Book Review: The Warlord of the Air, Michael Moorcock (1971)

3/5 (Average)

Notable as an Early Steampunk/Jules Verne homage….

The Warlord of the Air is the first of a trilogy of steampunk novels (Land Leviathan, The Steel Tsar) by Moorcock collected in the omnibus edition The Nomad of Time and later as The Nomad of the Time Streams.

The story follows Oswald Bastable from 1903 who enters a mysterious temple city of Nepalese natives on a military expedition and somehow gets sucked into an alternative 1973. This is not 1973 recovering from the Vietnam War but rather a 1973 where no World Wars occurred. Technology has progressed–somewhat–and the British Empire and their dirigibles rule the sky.

Our friendly imperialist Oswald Bastable, a product of his time (i.e. reluctant Imperialist but ultimately pro-British they-are-doing-their-best-providing-for-the-world’s-less-fortune) learns the ropes of dirigible flying. However, he soon beats up an American racist and is forced to join in with some shady anarchist figures and eventually the Warlord of the Air!

Moorcock’s novel has an interesting premise. However, the plot lacks detail, compelling characters (besides Bastable), and scenes of Lenin and Guevera bantering are just plain silly.

I understand that the genre of steampunk (if we exclude Jules Verne) was just incubating however, Warlord of the Air simply fails to live up to the promise. That said, the anti-imperial and anti-racist message is welcome but the alternative utopia and technology will solve everything premise verges on silly. I will still recommend this novel to anyone who likes a fast read but be warned there isn’t much adventure, detail, or world realization to be found.  But it’s early steampunk and that counts for something….

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2 Replies to “Book Review: The Warlord of the Air, Michael Moorcock (1971)”

  1. “I will still recommend this novel to anyone who likes a fast read but be warned there isn’t much adventure, detail, or world realization to be found.”

    I think that was my biggest problem with the book, and why I haven’t bothered reading the other two yet. Not a whole lot happens, either in action or world-building. That cool cover over-hypes the novel.

    I did think Moorcock nailed the Victorian adventure novel prose style; I grew up on H.G. Wells and H. Rider Haggard, so it was nifty seeing a modern author writing in the same style. Made it feel a bit more authentic to me.

  2. I love the “we found a manuscript” trope in fiction — it NEVER gets old. But yeah, a somewhat silly work on the whole. Semi-fun, easy, and fast. You’ll be shocked BUT, I’ve never read Haggard. I have the two sequels to The Warlord of the Air but I haven’t been inspired enough to put them ahead of the 60 other sci-fi works waiting to be read in a huge pile near my bed…

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