BOOK REVIEW: "The Coming of the Terraphiles" by Michael Moorcock (2010)

Robert Bee
Robert Bee's picture

I generally avoid “media novels,” such as Star Trek or Star Wars tie-ins because I think they harm the genre by taking shelf space away from original SF and F; however, I could not resist picking up Michael Moorcock’s Dr. Who novel because I’ve been an avid reader of Moorcock since my teenage years, and I’ve recently started watching Dr. Who via Netflix.
I’m not a long-term fan of Who. I recently started watching the series and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The recent relaunch has been solid for the most part, so I rented some of the older Tom Baker period, which tends to have good storylines with dated special effects. Since the story is more important than the explosions to me, that combination is acceptable.

I do feel that if you examine Dr. Who closely it has many gaps in logic. Why does Dr. Who, who can go anywhere in space and time, keep traveling to England? Don’t get me wrong. I like the English. They’re good allies, they have excellent ale, but the weather and the food are questionable. Furthermore, why do space invaders and evil creatures attack England so often? Why not invade China or Portugal instead? When someone that Who likes, such as a companion, dies, why doesn’t he just go back in time and save them? He claims that that would create time paradoxes, but why? By traveling back and forth in time and space the Doctor is inevitably changing the course of history. And why does he claim that it’s a bad thing to change history? History doesn’t seem all that great: constant wars, genocide, and periodic economic disasters. Why, it appears that he only changes history when the plot requires it!

Moorcock addresses some of the absurdities of the series in clever ways. Moorcock tells us that Dr Who is a terraphile, and he publishes a terraphile fanzine in the future. Furthermore, he enjoys historical reenactments of English history! Dr. Who loves English cosplay! That explains a lot doesn’t it? He’s kind’ve like the steampunks you run into at SF conventions: the people with the tweedy Victorian outfits, the goggles, and the pocket watches! He just has a time machine that takes him to the historical periods he’s interested in.

The novel is set 50,000 years in the future when humans enjoy advanced nanotechnology, FTL space travel, easy terraforming, and have entire planets set aside for cosplay. Humans, uplifted animals, and various alien races mingle easily and fairly harmoniously.

The novel combines a number of genres: SF, Masterpiece theater, space opera, Wodehouse comedy, and Sexton Blake detective stories. The writing style is a direct homage to P.G. Wodehouse. Moorcock includes a lot of the cosmology of his corpus, such as the battle between Law and Choas as well as the character of Captain Cornelius, who is an incarnation of the Eternal Champion.

The novel largely takes places on spaceliners and planets on which reenactors have attempted to recreate Earth’s history from the 15th to the 20th century. The novel’s cosplayers are obsessed with recreating Earth’s medieval sports, which they replicate in comic misinterpretations.

The novel’s Macguffin is the Cosmic Regulator, which maintains the balance between law and chaos throughout the multiverse. If General Force, the novel’s villain, gets the regulator he will cause the heat death of the universe, an old New Wave theme. Force believes in order, and the heat death of the universe will create complete order.

The last section of the novel portrays the games that will determine who wins the prize, the Silver arrows of Artemis (which are part of the Cosmic Regulator). The games include: cracking the nut, hanging the surf, skipping the landlord, broadsword fighting, archery, and jousting. The games constitute an important ritual that will help restore the multiverse, which is threatened because the Arrows are not in their proper place and cannot regulate the balance.

Despite the fact that the existence of the entire multiverse is threatened, there really isn’t that much suspense. At the end the universe is saved, and the balance is restored. Yawn, did you really think it wouldn’t be?

At times I found the novel absorbing, and at other times it dragged. The villain Frank/Freddie Force was not evil enough or eccentric enough to hold my interest. The characterization of the other characters, despite their individual idiosyncrasies, was average.

The novel should be more fun than it is. Part of the problem is that Moorcock is repeating himself again. Although Moorcock’s corpus is impressive, do we really need another novel about the Eternal Champion and the battle between Law and Chaos? Why doesn’t such a brilliant writer get tired of writing about the same theme and plot?

Will conservatives like it?

If you’re a huge fan of Moorcock and Dr. Who, you will probably enjoy the novel. It’s well written, and an unusual take on Dr. Who. It’s above average for a media novel, but certainly not as powerful as most of Moorcock’s corpus, and even that’s starting to wear thin thematically.