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Duke Elric: Chronicles Of The Last Emperor Of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock and illustrated by Justin Sweet

02/03/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Duke Elric: Chronicles Of The Last Emperor Of Melniboné in the USA - or Buy Duke Elric: Chronicles Of The Last Emperor Of Melniboné in the UK

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pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 346 page illustrated enlarged paperback. Price: $15.00 (S), $17.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49865-6.

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Volume IV of the ongoing 'Chronicles Of The Last Emperor Of Melniboné' by Michael Moorcock has some stories featuring Elric in a different context than the early works but starts comfortingly with a three part novel, 'The Sailor On The Seas Of Fate', set in his usual milieu.

Wandering among the young kingdoms, Elric is taken for a spy in the land of Pikarayd and flees, ending up horseless and hungry on a forlorn beach. Here he is picked up by a strange ship which has evidently been searching for him. A blind captain sails the ship through a perpetual fog. Clearly, Maritime Regulations are not all they should be in Michael Moorcock's Multiverse but perhaps the banks work better.

Hawkmoon, Erekose and Corum are also aboard the ship for another super-crisis means the Eternal Champion is needed in four manifestations. The blind captain will take them and sixteen other warriors to an island where they must kill Agak and Gagak, two creatures from another universe who threaten our own. Cosmic, man!

In the second part of 'Sailor', the blind Captain leaves Elric on a strange island shore to find his way home through the Crimson Gate. He traverses the island and encounters a band of brigands whose dress reveals they come from several different ages and countries. Elric tries to be friendly but when they attack him, sucks their souls with his sword, Stormbringer. One of their number, Count Smiorgan Baldhead, helps him out. Foes dispatched Elric and Baldy go to sea, argue over a woman with an ancient Melbibonéan noble and eventually get back to their own plane.

In Part Three, they are rescued from the sea by Duke Avan and recruited to help get the Jade Man's Eyes. This is a recycled story which appeared independently in a magazine and was also in 'Chronicle II' so I didn't bother reading it again. It's good, though.

The rest of this volume is taken up with shorter works. 'Duke Elric' is the script for part of a graphic novel and puts our hero at the time of Ethelred the Unready. The thin white Duke (David Bowie is lined up for the film role) battles his way across Europe and North Africa and ends up in the Terminal Café with a confusing cast of thousands, including Michael Moorcock (writer) and Walt Simonson (artist) of the story. This is post-modern or ironic or something. It is also confusing. As it happens, I have the complete graphic novel and the whole thing is confusing unless you are very, very familiar with all Moorcock's diverse characters and concepts.

'The Flaneur Des Arcades De L'Opera' is a short story set in an alternate history about a plot by Hitler and his deposed Nazi elite to conquer Europe by using the Cosmic Balance and the roads between worlds. Sir Seaton Begg aims to foil them. Mrs Una Persson appears to be on their side and Monsieur Zenith, a red-eyed albino aristocrat with a black sword, plays a starring role. Again, you need to be familiar with Michael Moorcock's other works to achieve full comprehension. This may be seen as self-indulgence by the writer but I prefer to think of it as him indulging his loyal fans.

This volume also features two essays, one by Moorcock and one by Adrian Snook, which delve into the psychological aspects of fantasy fiction and Elric. Personally, I just prefer tales of swords, sorcery and spaceships to angst ridden suburban stories about how Tom's love for Margot is fading and I don't feel any need to justify my tastes. For those who do, however, these essays provide some good Freudian horseshit. Mercifully, they take up few pages of an otherwise interesting book.

Eamonn Murphy

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