It’s a Wonderful Life: Multiverse Edition

Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Rating: 3 of 5

This book explores the idea of the infinite multiverse where every decision made generates a new alternate universe. What would happen if you were able to travel to alternate universes where an alternate you made different major life choices? It’s sort of an It’s a Wonderful Life scenario, but with a magical sciencey box instead of Clarence the junior angel.

Okay, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but I don’t want to give away any major spoilers. Suffice it to say that interaction with alternate universes, alternate selves, and alternate loved ones gets pretty convoluted. Some of the characterization is a bit flat and chichéd, and our main character makes some pretty dumb decisions for a world-class physicist, but if you’re really into the idea of an infinite multiverse (and aren’t put off by moderate amounts of profanity, drugs, semi-explicit sex, and gory violence), you’ll probably enjoy this book as fairly well-written, trippy sci-fi.

Personally, while I admired a lot of the plotting, this wasn’t my favorite. To me, the whole concept of every choice generating one or more alternate universes with alternate yous renders moot the very idea of a plot…why is the person who we are following any more the “real” person than one of the infinite alternates spawned by every choice made? To be fair, the book does acknowledge and incorporate this dilemma to a degree, but for me it kind of kills the joy of stories. Sure, the version I read ended this way, but it also ended in an infinite number of other ways none of which is more true than any other. Maybe I’m just overthinking it, but this kind of multiverse fiction just doesn’t work for me (I had similar issues with Michael Crichton’s Timeline).

Corum Vs. Chaos

Title: Corum – The Coming of Chaos
(The Eternal Champion Sequence: Volume 7)
Author: Michael Moorcock
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Pages: 398
Rating: 4 of 5

Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion books can serve as decent escapist SF&F when they don’t get too bogged down in preachiness and/or moping. Don’t ever expect a cheery read since themes of genocide, lost love, and divine manipulation echo across the multiverse in practically every incarnation (aspect? version? whatever…) of the Champion. This was my favorite volume in the (loosely connected) series up to this point.

Corum may now be my favorite version of the Champion. He is (maybe) the last of his race, the Vadhagh (basically decadent elves), driven by the desire for vengeance against the man who destroyed his people but swept up into conflicts spanning multiple planes (alternate worlds? dimensions? whatever…). As with other incarnations, he is a reluctant pawn of the Cosmic Balance fighting for Law against Chaos with a chaos-tainted overpowered weapon. While he goes through the usual “fighting against being manipulated” angst, he isn’t as unremittingly whiney as some of the other versions (I’m looking at you, Elric!).

Apparently Moorcock drew his inspiration from Welsh folklore and history. How close the connection is I can’t say, because the Mabinogion is still languishing on my TBR list. What I can say is that the three short novels that make up this volume are solid swords & sorcery with some trippy interdimensional stuff thrown in as Corum faces off against three increasingly powerful chaos lords. There’s none of the usual preachiness about the joys of anarcho-syndicalism (or whatever form of government Moorcock is usually on about), but the end does devolve a bit into a slightly ranty version of John Lennon’s Imagine.

Overall: enjoyable escapist dark fantasy in which Moorcock keeps his obnoxious side under control for the most part. Also, this checks a ninth book off my entry in the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge!

Two from the TBR

I just knocked two more books off my TBR Pile Challenge list. Both were a bit on the”pulp” side, and each is part of longer loosely-connected series.

Title: The Roads Between the Worlds
(Eternal Champion Series, Volume 6)
Author: Michael Moorcock
Genre: Sci-fi
Pages: 391
Rating: 3 of 5

This volume in the Eternal Champion series does not  feature any of the better-known iterations of the Champion (e.g. Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon). In fact, other than the concept of the multiverse and preachy idealizing of anarchic government, most of the plot elements that pop up in Eternal Champion stories are absent or receive only the subtlest of nods.

The three novellas that make up the volume are on the more sci-fi side of Moorcock’s writing and largely involve political maneuvering and/or revolution on alternate versions of the earth. As is usual with Moorcock, the plots are an odd blend of pulp sci-fi and preachiness. If you’re really into the Eternal Champion series, this is probably worth reading, but for casual readers something featuring Elric, Corum, or Hawkmoon would be a more entertaining introduction to Moorcock’s style.

The Case of the Velvet Claws (Perry Mason Series Book 1) by [Gardner, Erle Stanley]Title: The Case of the Velvet Claws
(Perry Mason, Book 1)
Author: Erle Stanley Gardner
Genre: Mystery/Crime Fiction
Pages: 193
Rating: 3 of 5

My past exposure to Perry Mason was the older, fatter, gentler version in the later TV shows; this book features the hard-boiled original. Perry Mason’s code of ethics dictates that he works for the interest of his client regardless of how nasty (or even guilty) they might be, and this client is as dishonest and manipulative as they come. The plot twists and turns through a pretty middle-of-the-road pulp mystery. There’s none of the snappy snark that you get from authors like Raymond Chandler, but it’s a decent tough-guy detective/lawyer story.