My life in outer space

Science Fantasy

The Promise of The Child – Tom Toner (2015)

The Promise of the Child (The Amaranthine Spectrum #1)
So, I had this e-mail from Tom Toner in January 2017 asking me if I wouldn’t mind reviewing this, ‘The Promise of The Child’. I was in two minds about this as, being a generally kind sort of person, I was worried that, if I hated the novel, I would have to post a negative review. This has happened before, and I’m sure that I feel far worse about it than the authors involved who no doubt take bad reviews as part of the job and aren’t likely to track me down and give me a good kicking. They haven’t as yet, but I guess there’s still time.
My fears, it transpires, were groundless, as this is probably one of the best debut novels I have encountered since Alistair Reynolds’ ‘Revelation Space‘, which it resembles in some senses. Others have compared it to Gene Wolfe’s ‘Book of The New Sun’ , Jack Vance, Moorcock, M John Harrison and various others who have pursued a somewhat baroque exploration of SF. The style has a fascinating history which extends back beyond Moorcock to Vance, Charles L Harness, Leigh Brackett, and beyond there to Edgar Rice Burroughs and Clark Ashton Smith. One is impressed to see it so freshly reinvented.
Some twelve and a half thousand years from now, Humanity has spread out into the galaxy, finding no other life (barring the one glaring discovery of two incredibly ancient corpses of what appear to be sentient dinosaurs preserved in the icy cold of the outer Solar System.).
All life outside of Earth is descended from that of Earth, and Humanity itself has splintered into various species which exist in a complex hierarchical system, at the pinnacle of which are the immortal Amaranthine.
The narrative follows several key figures. Lycaste is a Melius, a larger human form that can change the colour of its skin. Lycaste lives in what we presume to be a far future Cyprus, and is famous for being – at least in Melius terms – beautiful. Lycaste is a sensitive individual, deeply in love with Pentas, although the love is unreturned. His life is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a Plenipotentiary, Callisthemon, a noble of a higher caste who is, he claims, carrying out a census. Pentas’ attraction to Callisthemon leads inexorably to an event which causes Lycaste to flee on a journey across the Old World.
Sotiris, originally himself from Greece, is one of the most ancient Amaranthine and suffering from a condition to which the older immortals are prone; a succumbing to delusions. There is strife among the Amaranthine. Traditionally their leader is the oldest of them, and a Pretender, Aaron, has arisen who claims to be older than any living immortal.
War is spreading across the Old World, a war in which Sotiris is a principle manipulator, and in which Lycaste gets unwilling involved.
Meanwhile, a machine which could potentially threaten the balance of power across the galaxy has been stolen and, along with its kidnapped creator, is being shipped between the stars through hostile territory.
This is, it has to be said, a work which demands concentration. Much like Wolfe’s ‘Book of The New Sun’, there are some elements only partly explained, at least at first, which the general reader will either recognise or hopefully pick up on later, such as the vaulted worlds. These are essentially planet-sized Dyson spheres, hollowed out worlds with an artificial sun at the centre. One also has to contend with the various branched off species of Humanity, the baroque and complex societies and their equally complex political and social dynamics. It does however reward careful reading.
There are some devices which are hard to justify under rational science, such as the Amaranthine’s ability to bilocate using a planet’s magnetic field, apparently because of the build up of iron in an ancient body. The Shell, or The Soul Machine, has an even flimsier rationale for its operation, although these are minor quibbles.
One would have expected the presence of some form of Artificial Intelligence but, as with Dune (another baroque series infested with aristocratic class levels) there is a prohibition against creating such things although this becomes an important issue much later and explains some aspects of the earlier narrative.
Toner manages to convey a sense of languid and wistful decadence which pervades the novel, reminiscent of that of Vance’s ‘Dying Earth‘ and Harrison’s ‘Viriconium‘ sequence. The Old World is divided into rigid divisions of class and race, where everyone it seems has learned to know their place. One can also see a sense of Moorcockian entropy in this ancient society with its arcane rules and casual cruelty.
There is a very interesting scene where Callisthemon, the higher level Plenipotentiary visiting Lycaste’s region. discovers that one of Lycaste’s friends and neighbours is gay, although the term is never employed. Pentas enquires of him whether men can love each other in Callisthemon’s region. Callisthemon appears both amused and horrified by the idea, implying that it would never happen, and insists on changing the subject when he is pressed for an answer. It’s a very subtle moment, but it neatlly clarifies for the reader what form of society Callisthemon represents, as is indeed shown in later events.
Lycaste and Sotiris, despite some excursions to follow events and characters elsewhere, are the central two characters, and one could possibly argue that this is to the detriment of the other players. Some, without giving too much away, are unexpectedly despatched.just as one thought they were going to play a major role in the story.
It’s a tad vexing that other reviews I have seen posted have noted that they read (whatever) percent of the book and gave up. If this is the case, why post a review? It helps nobody, and one can’t be expected to provide a valid judgment having only read a tenth or a fifth of someone’s work. I would suggest that the author cannot be held responsible for other people’s laziness, although that may well be an oversimplification of the situation. There will always be occasions when one starts a book and realises that one is never going to finish it. One really has to ask the question, is it the book’s fault?
In this case, I don’t think it is. As a society we have learned to be spoonfed and we tend to shy away from entertainment (particularly books) that might be slightly challenging. This is challenging, but that’s not the book’s fault. If you can’t get into it, don’t blame the book. Move on. Find something you like.


The Space Time Juggler – John Brunner (1963)

The Space-Time Juggler


Andalvar of the planet Argus, king of an interstellar empire, was dead and fear ruled in his absence. The dread of a power struggle between the treacherous Andra, and “Black Witch,” and the beautiful Princess Sharla showered panic upon the people and threatened to crumble the starry realm to dust. But their powers were restricted to the present, and before either could sit on the throne, they would have to come to grips with the man from the future who held the destiny of the universe in his hand. His name: Kelab the Conjurer – THE SPACE-TIME JUGGLER’

Blurb from the 1963 F-227 Ace Double Paperback Edition

Set in the same universe as The Altar on Asconel this inhabits that uneasy space between SF and Fantasy.
Following the death of the King of Argus, Andra, ‘The Black Witch’ has become regent on this colony world which has in the main reverted to feudalism. Her older sister Sharla – missing for seven years and presumed dead – suddenly reappears to claim her place accompanied by Landor and the swordsman Ordovic.
Another stranger also arrives, Kelab the Conjuror, a man who appears to command magic and, it seems, is interfering in court business.
It would be giving the plot away to explain anything further as it’s a brief read which is well-written but suffers from a lack of cohesion between the slave-owning and sword-wielding society and the hi-tech elements.
There is no individuality to this society. It is set in the mould of every other far future feudal planet favoured by the likes of Lin Carter and his contemporaries, which somehow always has to include some monarchist system. The characters are stock stereotypes with little light and shade. There is a decent enough surprise and plot twist bit one feels this could have been a far better novel given some thought to the world building and some space to develop characters.

Tramontane – Emil Petaja (1967)



About Tramontane:

This fourth science-fantasy novel based on the Finnish legendary epic, KALEVALA, seemed like a good idea because there are actually four important heroes in these wonderful legends, and this novel completes the cycle concerning itself with the prophecy of the Great Return when the Vanhat seed shall return to Oava, the planet of their origin.

Kullervo is the “bad one” of the legends. Ugly, sullen, despised, he was actually born out of evil. He kicked his cradle to pieces and refused to drown when the wise women flung him into the river. As a vindictive cow-herd slave he changed cows into bears and this killed all of Ilmarinen’s household. Like Manfred and Oedipus, he was predestined for tragedy and doom. However, he is surely one of the most fascinating characters in all mythology. Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish composer, chose his tragic life for the theme of this magnificent symphonic tone poem, Kullervo, one of his finest works, involving choruses, soloists, and a sweeping Wagnerian nobility.

My Kullervo Kasi, a prototype of his ancestor, is the spawn of a leakage from a dark dimension of matter-energy that is incompatible with the life-forces in this one. Therefore, Kullervo Kasi is the natural choice of the Starwitch Louhi to find the tag-end o remnants f the Vanhat existing somewhere on despoiled Terra and destroy them . .

Emil Petaja’

Blurb from the H-36 1967 Ace Double Paperback edition

In the fourth segment of Petaja’s reimagining of The Kalevala. The Starwitch Louhi rescues Kullervo Kasi from certain death on a volcanic world and. realising that he is the reincarnation of the Kullervo of legend, recruits him her quest to destroy the Vanhat.
Kullervo, not human enough to engender longstanding trust from humans, travels by Mothership from planet to planet, each time being moved on.
Louhi imbues him with powers which allow him to control the alchemical elements of Fire, Earth, Air and Water, but only to kill enemies on his journey to Earth to destroy the Vanhat before the prophecy can be fulfilled of their return to their own world. He encounters various grotesques, such as a corpulent cannibal pirate queen and some religious fundamentalists who are quickly dispatched to oblivion.
Although better written and more interesting than ‘The Stolen Sun’, Petaja’s relocation of The Kalevala to the far future with its uneasy mix of magic and technology doesn’t really work. The Science Fantasy subgenre, which saw its origins in Edgar Rice Burroughs, HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith achieved quite a level of sophistication in the Nineteen Sixties from authors such as Moorcock and M John Harrison. There has to be some form of internal logic that allows magic and technology to exist together and to convince the reader that this is plausible.
It is not present here, and we end up with something which is neither one thing nor the other and not a very satisfying blend of both.
‘Tramontane’ by the way, means ‘the stranger from over the mountain’, just in case you were wondering.

The Stolen Sun – Emil Petaja (1967)

The Stolen Sun (The Cosmic Kalevala, #3)

‘He had to bridge 100 generations…

Like an umbilical cord, the cortical hook-up linking Wayne Panu to his ship involved them in an unheard-of rapport, even in the ranks of the unique esper-pilot fleet that warred against the world-engulfing Mephiti.
In the outward surge into the far-flung galactic worlds for colonization Man had found but few habitable planets–but now even those few worlds were challenged. The Mephiti–dread, all-embracing fog forms–were Man’s match as they fought him planet for planet in the race for habitable space.

And only Wayne Panu, with his extraordinary ESP talents that went beyond the mind and the here and now–whose senses were strangely linked in the past to the heroes and legends of the ancient Kalevala–could retaliate in this fantastic war that devoured suns and swept across the ages of eternity.’

Blurb from the G-618 1967 Ace Doubles edition.

Wayne Panu is a military space pilot, attuned to a sentient ship, his mission is to destroy sentient life on habitable worlds. The weight of this responsibility is taking its toll. After his partner is killed, Wayne sets the controls to a dangerous and ridiculous limit and arrives in a Universe where he finds himself adjacent to a large copper spaceship with oars protruding from its hull.
An old man, Wainomoinen, takes him to a dying world where an evil witch, Louhi, has stolen the sun.
This is the third novel in which Petaja has adapted excerpts from the great Finnish saga, the Kalevala.
It is one thing to employ fantasy elements in a science fiction novel and rationalise them as futuristic science. It is another to move from a purely rational SF scenario to one of pure fantasy. That is not to say that it should not be done, but that it should be done in a way that works, which it does not do here.
Wayne is taken in by the fairly primitive Vanhat people, and within the space of a few pages is talking like a character from some Arthurian tale.
Perhaps given a longer page length this might have been something a little more special, since there is a clever conceit in the novel that the unfolding of events is dependent very much on Wayne’s character; what he was and what he has become.
A far better blending of the rational and the fantastic was carried out by Ian Watson in ‘Lucky’s Harvest’ and ‘The Fallen Moon’ which again takes the Kalevala as its principal source, to much better effect.

The Sword of Aldones – Marion Zimmer Bradley (1962)

The Sword of Aldones (Darkover, #20)

‘All lines of cosmic force met in their hands…

Lew Alton was returning to Darkover – returning at the command of men who had once been all too glad to see him leave. For Lew, a Darkovan on his father’s side, and a Terran on his mother’s, had always walked between two worlds, accused by each of belonging to the other, and trusted by neither. Yet Lew alone had the power to understand both worlds and to save them from each other’s unknown forces. That was the reason he had returned at last – armed with the legendary sword of the Sharra matrix, whose destiny was to cross forces with the equally mystic Sword of Aldones in one mighty battle that would decide Darkover’s fate . . .’

Blurb from the 1962 F-153 Ace Doubles Edition

In this ‘Darkover’ novel, Lew Alton – half-Terran, half-Darkovan – has returned from exile to take his place in the Cormyn, which is a kind of House of Lords of the Darkovan folk. He has brought with him a Darkovan relic, The Sword of Sharra. The sword contains a ‘matrix’ which had previously unleashed a power onto the planet, and Lew hopes to use the matrix to now shut the power down. All well and good so far.
Sadly, the narrative is initially bogged down by both a surfeit of largely unnecessary characters and some serious infodumping regarding Lew’s past actions with the Sharra crowd.
Essentially, Bradley has attempted to cover all manner of plot twists and bits of action involving a cast of thousands into an Ace Double ration of pages, and it all ends up as a bit of a mess.
There’s a recurring theme of duality, beginning with Lew meeting a double of Linnell, one of his relations and then mistaking his cousin for his long-unseen younger brother whom he has not seen for several years.
Lew has lost one of his hands by the way, which one suspected may have led to some plot or character development, but ends up making more or less no difference to anything. He also acquires a daughter of which he had no previous knowledge.
An evil relative steals the sword and becomes a threat to the entire planet. It’s up to Lew to find someone who can bond with him telepathically and steal another artefact, the Sword of Andones, in order to save the world.
However, the story gets annoyingly tangled in the actions of far too many people culminating in a scene where Alton, having been attacked, wakes up in a Terran official’s office. Most of the other characters wander in and out, explaining themselves. Lew’s mortal enemy declares himself no longer a mortal enemy but a best friend for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense.
It would appear that Bradley rewrote this to far better effect later under the title ‘Sharra’s Exile’ in 1981.
It’s interesting stylistically as it falls into the Romantic subgenre of the Science Fantasists. To all intents and purposes, this is a fantasy novel, complete with a feudal society, swords with fantastic powers, demon goddesses and arcane laws and rituals. There are, however, no supernatural elements, as everything is explainable (within the internal logic of the book) scientifically.

Synthetic Men of Mars (Mars #09) – Edgar Rice Burroughs (1939)

Synthetic Men of Mars (Barsoom, #9)

John Carter, Mighty Warlord of Mars, rides to new and terrifying adventures.

Captured by deadly warriors mounted on huge birds he is taken to the ill-omened city of Morbus.
There he meets Ras Thavas, evil genius and master surgeon. A man who has succeeded in his nightmare wish of creating life in his own beings – creatures that ultimately rebel and threaten the lives of Ras Thavas, of John Carter and of all Mars.

Blurb to the 1973 NEL paperback edition.

Using more or less the same plot as ‘A Princess of Mars’ Burroughs takes us back to the dying planet of Barsoom where the ‘incomparable’ Dejah Thoris has been crippled in a flying accident. No other man can save her but the thousand year old evil genius and scientist-surgeon, Ras Thavas, Master Mind of Mars.
Setting out to find Ras Thavas, John Carter takes along young Vor Daj to the great Toonolian Marshes where, before long, the two have been captured.
The hero and narrator of this the ninth in Burroughs’ Martian series, is Vor Daj who perhaps predictably, falls in love with a captured beauty, Janai, who is also coveted by an evil Jeddak (much as John Carter when he was captured by the green man of Mars fell in love with a captured Dejah Thoris, who was also coveted by an evil green Martian Jeddak).
Our heroes end up in the laboratory of Ras Thavas who has been performing cloning experiments and has, as my mother might have pointed out to him, made a rod for his own back. The malformed clones have taken over and are forcing Ras Thavas to create a vat-grown army with which to take over all of Mars.
Vor Daj persuades Ras to transfer his brain into one of the monsters so that he can infiltrate the Jeddak’s guard and rescue his love. This he does, while wooing her in a kind of Cyrano De Bergerac/Beauty and The Beast fashion while all the time hoping that his body hasn’t been used for spare parts or been eaten by the mass of living flesh which escapes from vat No. 4.
Burroughs adds nothing new to the series here, but it’s interesting to see the concept of cloning appearing (although it is not described as such) and to compare this work with Richard E Chadwick’s ‘The Flesh Guard’ which posited a similar premise in which vat-grown creatures were employed as soldiers by a Nazi Regime.

Stormbringer – Michael Moorcock (1965)

Stormbringer (Elric, #6)

‘Sword and Swordsman… but which was master?

STORMBRINGER, the might runesword, hung far away in the city’s armoury. ELRIC, haunted albino warrior-king, had sworn never again to touch the enchanted blade. But now he needed it as never before. Evil supernatural beings had abducted his lovely wife Zarozinia. he would sacrifice the world itself to rescue her. But would STORMBRINGER, seemingly endowed with a mind of its own, allow it?

He was fated to ride out again over spectral landscapes, with the sentient blade he both loved and hated… which had slain enemies – and claimed comrades!’

Blurb from the 1974 Mayflower paperback edition.

You know you are in Moorcock country when there’s a short preface to each section. This generally contains a quote from a long-lost Tome and is moribund in tone, telling of the downfall of some civilisation or other in High Gothic vernacular. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Elric books were the equivalent of Smiths albums to teenagers of the late Sixties and Seventies, and in comparison with some other books that were being printed in the name of Fantasy at the time, came out rating very highly indeed.
Mayflower books, whose covers boasted the author’s surname alone, seemed to print Moorcock almost exclusively; a man whose prolific output was probably only exceeded by Lionel L Fanthorpe.
This volume is the final (in chronological terms, although the definition of chronological in a Moorcock universe is somewhat fluid) in the Elric saga and contains three consecutive tales; ‘The Coming of Chaos’, ‘Sad Giant’s Shield’ and ‘Doomed Lord’s Passing’.
In ‘The Coming of Chaos’ Elric awakens to find his wife Zarazinia in the process of being kidnapped by malformed beasts.
By summoning the spirit of one of the creatures he has killed, Elric learns that he must seek his kinsman, and Mournblade, the twin to his sentient black sword ‘Stormbringer’ in order to rescue his wife and prevent the powers of Chaos from taking over the world.
In ‘The Sad Giant’s Shield’, Elric, Moonglum, Rackhir the Red and Elric’s cousin, Dyvim Slorm, have to take the shield of the Sad Giant Margada. It has been prophesied that the giant will be killed and when Elric spares his life, Moonglum follows the giant and slays him, since he does not wish to alter anything which is fated to happen.
The book, in fact, is bound with concepts of predestination and fatality, in contrast to the fact of Elric’s fealty to the Lords of Chaos, a fealty which finally crumbles when his wife is transformed into a white worm and she is impaled upon his soul-drinking sword.
‘Doomed Lord’s Passing’ continues in this vein, culminating Elric’s long journey in a tragedy well beyond Shakespearean proportions.

Daughter of Dreams (Elric: The Moonbeam Roads #01) (2013)

Daughter of Dreams: Book One of Elric: The Moonbeam Roads (Elric Chronological Order, #7)

This is a 2013 revision of Moorcock’s ‘The Dreamthief’s Daughter’. The original title was far more evocative so it’s not clear why it has been changed.
Ulric von Bek, an aspect of The Eternal Champion and Elric of Melnibone, is an albino aristocrat in wartime Germany and heir to the von Bek estate and the black sword Ravenbrand.
His cousin Gaynor, now an officer in the SS, visits him one day and after a period of obfuscation, tells von Bek that the nazis want to take the sword into safekeeping.
Meanwhile von Bek is having dreams of dragons and his other self, Elric of Melnibone.
It takes a while to get into its stride, but Moorcock takes us, once more, into his baroque multiverse, with its Lords and Ladies of Chaos and Law.
Moorcock, like Asimov, seems keen to revise his work (at least his later pieces) in order that his canon can be seen as a homogeneous whole. By the very nature of Moorcock’s multiverse it is an easier task than that of Asimov, whose attempts to combine the internal realities of his Foundation and Robot universes were on the whole unsuccessful and demeaning to the original stories and novels.
Having said that, it is heartening to see writers tackling social and political issues, and there is a chilling topicality given the recent rise in extreme right wing parties across Europe.
This is late Moorcock, and despite the fact that the quality of writing is superior to his frenetic output of the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies, there is some essential element of excitement missing.
Part of the problem is that the Science Fantasy of the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies with its hybrid of Fantasy and SF, was a thing of its time. The genre has moved on, and although it still exists, is a very different beast. Readers familiar with Moorcock’s early work will therefore get far more out of this than new readers. He is, at least here, preaching to the converted.

Lucky’s Harvest / The Fallen Moon – Ian Watson (1993 / 1994)

Lucky's Harvestn: The First Bood Of Mana

‘Lucky’s Harvest is the first in a two-volume epic – a work that rivals Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ in scale, richness and complexity.

Drawing his inspiration from the great Finnish saga the Kalevala, Ian Watson has created a totally realistic and wonderfully exotic alien world. On Kaleva, Earth’s first and only interstellar colony, the entire community is indebted to Lucky, whose encounter with the mysterious entity known as the Ukko transported them across space to a land of lake, sea and forest, Kaleva.

Unfortunately, by her 402nd birthday, Lucky is more than a little crazy, and an exiled daughter is seeking sanctuary.’

Blurb from the 1984 VGSF paperback edition.

Ian Watson, amongst other things, is probably for me the David Bowie of SF (If indeed Bowie himself isn’t already the David Bowie of SF) since he is consistently and proliferously creative, inventive and not afraid of changing his style, sometimes taking SF or fantasy conventions and reinventing them in interesting ways. This has often been seen in his short stories. His previous novels have been dense, complex and pushed the envelope of SF.
Here, in a two volume epic, Watson moves into another direction and takes the tropes of Science Fantasy to make his own.
The backstory: Lucky, a young asteroid miner, encounters an Ukko, an asteroid-sized ship with convoluted chambers and pathways resembling a giant ear. The Ukko takes a liking to Lucky and asks her for her stories. In return the Ukko gives her a fabulous gift, a world resembling the world of the tales she has been telling, plus the bonus of immortality for her and her chosen husband who are destined to be the rulers of this new world. Additionally the Ukko arranges for a shuttle service between Earth and the planet Kaleva, and bring settlers from Earth who in turn tell tales to the Ukko during their journey.
Watson’s narrative begins centuries later. Lucky is by now a little unbalanced, as is her husband, Bertel, tired of his unending life. Lucky has given birth to a succession of daughters, each of whom has Lucky’s gift of giving their husband immortality, although they themselves age normally and die.
Some years after the humans started colonising, the Ukkos began brining the Isi to Kaleva; huge intelligent serpents with their humanoid slaves, the Juttahats. Their motives are unclear, but they like to meddle in human affairs.
The fantasy elements of ‘Lucky’s Harvest’ comprise of the combination of feudal society with the phenomenon of Mana, being a force that permeates the Northern hemisphere and allows certain people to perform acts of ‘magic’.
Osmo, one of the central characters, is a young proclaimer. By the use of his voice he can ‘bespeak’ objects and people. Prior to the start of the novel the young Osmo confronted the sadistic proclaimer tyrant Tycho Cammon and turned him tos tone. The staue was then kept in an alcove on osmo’s ‘keep’ and occasionally brought out for Osmo to depetrify Tycho’s face for the entertainment of his guests.
Osmo gains the enmity of the militant proclaimer Juke and his one-eyed sister Eyeno.
One of Lucky’s daughters, Jatta, has been seduced by a genetically engineered Juttahat in order that the Serpents can engender a human/juttahat hybrid. The resulting child is fast-growing and appears to have proclaimerlike powers.
Meanwhile, some people begin to suspect that the Mana force is emanating from an Ukko child which is buried somewhere on the planet and feeding on the stories and the drama of the world beneath which it is gestating.
Most of the characters, it seems, are seeking something. Lucky is seeking her true self, which she believes is still being held by the Ukko. Her husband Bertel is seeking death. Osmo is seeking immortality, as is Minkie, the lecherous young lord. The immortal Lord Beck is seeking a way of connecting with his long-dead wife Anna.
Eyeno is seeking a new eye, and her brother Juke is seeking victory over Osmo for reasons unknown.
Watching over all are the cat-eared green-scaled cuckoos that fly about the realm carrying gossip and news.
Those with some knowledge of Scandinavian mythology may recognise some of the elements being described here, since Watson has based this wonderful work on the Finnish saga of The Kalevala, something which also provided inspiration for novels by Emil Petaja and for Tolkien’s ‘Silmarillion’.

The Runestaff – Michael Moorcock (1969)

The Runestaff (History of the Runestaff, #4)

Hawkmoon, determined to return to Europe, sets off to cross the ocean, but is driven back by dragon-like sea monsters and is marooned on an island, which he soon discovers is Dnark, home of the Runestaff itself. There he meets Orland Fank, the Hebridean ‘brother’ of The Warrior in Jet and Gold and Jehamia Cohnahlias, the Spirit of The Runestaff.
Regular Moorcock readers will recognise this as yet another variation on the name which reappears throughout his work ascribed to aspects of the Eternal Champion, its most famous manifestation being Jerry Cornelius, Moorcock’s experimental literary antihero whose reality is as fluid as his sexuality and gender.
Hawkmoon and D’Averc find they are not alone in Dnark, for the Dark Empire of Granbretan, now employing the new engines designed by Kalan of the Serpent Order, have reached Amarekh, and have sent the evil and corpulent Shenegar Trott to claim the Runestaff for King Huon.
Following a battle in the city of Glowing Shadows in which Hawkmoon invokes the Legion of the Dawn, Shenegar Trott and the Warrior in Jet and Gold are both slain, and Hawkmoon is urged to take the Runestaff back to Europe.
Meanwhile, there is dissidence within the halls of Granbretan, where Baron Meliadus is planning a coup and the death of the immortal King Huon. His plan is to marry Flana Mikosevaar, Huon’s only surviving relative and crown her Queen, giving him more or less absolute rule over the Earth.
The scenes within Granbretan itself are by far the most interesting and inventive, from King Huon’s chaotically coloured, windowless palace, where – in his immense throne room – he is guarded by a thousand mantis-masked warriors, to Lord Taragorm’s Palace of Time. There Lord Taragorm – in his helmet composed of a working clock – is surrounded by thousands of timepieces, and pursues his arcane experiments into the nature of Time itself.
His current invention is a clock whose striking will cause such vibrations throughout the dimensions that the crystal machine in Castle Brass will be destroyed, returning the rebels and their castle back to their original plane.
By the time this is achieved however, The Granbretanians are in the midst of civil war and while the ‘Beasts Begin to Squabble’ Count Brass and his meagre forces, with Hawkmoon and the Runestaff at the forefront, march on Granbretan itself.
There are ironic in-jokes hidden within the text, some of which I regret I cannot decipher. In Book Three, Chapter Five, ‘The Fleet at Deau-Vere’ for instance, Moorcock describes the ships of the Granbretanians.

‘There were panels in their sides, each carrying an intricate painting depicting some earlier sea victory for Granbretan. Gilded figureheads decorated the forward parts of the ships, representing the terrifying ancient gods of Granbretan – Jhone, Jhorg, Phowl, Rhunga, (John, George, Paul, Ringo) who were said to have ruled the land before The Tragic Millennium – Chirshil. the Howling God (Churchill); Bjrin Adass, the Singing God; (Brian Aldiss) Jeajee Blad, the Groaning God (JG Ballard) and Aral Vilsn, the Roaring God, (Harold Wilson) Father of Skvese and Blansacredid, the gods of Doom and Chaos.

As is to be expected, the Dark Empire is defeated and the balance is restored, but temporarily, as Moorcock is always at pains to point out, since the forces of Order and Chaos are always at work, and the Runestaff seeks only to maintain the balance and ensure that neither force has too great an influence.