To Rescue Karadur

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Karadur-Shriltasi is a city at the centre of the Multiverse. (Well, one centre of the Multiverse, at any rate – a completely different one appears at the end of the Second Ether sequence.) In ages past, a destructive war amongst the residents resulted in a great separation; the upper city of Karadur has been ruled for generations by the Metal Clans, guardians of rationality, materialism, and order, whilst the forces of magic, superstition and intuition were banished to Shriltasi, an arboreal realm hidden below the sewers of Karadur.

One nagging thorn in the side of the Metal authorities is Max Silverskin, a master thief and the bastard son of a tryst between Augustus of Clan Silver (who along with Iron, Gold and Copper represent the major Clans) and Sophelia of the Silverheart family, minor nobility with a bad reputation for dabbling in forbidden magic. Unbeknownst to Max, during a mysterious rescue from the prison of Gragonatt he was given a witch-mark: the titular “silverheart”, a metal disc over his heart which is usually disguised with illusions. Through the mark, Max becomes able to access hitherto untapped magical powers as a result of a botched attempt to steal the Jewel of All Time, a magical gemstone which derives its power from the deadly ruby rays of the Red Moon. Falling in with Jenny and Jack Ash, leaders of the plant-like Ashen, and with unexpected help from Rose Iron – daughter of Lord Iron, leader of the Metal council – Max learns that he has just six days to reunite the lost icons of the Metal Clans and effect a reconciliation between Karadur and Shriltasi.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, for Jenny and Jack believe that not only will the Silverheart consume Max if he fails, but Karadur-Shriltasi – and the entire Multiverse – will be overcome by entropy. But Max and Rose will face many complications along the way, including a deadly cult of the long-lost foundryman’s goddess Sekmet and the relentless Captain Cornelius Coffin, a troubleshooter for the Metal who is determined to arrest Max and win Rose’s heart…

Silverheart is an oddity in Michael Moorcock’s work, since it is his only novel-length collaboration to be presented as such on the front cover. (The Black Corridor was a collaboration of sorts with Hilary Bailey – Moorcock picked up a draft that Bailey wasn’t happy with and ran with it with her blessing, but she apparently didn’t want a coauthor credit.) It was the product of an honest to goodness attempt between Moorcock and Wing Commander lynchpin Chris Roberts to craft a Multiverse-themed multimedia extravaganza, with an associated computer game with FMV graphics (those grainy live action videos which were briefly the new hotness before PC games had decent 3D rendering) and maybe even a movie spin-off too. Moorcock was sufficiently excited about the project that his initial story outline ran to some 45,000 words, comparable in length to one of the Hawkmoon novels, and he went on to develop the game and movie scripts too. Between this and his other writing projects he did not have time to develop the outline into a novel, so he invited Storm Constantine – who he had wanted to collaborate with for some time – to do the honours. Unfortunately, internal politics between Chris Roberts and Electronic Arts prompted the collapse of the project, with only the book standing amidst the ruins.

The end result, then, is Storm Constantine’s expansion and revision of Moorcock’s original outline, given her own spin and with Storm adding ideas which had come up later in the game’s development process as she sees fit. This makes the book much more cohesive than other authorial collaborations, since you don’t have a bunch of sections written by Mike and a heap written by Storm stitched together – instead, Storm had a free hand to put her personal touch over the entire text, and as a result there’s no ugly seams visible. This is not the only respect in which the collaboration succeeds; Constantine’s main task, according to Moorcock, was to flesh out the characters and turn them into actual characters rather than cyphers (a job that perhaps she should have been called in to perform on some of Moorcock’s other work). She accomplishes this more or less in keeping with Moorcock’s strict standard for the project that it should not include cartoonish supervillains but instead needed to revolve around properly developed personalities acting to advance their own moral and political ends. That isn’t to say all the characters are meant to be sympathetic – Captain Coffin’s unwanted attentions towards Rose are creepy and his dogged persecution of Max reveals a cruel streak, and at least one character is possessed by a life-hating force from outside of space and time – but Constantine does manage to deliver something a bit more nuanced than a simple battle of good versus evil, (or for that matter law versus chaos).

A particular example is Rose Iron, who whilst acknowledging that she has a huge crush on Max equally has an agenda that is very much her own, and she doesn’t subordinate that to anyone else’s will. Rose believes that the Metal can be reconciled with the downtrodden poor and with the supernatural entities of Shriltasi, and may indeed be right, though she fatally misjudges her ability to convince her tradition-bound father of this. That prompts a crisis, but Rose is not alone in putting Karadur-Shriltasi’s destiny in jeopardy by following her own agenda in her own way – in fact, that charge can be levelled against just about everyone except Max (who, being a videogame protagonist, tends to be rather reactive), and there’s several times that he only steers a safe course because of good advice or circumstances steering him away from his intended course. A particular theme Constantine teases out is how mutual mistrust prevents the principal actors from working together, even though when they do open up to each other it turns out that they want a lot of the same things.

Another thing I am convinced Constantine is responsible for is how strong the ending of the story is. This is yet another Moorcock narrative that culminates in an alchemical marriage sequence, like The Final Programme, The Alchemist’s Question, and The City In the Autumn Stars, which is usually a very bad sign, but Constantine is actually able to pull it off, neatly drawing all the major surviving players together at the Old Forge even as the collected artifacts are brought together to form Karadur-Shriltasi’ s saviour. It’s a little cheesy, yes, but like the rest of the novel it’s still effective, page-turning stuff which presents a satisfying apocalyptic fantasy adventure story with a little more nuance than is typical for your average popcorn reading, and Moorcock literally hasn’t written a good book in that vein since the 1960s, so I have to assume that Constantine’s presence here is the key factor.

That isn’t to say, of course, that the book is perfect. At some points its origins as a tie-in novel for a videogame that never happened are rather obvious – especially early on, where you can almost pick out which conversations correspond to the tutorials where you learn how to use your various powers. And it’s slightly overlong for what it is and could probably happily lose about a third of its word count. But as far as fantasy swashbuckling in a very non-traditional setting goes, I found it won me over in the end despite my initial scepticism.

Multiverse Bollocks: Between his Steerpike-like drive to rise above his station, his status as a doer of dirty work for the elite, and his lust for Rose Iron, Captain Coffin brings to mind a less rapey version of Captain Quire from Gloriana. (Plus, of course, his name and Rose’s are callbacks to Jerry Cornelius and the Rose, even though they’re not very similar to those characters – though Jenny, like some incarnations of the Rose, is half-plant.) The vast expanses of ice surrounding Karadur-Shriltasi call to mind the settings of Phoenix In Obsidian and The Ice Schooner. The association of magic with heat calls to mind Jerry Cornelius’ occasional fretting about getting enough heat to accomplish his mischief. Jack Ash puts on a harlequinade, another motif of the Cornelius stories, to pass unseen amongst the residents of the city. The prologue is written by one Cornelius Begg, part of the extended von Bek clan.

The Picky Buyer’s Guide

According to Moorcock, he wanted to give Constantine the collaboration in part to raise her profile – at the time she was known mostly for her novels about the Wraeththu, super-pretty post-apocalyptic neopagan hermaphrodites with flower-shaped penises. Certainly I’d be interested in reading more Silverskin stories by Constantine (she has apparently been toying with the idea of a sequel), since she reveals here a knack for simple, unpretentious adventure stories which hasn’t been generally associated with her. Silverheart makes it into the Buyer’s Guide as a surprise late entrant.

Elric:
The Stealer of Souls [1]
Stormbringer (post-1977 edition) [1]
Erekosë:
The Eternal Champion (the novel, not the omnibus)
Clovis Marca:
The Shores of Death (AKA The Twilight Man) [2]
Michael Kane:
City of the Beast (AKA Warriors of Mars) [3]
Lord of the Spiders (AKA Blades of Mars) [3]
Masters of the Pit (AKA Barbarians of Mars) [3]
Alan Powys:
The Winds of Limbo (AKA The Fireclown) [2]
Jerry Cornelius:
The Final Programme [4]
A Cure For Cancer [4]
The English Assassin [4]
The Condition of Muzak [4]
Gold Diggers of 1977 (AKA The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle)
Professor Faustaff:
The Rituals of Infinity (AKA The Wrecks of Time) [2]
Karl Glogauer:
Behold the Man
Breakfast In the Ruins
Konrad Arflane:
The Ice Schooner
Ryan:
The Black Corridor
Oswald Bastable:
The Warlord of the Air
Jherek Carnelian and Amelia Underwood:
An Alien Heat [5]
The Hollow Lands [5]
The End of All Songs [5]
Colonel Moishe Maxim Pyat:
Byzantium Endures
The Laughter of Carthage
Jerusalem Commands
The Vengeance of Rome
London:
Mother London
Max Silverskin:
Silverheart (with Storm Constantine)

[1] Collected in Elric or the Del Rey edition of Elric: the Stealer of Souls.

[2] Collected in The Roads Between the Worlds.

[3] Collected in Warrior of Mars or Kane of Old Mars.

[4] Collected in The Cornelius Quartet or The Cornelius Chronicles (2-volume UK edition, or 1st volume of the US version).

[5] Collected in The Dancers at the End of Time.

One thought on “To Rescue Karadur

  1. Pingback: Elric: A Von Bek Fantasy – The Thoughts and Fancies of a Fake Geek Boy

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