The Michael Moorcock series continues.
Raw Feed (1996): Blood: A Southern Fantasy, Michael Moorcock, 1994.
This was probably the strangest, most obscure novel I’ve read of Moorcock’s though, in skimming over his The Warhound and the World’s Pain [incidentally, one of my favorite Moorcock novels, but I made no notes on it], I realized they both share Moorcock’s typical preoccupation with the contest between Chaos and Law. That struggle is not to be confused with contending Good and Evil. Neither Law or Chaos can be allowed to win. Life can only exist through their struggle and all its many symbolic connotations (justice and tyranny, life and evolution versus entropy).
Usually, in the novels set in Moorcock’s multiverse (virtually all of them as far as I can tell), there is a struggle about maintaining the balance between Law and Chaos or, as in his Stormbringer, a loss of that struggle.
This novel’s plot is more ambitious in that the Rose and Captain Billy-Bob Begg (the von Bek and Begg families seem to be nearly ubiquitous in Moorcock novels and show up here as does a Renark – a protagonist in Moorcock’s The Sundered Worlds) seek to fashion – and seem to be at least temporarily successful – a new order in the multiverse, an order less inimical to human life and needs.
In the introduction to his omnibus The Eternal Champion, Moorcock remarked on how the new science of chaos, and particularly Mandelbrot sets and fractals, fits in with his multiverse idea. He borrows terminology and metaphors from chaos theory to provide a different, sometimes clearer, sometimes more puzzling description of his multiverse than I’ve encountered in some of his other works. (I’ve only read the first six Elric books, the Eternal Champion and von Bek omnibuses.)
Thus his Chaos Engineers and Singularity talk of scaling up and down the multiverse to imply that the alternate universes exist on different physical scales and one can be contained, at another level of observation, in another.
Thus there is the hint that the games of historical, social, and political simulation – sort of a cross between role-playing games and Sim games – that the jugador gamblers play may, at some level, involve the manipulation of real people and not just “semi-sentient” characters. In turn, the jugadors may be pieces played in a game taking place on a larger scale.
The idea of self-similarity is evoked to rationalize how (in a tradition older than The Pilgrim’s Progress – one of Moorcock’s favorite books) the moral is symbolized by the physical (the Fault and the increasing civil violence in the book’s alternate South both symbolize a growing chaos) and how characters can echo each other and archetypal figures. Their lives often echo archetypal plots.
The book is interesting on several levels.
I found Moorcock’s fantasies some of the few I can take.
Not Tolkien copies or tales of youngsters discovering secret powers to help save their people, his fantasies are unique though almost always involving the struggle between Law and Chaos – a more complex struggle than mere Good and Evil.
His works have a lot of startling images and his Law-Chaos struggle is increasingly used for political commentary but lends itself to many variations and interpretations.
I liked the humor of the pulpy metaphysics of the Chaos Engineers and their fight against the Singularity. At first, it seems Moorcock is partially parodying pulp sf – and he probably is – but their described adventures turn out to be mostly true.
There is a lot of linguistic playfulness throughout.
What I find most interesting are the literary ‘sins” Moorcock gets away within producing a strange, compelling read.
First, the story mainly takes place in a black dominated North America with “whitey” slaves and freeman, a world in which Europe seems to be a barbaric backwater and Moslem Egypt a dominant power. However, many of the place names in America remain the same despite the much different history. Some product names like Oldsmobile improbably remain. On a realistic level, this is very improbable, but, on a literary level, it successfully gives a surrealistic tone to the book by distorting the familiar and juxtaposing it oddly.