The Nomad of Time: A Consideration
By Patrick Cordiner
© 1997 Patrick Cordiner
`I don't feel fear or panic
The Oswald Bastable trilogy (The Warlord of the Air, The Land Leviathan and The Steel Tsar) can be read superficially as Moorcock experimenting with different crucial moments in history to illustrate his theory of the Million Spheres, however textually each book has a complexity which belies this hasty conclusion. It is also of general interest to elaborate on a general theory of his writing technique in Moorcock's early years i.e. the Mars books, the Bastable trilogy, Dancers and the End of Time, and perhaps Hawkmoon.
Bastable is the epitome of the righteous solider of the British Empire entering into colonies and unchartered areas of the world in order to 'educate' the natives about Imperialism. It appears (to me at least) that Moorcock is emulating Rudyard Kipling's stylistic devices of the conquering English solider, but then subverting this position in each of the books, to different conclusive effects, creating a particularly strong moralistic tale. The first book has the British Empire in supreme rule with no World Wars, only the Boer War in 1910, but eventually Bastable comes in contact with a Chinese pirate, General O. T. Shaw, who demonstrates to Bastable the evils of the British Empire in the treatment of their colonies. Eventually Bastable is lead to perform what for Moorcock must be one of the stable events in the Multiverse, the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Among the `Multiverse notables' in this first novel are Lieutenant Michael Jagger, Cornelius Dempsey, and Una Persson, all assisting in merely confusing Oswald's venture into that particular alternative dimension. It appears that the more that Bastable associates with these characters, combined with his experiences with the workings of the Multiverse, he becomes more aware and yet more blasé about his movements through the Multiverse, and at the same time acutely conscious of the fallibilities and strengths of human nature.
The second book deals with the development of monstrous fighting machines by a `Mr. O'Bean' and the arrival of Africa as a superpower with the `Black Attila' as its leader. Once again race relations are dealt with, indeed it appears as if Moorcock is deliberately using Kipling's own technique to illustrate its blatant abuse of human rights, in particular rights of other races. Ironically in this war torn world, one country survives in perfect harmony, with President Gandhi as its leader and the political system based on `the theories of a German dreamer', Karl Marx. Without giving away too much of the plot, Moorcock makes a jibe at the civil rights of American citizens, and manages to make a few allusion to Bastable's fate.
The last book demonstrates Moorcock's remarked improvement as a writer, and more confident as to the purpose and nature of the cosmology which he has created. The Steel Tsar occurs in a land in which the Bolshevik revolution never occurred, and demonstrates Moorcock's increasing fascination for Russia as it was written one year before the Pyat novels (indeed Pyat even appears in this novel, but only as a lieutenant!). The results of Stalin having total control over the Cossacks and the remnants of the Russian army, as a dangerous and manipulative dictator, who is very much aware of the appearance of power and the deception of the general public. The appearance of Persson, Cornelius, and even Professor Hira, and Bastable's eventual decision to join the League of Temporal Adventurers is a curious end by Moorcock, as far as I know the Eternal Champion doesn't have a choice over the fluctuations in the Multiverse, and the League is supposed to keep any dangerous situations under control and have free movement through the Multiverse, as long as they don't openly betray their real nature (and therefore fall prey to the Morphial Effect). Therefore either Bastable isn't the Eternal Champion and the Nomad of Time is merely the moralistic tale of one of Leagues members or (and this is more likely) since Bastable is mentioned in the `list of names' remembered by people such as Erekosë, then Una has merely invited the Champion to learn more about his fate and the machinations of the Multiverse, but unable to knowingly change it. Whatever the result, Moorcock has it appears finished with Bastable as a character with this neat closure, which is perhaps not such a bad thing, as while the tales' did have important statements to make and were well constructed, there is not much more that can be done with this particular form without degenerating into novel version of the `What if?' comics.