Michael Moorcock’s The Metatemporal Detective

Metatemporal_detectiveThe Metatemporal Detective is a collection of stories chronicling the various encounters between investigator Sir Seaton Begg and his arch-rival and distant cousin, a master criminal known as “Monsieur Zenith,” in various realms of the multiverse. The realms all occupy times roughly analogous to our own twentieth century, a congeries of alternate histories sharing, among a few other salient characteristics, a disdain for the internal combustion engine. The stories range in date from 1994 to 2007 (including a first appearance, “The Flaneur des Arcades de l’Opera”).

Moorcock notes that the stories are an homage of sorts to Anthony Skene, the author of stories about “perhaps the world’s longest-running detective hero,” Sexton Blake, whose main adversary was Zenith the Albino. It’s no surprise, then, that this series of delightful burlesques of Conan Doyle, noir detective fiction, the American Western (with special mention for the Masked Buckaroo, who rapidly became one of my favorite characters), spy thrillers, and of Moorcock himself, take on something of the character of the serials in the old-time Saturday matinee movies, garnished with characters from history as well as legend. Adolf Hitler shows up several times, and never quite seems to get it right. There is also a president of the Senate of Texas, one George Washington Putz, and his “Family of Fear,” who attempt to use Sir Seaton to create a pretext to invade neighboring Navajonia and ultimately to conquer California. As it happens, the plot is foiled by Monsieur Zenith, working to his own purposes and unwittingly in Sir Seaton’s aid. Depending on your politics, the satire is distressingly heavy-handed or deliciously blatant.

For those familiar with Moorcock’s work, other characters will have the ring of familiarity, many from The Albino Underground trilogy. Zenith himself makes a cameo there as Monsieur Zodiac; he is, of course, none other than Elric of Melniboné on a dreamquest, whose most immediate avatar is Count Ulrich von Bek – the one who died in the sixteenth century. Una Persson appears in several tales, as does the Countess von Bek. Among the villains are Hieronymous Klosterheim, Gaynor the Damned, who was Elric/von Bek’s main adversary in that trilogy.

These are light fare compared to the bulk of Moorcock’s work, although the connections are certainly there for those who are concerned with such things. They are, however, for those who appreciate things like Flash Gordon, a lot of fun.

(Pyr Books, 2007)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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