Sailing to Utopia

The Michael Moorcock series continues with some more science fiction.

Raw Feed (1999): Sailing to Utopia, Michael Moorcock, 1963, 1997.Sailing to Utopia

Introduction” — Moorcock explains how the novels of this omnibus are collaborations in one way or another. The omnibus is dedicated to Robert Sheckley who, along with Philip K. Dick (I agree with Moorcock that the novels of Dick predict the flavor of our time more than the contemporaneous novels of Robert A. Heinlein) and Alfred Bester. Given Moorcock’s reputation of being an experimental writer in the style of the mainstream and his leadership in the “New Wave” movement of sf via his editorship of New Worlds, I was surprised to hear him chastise the “Angry Young Men” (I’m not sure what writers that refers to) as being concerned with little more than sex and power and corrupting “the tone and aspirations” of the modern novel. It was in Sheckley, Dick, and Bester that Moorock found the “substance” Victorian novels taught him to demand, and their work had more relevance, craft, energy, relevance, and imagination in Moorcock’s mind than many celebrated novelists.

The Ice Schooner — Unlike his fantasies which usually seem to fit clearly in the themes of the Eternal Champion, this early sf novel of Moorcock’s doesn’t seem to be part of the same series. However, in thinking about it, it has some of the same ideas. Arflane, the hero here, worships (as does the epitome of the Eternal Champion, Elric of Melniboné) a form of chaos, specifically the entropy symbolized by the religion of the Ice Mother. Like most Eternal Champions, he is doomed to not have domestic or romantic happiness. At novel’s end, he leaves New York to go north to find evidence of the Ice Mother. However, he leads love Ulrica Ulseen to New York where her suspicions about the fading Ice Age are confirmed. Her trip back to the Eight Cities to get them ready for the changing climate fits in with the notion of the Cosmic Balance constantly shifting due to changing circumstance. The adherants of the Ice Mother, especially the fanatically murderous harpooner Urquart, are devotees of an unchanging descent into entropy, sort of a combination of Law and Chaos in a static culture. Urquart hates what he perceives as decadence in the Eight Cities’ subconscious reaction to a warming climate. Arflare initially shares these feelings. Arflare helps, indirectly, to bring about a new Cosmic Balance. I’m a fan of stories set in polar regions and during Ice Ages, and I liked this baroque tale of iceships though I thought the land whales a bit silly. However, they were rationalized as engineered creatures. I liked the northern polar settlements went underground (or, at least, under ice) and used science to survive. The Antarctic-derived culture chose a more primitive static method. I liked the love affair between Ulrica and Arflare and the guilty conscience and miserableness from its adulterous origins. However, like many fictional romances, its origins seemed implausibly sudden.

The Black Corridor — This novel reminded me of the work of Philip K. Dick (who, in the omnibus’ introduction, Moorcock mentions his admiration for), particularly his A Maze of Death (madness aboard a spaceship) and Clans of the Alphane Moon (which depicts society-wide madness). In Morcock’s novel, fin-de-siecle madness is rampant in paranoia and agoraphobia. I was also like a Dick novel in its weak ending. Here I’m not quite sure whether the protagonist Ryan killed all his fellow travelers before putting them in cryonic suspension tanks or not. Despite the weak ending, I found the novel involving while I read it. I liked the various manifestations of millennial madness: the vicious anti-woman gangs, the increasing nationalism and xenophobic (including a mass movement convinced aliens walk among us, subverting our society) populace. Ryan’s rationalizing his ever increasing ruthlessness when he abandons a treasured co-worker for being Welsh, kills an adulterous lover, and hijacks a spaceship was chilling as were asides about his mother being fatally caught up in a eugenics movement, descriptions of concentration camps, and civil war in Britain. Another influence (also mentioned in the omnibus’ introduction) is Alfred Bester, specifically his typographical elements. These are pretty gratuitous and unnecessary here. (You could argue that, apart from The Demolished Man, they are also largely unnecessary in Bester’s novels too.)

The Distant Suns — This novel was definately lesser Moorcock: boring, muddled in construction (many unnecessary jumps to Earth awaiting the return of The Hope of Man and a vague rationale how ancient Asians ended up in the planetary system of Alpha Centauri and why they developed the way they did (mentioned as “slow decay”), and predictable with bits of H. G. Wells (the cultural and physical differentiation of Beya’s transplanted Earthlings ala the explicitly alluded to H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (transported Earthman amongst alien, but very human-like barbarians – a subgenre that never interested me much.

Flux” — A tale of time travel through Chaos. Traveler Max von Bek learns that time has no pattern, no linearity, that he can give chaos shape (thus making him another incarnation of the Eternal Champion who fights chaos). I suppose the “golden chalice” he forms out of matter, the object that helps him realize his power, is an oblique reference to the Holy Grail which the von Bek power family is frequently connected to. The short story is marred by the vaguely described troubles of the “European Community” (I wonder when this story was written. [1963 to ISFDB but it also claims that it was co-written by Barrington J. Bayley — which is not confirmed by the title page] Those troubles are metaphorically described as “compression”. There were a couple of interesting elements: the disasterous social experiments (engineered sexual segregation which evolves to a nasty, literal war of the sexes and another experiment where three-quarters of the population spends intervals in cryonic suspension) and the emergence of mineral intelligence. What I found most amusing (given Moorcock’s liberal political leanings) is the realization of Max von Bek that the future can not be planned by governments since this seems a major assumption of people of Moorcock’s “progressive” politics. Of course, Moorcock undercuts his point by giving von Bek the magical power of divinely ordering the world well – a definate statement of the progressive sort.

 

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4 thoughts on “Sailing to Utopia

  1. SAILING TO UTOPIA was my least favorite of the WHITE WOLF series of Moorcock books. Although Moorcock dedicates the book to Robert Sheckley, none of these works have much of Sheckley’s humor.

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