Published by Pyr
Michael Moorcock needs no introduction, nor does the character depicted by John Picacio on the dashing cover of his collection novel The Metatemporal Detective. It looks like Elric of Melniboné, but the albino is not often known to wear a top hat. The pulpish cover sets the tone and mood for the stories within the book, a dashing hero and a larger than life adversary. Most often, Elric is the protagonist of Moorcock’s stories. However, Elric (or Count Zenith as he is known in these stories) is the antagonist, or at least protagonist Seaton Begg’s opposite number in this collection.
At this point, one may wonder just what a Metatemporal Detective is. From this collection, one gathers that Seaton Begg is a fixer of wrongs, an investigator of crimes and strange happenings across all the worlds of the multiverse.
While each entry is a story in its own right, they do fit together to give an overall tapestry of Moorcock’s multiverse. Stories range from turn-of-the 20th Century England to The Wild West of the 1800s to Nazi-era Germany. Though each of these time frames for the stories have an air of familiarity, each takes place on a world parallel to our own with slight differences. The Nazis in one world don’t quite escalate to power the way they did here, the United States of America isn’t so United in another. This is how Moorcock’s multiverse works, the worlds resemble our own but really aren’t. It is a neat trick and one of the strong points of much of Moorcock’s fiction – the intersection of history and fiction. Two elements, that when in the hands of a deft writer like Moorcock, makes for a very good story.
For Sir Seaton Begg, the protagonist of most of these stories, the intersection of history and fiction is at the crux of the plot. Moorcock’s acknowledged influence for the stories in this book is the old Sexton Blake detective stories. Though I haven’t read them, a quick search on Wikipedia indicates that the Blake stories to set the mold for the British private eye. In most of the stories, Begg is accompanied by Dr. Ian “Taffy” Sinclair, effectively the Watson of the duo or the Moonglum to Begg’s Elric. Taffy also provides a comedic balance to the stories, over-reacting to Begg’s calm and audacious claims.
Echoes of other worlds Moorcock explored in previous travels through the multiverse are touched upon in these stories. Of course there is Elric, but Jerry Cornelius, von Bek, Oswald Bastable, and a world that that is reminiscent of the dark gothic Hawkmoon universe crop up in the stories. For readers familiar with any portion of Moorcock’s copious output, these shadows of other worlds will be a pleasant Easter egg. If not, this book is a great introduction to the many worlds and characters with which Moorock’s stories and novels are filled.
Although all the stories were entertaining, a few did stand out for me. Perhaps my favorite was The Tale of the Texas Twister. Though the setting evokes the Wild West to some extent, the political climate of the story will be very recognizable to people living in the early 21st Century. As with many of Moorcock’s tales of the Multiverse, this story features some interesting flying machines.
The Girl who Killed Sylvia Blade was very pulpish and had noirish feel to it. Whether intentional or not, parts of the story also reminded me of the 1960s Batman television show.
In The Case of the Nazi Canary, Moorcock brings his Metatemporal Detective and Count Zenith to a Nazi Germany. However, here Hitler does not seem to be the evil dictator he is in our world. Nor does the Hitler featured in this story completely mirror the Hitler featured in The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius; a story which brings many of Moorcock’s Multiverse elements to the fore in a rousing conclusion.
Though not explicitly noted as a part of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion mythos, there is little doubt that Seaton Begg is an incarnation of Moorcock’s hero of many faces. The Eternal Champion mythos/cycle is one of the most expansive cycles in speculative fiction. With The Metatemporal Detective, Moorcock has added another strong entry to an already impressive group of books. With a “cameo” from Elric, these may be some of the more accessible of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion stories, which also offers a glimpse at Moorcock’s other worlds. I also liked, in the last story, Morrocock’s explanation of how Elric fits into these stories.
The strengths of these stories are many. The twisting plots, the quippy dialogue between Begg and Taffy, the interactions between Begg and Zenith, and the cool settings to name just a few. The stories are entertaining and range across the spectrum of Moorcock’s wide canvas. This book will appeal to Moorcock’s many fans as well as fans of dashing, pulpy stories and will fit very comfortably alongside and within Moorcock’s Eternal Champion saga.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford
Copyright © sffworld.com. If quoted please credit "sffworld.com, name of reviewer".