The second book in the Oswald Bastable trilogy.
Publication year: 1974
Page count: 193
Publisher: Titan Books
The second book in the series starts with a short introduction where Moorcock supposedly finds his grandfather’s notes. His grandfather, also called Michael Moorcock, went to China to look for Bastable whom he met in the first book. The elder Moorcock’s adventures in China take up about 50 pages.
The rest of the rather short book is divided into two books, “the World in Anarchy” and “the Battle for Washington”. Bastable really wants to return to his own time and world, and so he stows away on a ship and returns to Teku Benga where his journey through time started. He manages to stumble onto another journey through time. At first, he thinks he has returned to his own world, but to his horror he soon finds out that this is not the case.
For a short time, this new alternate world was an utopia. Manuel O’Bean, an inventor from Chile, single-handedly ended poverty from the world because he invented and built a lot of different machines to help people. He also invented powerful energy sources so that the people of the world aren’t suffering because the machines can’t run. However, when the next generation grew up, they weren’t simply content to live with enough food and education, but wanted to control their own fates, in other words, they wanted to be part of governments. So, wars started, inside countries and between them. By the time Bastable arrives, most of Europe has been bombed to ground and diseases have also destroyed the population. The USA is in a similar state. The Western world has essentially been destroyed. The biggest powers left are the Australaasian-Japanese Federation and the Ashanti Empire in Africa. The Ashanti Empire is led by General Cicero Hood who wants to dominate over all white people because of what they have done to the blacks in the past.
Bastable meets a submarine captain who invites him to live on the high seas. However, even their days as privateers are soon over and they seek employment from one of the few neutral countries, Bantustan, which is lead by President Mahatma Gandhi who wants to show the world an example on how people can live in peace even during such an horrible time.
Much like the first book in the series, the narrator tells us a lot of things instead of showing them. The start of Bastable’s narration is pretty much several pages of infodump about the history of this world and later, we are also told about various other histories, diseases and such. To be fair, a lot of the things said in the infodumps are so horrible that I probably wouldn’t have been able to stomach a thousand page book about war, especially about biological warfare. Otherwise, the plot moves along quickly.
Even though several people tell Bastable that England is a wasteland, he wants to see for himself and finds out that things are pretty horrible. Many have died of diseases and the survivors are often disfigured. They have apparently forgotten their backgrounds completely and live in small groups which hunt each other. And in the USA white people have turned against the blacks and made them slaves again. The only decent place in this world seems to be Bantustan.
The book shows us extreme racism and what Europe could look like after a devastating war which borders on Apocalypse. The usual power politics are turned on their ear: most of the whites are savages living in the ruins of cities (and even those who aren’t literally savages are abusing other people cruelly) while the blacks, led by General Hood, are the civilized and sophisticated people and Gandhi seems to be the only decent man left in the world. Bastable himself is an honorable British gentleman who is trying to survive in this world. At first, he automatically sides with the whites but he learns quickly that things are often different from what he assumes. Moorcock’s grandfather is a pretty elitist, which I assume is quite fitting for apparently well-to-do British white man in the beginning of 1900s.
Some of the characters are familiar from the previous book. Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad) was an airship captain in Warlord of the Air but here he’s much younger and a submarine captain. (Apparently the word submarine hasn’t been invented yet, so Moorcock uses underwater boats.) Una Persson is also a returning character and apparently Moorcock uses her in other books, too. He also uses several famous people here: Mahatma Gandhi, P. J. Kennedy, and Herbert Hoover are easy to spot. Al Capone is also in a couple of scenes although in my version his name was Caponi. Moorcock also briefly thinks about sending Bastable’s manuscript to H. G. Wells.