September 2005

Bill Baker


The One Without Pictures

Yeah. I know. "This one doesn't have any pictures." Well, except for that pretty cool Robert Gold cover. I know, bear with me. It'll be more than worth it.

For more than a generation, Michael Moorcock has been writing exceptional short stories, novellas, and novels -- mainly of fantasy of one stripe or other, but also in just about every genre known, and even a few which he seems to have pioneered in his spare time -- and done it all exceptionally well.

In point of fact, you could easily ignore his immense impact and importance as a magazine editor -- he helmed the seminal British SF mag New Worlds and, as such, could easily claim being a co-instigator of the New Wave movement in 1970's speculative fiction, for instance -- and you would still have to rank him as one of the most important and singular writers of modern fantasy and science fiction. Now, add in the fact that he's still doing work, still producing novels that are enticing, exciting and enriching reading experiences, and it completely amazes me that people haven't really seem to have taken any serious note of the publication of what Moorcock expects to be his final novel featuring perhaps his most seminal and perennially popular character, Elric of Melniboné.

Perhaps it's because many folks think they've seen or read it all, or that this is yet another instance of hype or base marketing at work. Well, maybe it will be proven to be just that, ultimately. However, none of those statements really present any solid or critical reasons to ignore The White Wolf's Son, much less dismiss it entirely. Quite the opposite, actually. Which makes this situation not just frustrating but a real shame, because the truth of the matter is that I found the book itself provides a wholly entertaining and satisfying conclusion -- or introduction -- to the Albino Prince's story, while also serving as a capstone for the larger Eternal Champion cycle which spans both universes and trilogies -- including Elric's own storied, millennium-long journey through the innumerable realities of the Multiverse. Sounds paradoxical, and highly improbably at best, right? Well, don't you believe it ain't so for a second. Moorcock's powers are at his height, and he's employing them to full and beautiful effect.

Moorcock accomplishes the seemingly-impossible task of squaring the circle described above elegantly, and with real wit and aplomb. His choice to split the books' narrative between sections following Elric's universes-spanning dual search for both his lost soul-quenching mystical blade, Stormbringer, and his lost granddaughter, Oonagh von Bek, travails via adulthood memories of her experiences. It's this last aspect which, particularly, really helps the author accomplish the daunting yet all-important task of entertaining the reader while simultaneously explaining, with more exactness than ever before, how the various primal mechanisms and forces work and interact on both the macro- and microcosmic scales of the Multiverse. And that's largely down to the winning quality of Oona's voice, and the rich nature of her youthful experiences and perceptions, which have become intermixed with her later adult reflections. It makes the perfect vehicle with which to illuminate the more obscure aspects of Moorcock's conception and its inner workings. Now, add in the right percentages of all out action, cosmic intrigue and magical beings before you fold in a cast featuring some of the most beloved and hated characters in the modern canon of the fantastic -- folks like Hawkmoon and his hairy companion, Oladahn, the Warrior in Jet and Gold and Count Zodiac, not to mention villains like Herr Klosterheim and his companion, Gaynor the damned, or the terrible and sick creature called Emperor who occupies the corrupt heart of the beast kingdom of Granbretan, among literally scores of others -- and you've a wild and thrilling fantasy adventure... and a book which also serves as the perfect primer for further exploration of Moorcock's Multiverse.

But that's not to indicate that the author stints on characterization, or momentary and significant exploration of the players and their motivations. Quite the opposite, in fact. This tome is shot through with the same unstinting belief in the essential worthiness of humanity that seems to underlie the majority of Moorcock's work, and that adds more than real weight and meaning to the proceedings. And what a story it is!

Oona, a novice at traveling between worlds, is being pursued through the Multiverse by two villains who mean to sacrifice not only the girl and her previously unknown "twin" brother, but also all of reality, the entirety of the Multiverse and the very forces of Order and Chaos themselves, to fulfill their ambitions. If they succeed, everything dies or wishes it would. These are big stakes at risk, here, and the action and emotions, the intricate twists and turns of the plot, while sometimes verging on the operatic, all eventually mesh to achieve a climax and resolution that is suitably grandiose while sacrificing none of the emotional impact that a fine novel -- or series of novels -- should invoke in the reader. Even better, I honestly believe that I will now get more out of any rereading of the previously published books featuring Elric or any of the other manifestations of the Eternal Champion, because of my reading The White Wolf's Son. I suspect that other readers will feel the same after reading it, too.

With The White Wolf's Son, Moorcock has provided long time fans with the big payoff they've waited years for, and simultaneously offered new readers a novel which can act as a kind of portal to the diverse destinations that populate his Multiverse. He's also given us and the entire field of speculative fiction a hell of a gift. This book wraps up what is arguably the single grandest and widest-ranging series of interlocking fantasy-SF novels ever accomplished, and does so in a manner that is befitting an author of Moorcock's Protean capabilities. And he's done it all in under 400 pages of easily flowing, evocative prose. The cumulative effect is simply... magical.

Next month, gutterslut will return to its regularly scheduled programming, and the world of graphic novel reviews. Until then, take care and see you in Tanelorn!

The White Wolf's Son by Michael Moorcock
ISBN: 0446577022
352 Pages