(Illustration: Aubrey Beardsley, The Scarlet Pastorale)
I'm currently re-reading these novels (in the handy SF Masterworks omnibus edition) and am again discovering just what a fine writer Moorcock at his best is. His swords-and-sorcery, with the exception of Elric, has always been a little hit-and-miss for me, but it's his so-called literary fiction and his non-traditional fantasy that impress me the most. Along with the freaked-out Jerry Cornelius novels, this trilogy stands among his most original, subversive, satirical and flat-out fantastic work.
It's Moorcock's on take on a dying earth milieu, filtered through a Decadent lens. The immortal and nearly omnipotent denizens of the end of time vie with each other in coming out with ever more elaborate fads, crazes and parties, recreating past epochs in various highly anachronistic ways and indulging in every pleasure - and pain - known to living beings. One of them, Jherek Carnelian, decides to try and revive the ancient mysteries of 'virtue' only to be diverted into another archaic spasm, 'love' by the arrival of a time traveller from the 19th century.
The sheer fertility of Moorcock's imagination, the vividness of his descriptions, the variety and sting of his satirical barbs and the sparkling dialogue indulged in by his endtime decadents all make these books an absolute delight. I suspect they'd leave readers expecting some sort of epic fantasy or SF a little nonplussed, but for the reader with no expectations except brilliance, these books may just be the ticket.
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