vassliss of Jharkor is apparently the spitting image of a woman who was once beloved by one of Elric’s kinsmen, Saxif D’Aan, a century earlier. Saxif D’Aan escaped to this plane of existence and set himself up as a ruler and has now kidnapped Vassliss, believing her to be his beloved in what turns out to be a messy and supernatural love triangle. In “Sailing to the Past,” Elric and Smiorgan manage to make it back to the lands of the Young Kingdoms only to find their ancient ship disintegrating around them. Rescued by the adventurer Duke Avan Astran, they are impressed into an adventure to find the lost city of R’lin K’ren A’a, the mythical birthplace of the Melnibonéan race. This is the only part of the novel which takes place on Elric’s native world.
Although Moorcock has talked about the power Elric’s sword, Stormbringer, has over Elric, not just in its ability to provide him with energy, but to force him to carry out its will, this is the first story when the weapon is fully shown to have a will of its own to act in ways contrary to Elric’s wishes. From this point, the concept of Stormbringer’s influence over Elric becomes more and more important, even as Elric dismisses it in the face of mounting evidence.
Episodic in nature, each of the sections of The Sailor on the Seas of Fate adds aspects to Elric’s character and legend which Moorcock will continue to examine and build upon in the subsequent novels and stories, as well as those linked through the concepts of the multiverse and the Eternal Champion.
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