The first book in an alternate history SF trilogy.

Publication year: 1972
Format: print
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Page count: 234
Finnish translator: Laura Nieminen
Publisher of the translation: Vaskikirjat

This book reads a lot like the old pulp books. In fact, it reminded me of E. R. Burroughs’ Barsoom books. The story has a framing story: Moorcock’s grandfather left behind a manuscript which
Moorcock, the author, received and has now published.

In 1903 the grandfather was sent to Rowe Island to recover from too much work and met a strange man who told the older Moorcock his story and Moorcock wrote it down. The strange man in question is Oswald Bastable, a former lieutenant in the British army. An insurrection was brewing near the borders of the British India in 1902 and Bastable is sent there with a contingent of Indian soldiers to try to find a solution to it. The place they’re sent to is called Teku Benga which is supposedly a cradle of ancient civilizations and has a large army of fierce warriors. They are led by a high priest, Sharan Kang, who invites Bastable and a couple of his soldiers inside. Teku Benga turns out to be a filthy place but with fierce warriors. Apparently, Kang drugs Bastable and his men. They manage to escape into endless caves under the ancient temple Kang brought them to. Then some mysterious force knocks Bastable unconscious.

When he awakes, he feels very weak but manages to get out of the caves. Outside, the temple lies in ruins and seems to be abandoned. Bastable can only find a few skeletons. Then, a huge airship flies over the place and Bastable is able to get the crew’s attention. They rescue him but to his shock, Bastable finds out that it’s now the year 1973.

At first, this alternate 1973 seems like an utopia: in England, people are well off, wages are high, and the cost of living is low. No major wars have been waged in a hundred years. Britain, France, Russia, Japan, United States, and a few other countries are still empires with colonies. Colonialism is said to make the world more stable and therefore a good thing. However, gradually Bastable finds out that all is not well after all.

Bastable is an honorable and patriotic man who doesn’t want to believe that Great Britain could do something wrong. He’s a soldier who wants to serve his country and takes pride in his work. In fact, he greatly reminds me of John Carter.

However, it takes a long time for the plot to start kicking in. Also, in addition to Bastable only two other characters are at all fleshed out and they appear after the halfway point of the book. Mostly, that’s because Bastable travels alone and moves quickly from one place to another. Also, the book’s main aim seem to be social criticism and not adventure. I enjoyed the alternate world a lot and wouldn’t mind reading more about it. I think the book was a bit too short to really dig deep into the world; we are told about the nasty things happening in the colonies but not really shown them and it also wasn’t clear how many ordinary people knew about them.

The book has several real life people cast in different roles than in real life. Sadly, I didn’t catch any of them while reading but luckily Wikipedia has a list of them. However, the Finnish edition apparently used an older edition: Egan instead of Reagan and Howell instead of Powell.

Moorcock criticizes colonialism strongly. The revolutionary characters also have a disagreement over how a revolution is born and should be done.

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