An Alien Heat by Michael Moorcock

By way of introductory remarks let me state that this review of Michael Moorcock’s An Alien Heat, the first book of The Dancers at the End of Time, is the result of the most delightful form of reread, namely revisiting a book after twenty years.

An Alien Heat is also quite delightful, although perhaps more and less than Moorcock intended.

The setting of the book is somewhat given away by the series title. It’s the end of time, a mere millennium away from the universe’s death. Humanity has survived, evolved, and lives on the scarred but fruitful body of Mother Earth in the sort of hedonistic haze that would have Nero purple with envy.

Jherek Carnelian is our hero. He’s a fine example of the type and wins wild plaudits for his creativity and originality when he decides to fall in love with Mrs Amelia Underwood, a fine upstanding Christian from the Victorian era who has time travelled to the era (much to her dismay).

There is something of a hitch in that he doesn’t really know what love is. Or virtue.

There is something of a hitch too in that so much of An Alien Heat rests on Moorcock coming up with wild notions of a decadent future to shock the world around him. Jherek has sex with another man. He has sex with his mother. Among the list of the great lovers of history are Hitler and Mussolini. So on and so on. As a callow teenager in the 90s it was a bit strong. Now? There’s not a whole lot alien about that sort of heat.

As a result this book is almost cute. I am quite certain that wasn’t Moorcock’s original intention. Maybe his view of the book has changed with the times. In any case, the full baroque fervour of Moorcock’s world is interesting to read. It’s amusing and colourful, nay, florid. I think it read better when it all seemed a bit strong though.

Moorcock’s attempt to one-up Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories by creating a Dying Universe setting aside, there’s not a huge amount to sink one’s teeth into. It’s a short book so plot developments are satisfactory but not particularly heavy or complex. The characters are a vivid bunch, if short of profundity. There’s nothing bad but nothing making me sit up and go ‘wow’.

An Alien Heat is an enjoyable light romp through a madcap world and well worth reading on those grounds. If you are looking for other grounds, then I suspect it mainly serves as an example of how time is an enemy for books as much as humanity.

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