The War Amongst the Angels

The Michael Moorcock series continues with a look at the concluding book in the Second Ether Trilogy.

Raw Feed (1998): The War Amongst the Angels: An Autobiographical Story, Michael Moorcock, 1996.War Amongst the Angels 

Moorcock, when venturing outside the straightforward fantasy novel format of his Elric and von Bek series with their straightforward plots, grows on you with his psychedelic, initially incomprehensible plots in this, the culmination of the trilogy beginning with Blood then Fabulous Harbors and in his Multiverse comic book series which retells and expands on the trilogy.

A cynic would view Moorcock’s multiverse with its theoretically endless variations on certain characters, archetypes, plots, symbols as a lazy excuse to constantly recycle the same stories or an inability to collapse the story potentials of an idea via the act of observation, i.e. writing, into an artistic statement.

However, after awhile, the variations (complicated by the non-linearity of time in Moorcock’s Multiverse) become hypnotic.

I liked this bizarre mélange of real, but semi-legendary, characters like Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, and Dick Turpin (originally I thought he was a totally fictitious highwaymen but then found out he was a real character in English history), gentle satire on art and politics, wry self commentary by Moorcock, gentle English pastoralism, a war in Heaven, the bizarre antics of the Chaos Engineers in the Second Ether, and the ever present struggle to balance Law and Chaos.

Mixed in with these are plenty of allusions to fake literary works and histories.

I liked his gentle satirical asides on the social function of pulp renditions of outlaws, of monetarism – the mistaking of the symbol of money for real wealth, the Turpin struggle against the privately owned tram system, the slogans of conservatives, and the strange predilection for J.S. Bach amongst Law conservatives.

Moorcock’s political philosophy of seeking a third route between Chaos and Law sounds good and utopic but collapses in detailed examination – for instance freedom being reconciled with public ownership. This is not a trivial point. The book ends with New Orleans being transformed into something of a political utopia, though not perfect, by Sam Oakenhurst.

Moorcock’s conflict of Law and Chaos is always interesting since both have points good and bad and can be reconciled, at least temporarily, in a variety of ways.

Michael Moorcock is the crazy uncle of narrator (though some of the novel is narrated by Jack Karaquazian) Margaret Rose Moorcock, the same Rose of the Multiverse comic and Blood though, of course, reconstructing a chronology of her life (and this novel jumps all around in her life) is pointless given the multiverse and slightly differing aspects of the same character.

Moorcock’s fondness for Western pulps is parodied here.

The book veers from the pastoralism of Rose’s life to a symbolic struggle between the angelic forces of Law and Chaos at the end and is usually enthralling.

I particularly liked the reappearance of Ulrich von Bek (an Elric-like character with a similar, vampiric black blade) aka Count Zodiac and his struggle with the old family acquaintance, Lucifer.

There is an ersatz grail, a “Fellini Chalice”.

Another seeming reference to a real person is to J. G. Ballard in the weapon Ballard 70.  Other weapons of a fantastical nature are also, I suspect, named after English sf figures.

I also liked the schoolmaster turned pirate and gunrunner, Captain Horatio Quelch, a figure of shifting alliances and mysterious motives, a trickster out for himself.

 

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