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The Metatemporal Detective Hardcover – October 31, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Hugo-winner Moorcock falls short in his attempt to modernize penny dreadful detective hero Sexton Blake, a character few present-day readers are likely to remember or recognize. Blake, now called Sir Seaton Begg, and his Watsonian sidekick, Dr. Taffy Sinclair, take on a wide variety of murder cases and other unsolved mysteries around the world, all seeming to lead back to the albino villain, Monsieur Zenith, whose original incarnation was one of the inspirations for Moorcock's dimension-crossing antihero Elric of Melniboné. Begg's adventures soon take him into other eras and alternate universes, where he encounters such exaggerated figures as former British government official Mad Maggie Ratchet and two Texas politicians and energy moguls named Dick Shiner and George Putz. The violence, perilous traps and clichés are not intended to be taken seriously, but these parodies may be too broad for even die-hard Elric fans. (Oct.)
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"If you are at all interested in fantastic fiction, you must read Michael Moorcock." -- Tad Williams, author of Shadowmarch
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But I didn't get caught up if you want to call it 'the fun' - I wanted MY Elric -
Diehard fans will purchase this book, but I don't think it will be a favorite.
Here we have the adventures of Sir Seaton Begg as he tackles his great nemesis, relative, and frenemy Monsieur Zenith across time and space. It took me awhile to figure out that we're dealing with variants of these characters from one story to the next--while most settings share some similarities (no United States, no internal combustion engines or oil production, lots of electric-powered trains and zeppelins, and plenty of Hitler), they differ in certain details, and in only two or three stories is there any suggestion of continuity. Pretty much these are standalone tales featuring a bunch of different guys called Begg and Zenith (who are usually aware of, and skilled in traveling to, parallel dimensions), scattered across the multiverse on their own individual tracks of history. At the same time, each Begg and Zenith also seems to be the *only* incarnation around--there's never an overt suggestion that there's a Begg from Earth-2 and a different one from Earth-616, and while they acknowledge the existence of other worlds, they never speculate about other versions of themselves. It's all very quantum.
As a sometime resident of both Central Texas and France, Moorcock does a nice job capturing the atmosphere and distinguishing details of these locales when he sets stories there. But when it comes to characters, Begg and Zenith and their supporting casts are very much (by design?) merely archetypes. The reader rarely gets the vaguest hint about their thoughts or personalities. Similarly, events typically unfold as if preordained, and often it seems as if the outcomes would've been the same regardless of what anyone did. It's as if Moorcock envisions a particular spectacle he wishes to depict at the climax and a particular style he wants to emulate (he excels at banging out excitable prose in the manner of a Boy's Own tale), and then just arranges the pieces to move mechanically toward the end. Often the import of what is taking place is buried in the minds of Begg and Zenith, who only grudgingly provide the reader with a tidbit or two about what it all means. (I assume that Moorcockians get about 117% more meaning out of these stories than the layperson.)
These short stories are fine as stylistic exercises (and for Moorcock to revisit characters over the years and to earn a paycheck in contributing to various anthologies), but they certainly are not very gripping and there's some degree of repetition. I also could've done with less Hitler. And I'm a little tired of how often British genre writers express their hatred of Thatcher and Bush (although Reagan was spared this time). Often I think that they were traumatized as lads when Thatcher evidently confiscated their puppies and took away their candy and personally cancelled "Doctor Who". Fortunately literature gives them avenues for revenge.
The satirical entries are fun especially as the skins of politicians better be thick with characters like George Putz, Dicky Shiner and Wolfy Paulowitz (see "The Mystery of the Texas Twister"). However, they are also often difficult to follow with obscure references in a pseudo historical setting on an alternate world. Mr. Moorcock also pays tribute to pulp fiction magazine detective Sexton Blake (never read) and the 1966 tales seem to have served as a prototype for Elric. This is definitely for the Moorcock mob, but not a good entry point for newcomers.
The Metatemporal Detective collects stories that originally appeared in venues as far afield as the Michael Chabon-edited McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, New Statesman, and Tales of the Shadowmen (and variations on some of the stories were central to the comic book miniseries Michael Moorcock's Multiverse, as well). This is the only place to get them all together, though, and the only place to read the original "The Flaneur des Arcades de l'Opera," for that matter.
This collection represent nothing more or less than a grand master of fantasy working in top form, writing the kinds of stories it amuses him to write. Highly recommended.