Monday, October 11, 2021

PKD & Zelazny & Moorcock (#1976Club)


It's the start of Kaggsy & Simon's 1976 club! 

Deus Irae

Philip K. Dick & Roger Zelazny teamed up to write this post-apocalyptic tale of a quest to find (or at least see) god. 

Carleton Lufteufel (air-devil) was the head of a U.S. war agency from 1983; in a conflict with the Chinese he dropped the 'gob', the great objectless bomb, and the atmosphere was destroyed. The Krankheit (sickness) followed, and those few humans who do survive are at higher risk for genetic mutations and can barely scrape up enough food to eat. Intelligent lizards and bugs and leftover robot A.I.s have taken over some of the space once occupied by humans.

And in the process Carleton Lufteufel became a god.

The process to becoming nor the powers Lufteufel has as god are particularly specified, but there is a new religion, the Servants of Wrath, devoted to his worship. Tibor McMasters, born without limbs but still a notable painter, is tasked with painting a church mural (a 'murch') to exalt his worship. McMasters declares he can only paint this mural properly once he's seen his god, but since Lufteufel is still out there somewhere it ought to be possible. He sets out on a 'Pilg', a pilgrimage to see his god, in a cart drawn by a cow, across the ruined and desolate country.

Pete Sands, on the verge of converting to Christianity, which still exists in our post-apocalyptic world, has been taking drugs to see the Christian God, a technique his spiritual adviser disapproves of. Pete Sands follows McMasters on his quest, either to help or hinder or both, since he likes McMasters personally, but doesn't like the new religion.

Do all pilgrimage narratives suggest Pilgrim's Progress? I've been reading Bunyan lately, and it feels like there are similarities, but maybe it's just the similarity between like objects. I couldn't point you to a particular point of reference. (Though maybe the use of allegorical names?)

Lufteufel meets up with the pair by design, under the name of Schuld (guilt), and arranges his own death, and the world feels a certain lightening. 

Hmm. Why someone who blew up the planet might feel guilty I can understand; why this particular death--even though it is the death of the human embodiment of a divinity--should make the world better, I'm not sure I do.

I know PKD pretty well, but Zelazny hardly at all. Wikipedia tells me that man become god and/or god become man is an important Zelazny motif. Drugs to see God and the use of German are definitely PKD contributions. I find PKD a pretty great writer, but too much production and carelessness mar a lot of his work. This one, for whatever reason, didn't entirely convince. Still, it was fun.

The Sailor on the Seas of Fate

This is the second of the original Elric novels by Michael Moorcock, though two of the (three) stories had appeared before and were then rewritten for the novel. 

I reread the first in the series Elric of Melniboné to get into the proper space. Elric ("It is the colour of bleached skull, his flesh;...") is the albino emperor number four hundred and somety-something of the decadent kingdom of Melniboné. Sickly and doomed. Humanoid, but not human. At the end of the first, he's just recovered after an attempted usurpation by his cousin Yyrkoon and he's acquired his sword Stormbringer. Nevertheless he decides to leave Yyrkoon on the throne as regent, and go off on a wanderjahr.

In the first adventure he sails into the future and is tied into the Moorcock eternal champion mythos, united with Corum, Hawkmoon, and Erekosë to defeat a brother/sister pair of evil sorcerers.  I thought this the weakest of the three.

In the second he comes across a figure from Melnibonéan legend Saxif D'Aan, who, across the centuries, has been pursuing the one girl he loved, the girl he killed in a fit of jealousy. Now in the present Saxif D'Aan has found a lookalike. Is there a way to right this ancient wrong?

In the final tale, Elric with a few companions journeys up a river through a jungle to ruins that may mark the origins of the Melnibonéan race. Seeking his past. Our Elric is a melancholy hero and unhappy with his role as emperor. Are these his roots? If he learns them, what will it do? Is this a journey to the heart of darkness or the heart of light? He does find a Kurtz, but maybe no real answers.

And in this his sentient sword Stormbringer first reveals its treacherous nature.

I knew, but had half-forgotten how good these were. Have I just committed myself to rereading the whole series? Maybe...

"You feign cynicism, yet I think I've rarely met a man so much in need of a little cynicism," Count Smiorgan tells Elric at the end of the third story.

Oh, and drugs. Elric is only kept alive by his sorcerous drugs, at least until he acquires Stormbringer. Well, it is 1976... 😉

Thanks to Simon and Kaggsy for hosting. (Love the logo!)


  1. Outstanding. In another life, I mostly read fantasy and my blog is somehow named after Michael Moorcock novels. The whole series, please!

    1. I read Gloriana for the first time still in living memory, but all of the rest of these a long time ago. But that could change.

      Googling around there's a French death metal band Yyrkoon. Ha! somebody's already got the blogger for it, though.

  2. i read most of PKD in the sixties, but faded out for his latter work. i liked his writing, weird as it was; i even sent away for his pseudo-autobiography which now i can't even recall the name of... but i never got to this one. interesting precis, tho... Zelazny is something else (i was going to say, "as opposed to author", but that would be too blatant). i tried one of his Elric books last year and didn't think much of it: it just seemed like he was idling the time away at the typewriter...

    1. I came to PKD later, but I like his late weird gnostic things pretty well actually--Valis and Radio Free Albemuth and those. But then his early stuff is pretty great, too. I'm not sure this will send me off to read Zelazny.

      I do suspect Elric one will send me off to read a bunch of Moorcocks, though.

  3. Bill has just been urging me to read Dick after seeing my recent post on The Bicentennial Man, and here you are telling me just how good his writing is!

    1. He can be pretty good! But this probably isn't the one to start with. Palmer Eldritch or Scanner Darkly, maybe.

  4. I've considered delving into Elric but never made the jump. This would certainly make for an interesting pair, though I suspect there is more of a temptation to launch into binge-reading with this genre, not that you or I need all that much temptation, genre or otherwise.

    1. Binging is kind of the operative mode...

      I haven't read any of the Elric books probably in 30 years. I was a bit surprised how well they held up. It's easier to binge on them, too, because they're all under 200 pages. ;-)

  5. What wonderfully unusual choices! Thanks for adding them to the club.