The Dancers at the End of Time

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (1999): The Dancers at the End of Time, Michael Moorcock, 1972, 1998.Dancers at the End of Time 

Introduction” — Moorcock talks about the fin-de-siècle writers that influenced him and how this series is different from others in the Eternal Champion canon. It is a comedy (though Moorcock takes pain to emphasize it is not a satire of the other, tragic and romantic, Eternal Champion stories). The fight here tends to be against Law rather than Chaos, and the plot features Jherek Carnelian who is not in any way, physically, mentally, or emotionally, maimed. He has no grand obsessions. He just wants to be around a woman.

An Alien Heat — I wasn’t looking forward to reading this series, but I was very pleasantly surprised. This, next to the Elric series, is the best Moorcock I’ve read. It was witty and funny and very engrossing. The society at the End of Time is one ruled solely by aesthetics. Conventional morality has appalingly fallen away in a society where the humans have god-like powers of life and resurrection, body sculpting of the most extreme sort, menageries of time travelers (not so much captured as too befuddled to explore this world on their own), casual rearrangement of the sun’s position and the land itself (including producing miniature solar systems just to recreate historical battles in miniature), and casual and sometimes bizarre sexual unions in various permutations. Fashion and politeness are the guiding mores as befits a series influenced by fiń-dé-siecle 19th century novels. Emotions are comically affected — all emotions, even the ones we consider undesirable, and some people have dourness and grimness and despair as their emotional trademark. It’s a decadent world, and time traveler Li Pao wastes no opportunity to tell its inhabitants this, but a pleasant one. As the Prologue notes, the world has “rivalry without jealousy, affection without lust, malice without rage, kindness without pity.” The hero, Jerak Carnelian, has, like some of his cohorts, a fascination for historical recreation. His classic misunderstandings of Victorian society provide much of the humor of the book along with his naivete and ingenousness which Amelia Underwood eventually finds charming. This type of humor is the sort usually found in humorous time travel stories, and it is very well done here, and Moorcock proves surprisingly adept at wit and humor. He eventually develops a fascination for Amelia Underwood, an unwitting time traveler of mysterious means of transport. Carnelian eventually becomes fascinated with the Victorian Underwood (the 19th Century fascinates him) and resolves to develop the affection of love. He shocks her in funny ways like his slow realization that she actually requires a bathroom or when he tries to put her at ease by appearing to her in what he thinks are period clothes but really garish drag. After more humor during a trip back to 19th Century England in pursuit of his love, Underwood hints that she has sincerely grown to care for the charmingly sincere and naïve Carnelian just before he’s hung and transported back to his world. Carnelian also has the distinction of being one of only two End of the Worlders naturally conceived.

The Hollow Lands — This novel continues some of the ideas and comical themes of An Alien Heat. Jherek Carnelian is again reunited with Mrs. Underwood (and it is Mrs. Underwood). No matter her attraction to Carnelian, she will not give into it or give Jherek any encouragement despite the fact that Mr. Underwood will have nothing more to do with her after Carnelian shows up at their house. Carnelian, as in the first book, is totally baffled by many of the concepts of Victorian England – for instance the idea of virtues (as the still lecturing Li Pao notes) and self-denial and hopes that Amelia will educate him. There is a great deal of humor involving garbled notions of history as in the first book and a comedy of manners when Carnelian meets the Underwoods and a bit of slapstick when the phlegmatic Inspector Springer, Captain Mubbers, his annoying fellow alien “brigand musicians”, Mrs. Underwood, and Jherek all meet at the Café Royale. Of course, as it is to be expected in a science fiction novel set partly during late Victorian times, H. G. Wells puts in an appearance and is a bit miffed that Carnelian finds the ideas in The Time Machine pretty ordinary. I liked the bit set in the nursery of perennialy arrested children. They live in a time loop maintained by a somewhat senile nanny robot. Here, in one of his splendid snatches of a future history, Moorcock talks about Peking Pa and the age of the Tryant Producers who marshaled entire societies to film their epics. It’s also in this novel we begin to suspect Lord Jagged is more than he seems. There is something very charming about a science fiction novel set in the distant future (and near past and distant past, at novel’s end) where the main plot conflict centers around Carnelian’s desire to marry (though he certainly has a different understanding of the word than does Amelia) and the very old fashioned question as to whether Carnelian and Amelia will kiss.

The End of All Songs — This was a charming ending to a charming series. It’s also much more serious than the preceding books. Not only are details of the multiverse and Carnelian’s position as Champion Eternal revealed, but the book does a realistic job of delving into the psychological difficulties of Amelia Underwood’s adjustment to the world at the End of Time, and, as Moorcock intended, these troubles serve as commentaries on our society and Amelia’s. She eventually comes to realize how cramped in space, time, and morality that her world in Bromley was. It is not so much that she suffers future shock at the End of Time. In fact, trying to fit in, she throws a splendid party talked about by all and learns how to use the instrumentality at the End of Time. But, rather like a person leaving an old religion they intellectually know to be wrong, she feels guilty about her attachment to Carnelian and refuses to have sex with him until she is divorced. When, after a meeting with Mr. Underwood, she considers her marriage bond dissolved, she still has trouble resolving her old morality with the society at the End of Time with its casual sex in many forms, luxury, immortality, and lack of struggle even if she knows she is irrational. Her party does not truly satisfy her and makes Jherek uneasy and he comes to realize that those notions – he tells her that he does not wish to destroy her “old-fashioned notions” are an essential part of the woman he loves. Yet Amelia says she irrationally feels Carnelian’s world is a “travesty, artificially maintained, denying mortality.” In discussion with Lord Jagged and Li Pao, she and Li Pao confess that they are used, unlike Jherek and his peers, of living in a world where destruction is possible, always feared, and life is a race with death. Li Pao admits his talk of decadence may be the product of trying to persuade others to have a sense of urgency and that only conflict and misery lead to truth. Underwood feels similarly. Jherek and his cohorts regard the prophecies of cosmic doom by the alien Yusharisp with aplomb. They will not side with those who hate the thought of possible destruction. Still, Amelia desires a purpose and gets it at novel’s end. Lord Jagged reveals his scheme to push them forward in time to the beginning of the cycle where, in prehistory, mortal and without their very advanced tech, Amelia and Jherek can repopulate the Earth. At novel’s end, Lord Jagged reveals himself to be the arch mover and schemer of the book. Originally, a time traveler from the 21st century, he found a way of avoiding the Morphail Effect which states that, because of paradox generation, a time traveler can not return to the past or, once going into the future, can not return. He spends a great deal of time in the 19th Century where he is careful to avoid paradoxes by living a low key life that does not affect his future. He also develops the knack of traveling in time without a time machine and kidnaps Amelia as part of a program to breed her with Jherek (his son), and he is the first to put the idea of pursing a romance with Amelia in Jherek’s head. He also speculates their children may establish a world where time is redefined. He also saves the world at the End of Time by putting it into a permanent time loop which is fine for most of its citizens like the Iron Orchid though Jagged, after marrying her, (the novel ends with a whole raft of marriages, many absurd, and concludes with Amelia and Jherek’s announced marriage and their kiss – not their first), decides he won’t stay at the End of Time but will travel history while Jherek and Amelia will also leave. Oswald Bastable and Una Persson, from Moorcock’s A Nomad of the Time Streams, show up in the distant past (a time center in the Paleozoic where time and “time vessels” are monitored. They help Amelia and Jherek return to the End of Time (more talk is also made of the Guild of Temporal Adventures), and they also show up to watch Jagged save the End of Time with his time loop. The comedy is still here like the first two books. The comically annoying Lat and Inspector Spinger are here. (The strange, sentient cities may have been influenced by Philip K. Dick’s sometimes berserk automata.) One of the best features of the book was the constant quotes of poet Ernest Wheldrake whom I never heard of before. [Because, the Web of a Million Lies tells me, he was a persona made up by Algernon Charles Swinburne when he was writing book reviews. Moorcock took the name for his fictitious poet.]

 

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