An Alien Heat

Michael Moorcock
An Alien Heat Cover

The Funny Side of Moorcock


I was a huge fan of Elric of Melniboné as a teen, so I know Moorcock's unparalleled imagination and stellar writing. What I didn't know until I read An Alien Heat, however, is how good Moorcock could be at comedy, as well.

Everything about An Alien Heat, the first novel in the Dancers at the End of Time trilogy, is bizarre. It features omnipotent dandies, millions of years in the future, who will the millennia away by throwing lavish parties and having sex with one another regardless of gender or filial affiliation. These beings, oblivious or uncaring about the upcoming End of the Universe, cavort and amuse themselves, playing pranks on one another, and spending their time telling each other how brilliant they are. They sound like an immoral, immortal version of the Court of Versailles, moments before the guillotine became a fashion item.

This synopsis in itself would make for a terrible novel, but in the hands of Moorcock, it quickly becomes charming and engaging. The protagonist of the story is one Jherek Carnelian, vaguely obsessed with the 19th century, who convinces himself he should fall in love with Mrs. Underwood, an unwilling time traveler from this cherished time period, who stumbles upon his era.

The story of their blossoming love affair is hilarious and engaging. Jherek is a goof, but he is likable, and funny. It's hilarious to see how little he understands the 19th century, confusing it with, oh, about anything a thousand years before or after, give or take. His courting of Mrs. Underwood is naive and sincere, and the slow emergence of his humanity is fun to watch.

A lot of the appeal of An Alien Heat is the humor, and in this the novel is not dated in the slightest. The characters are strong, colorful, and interesting, and the world at the End of Time is filled with details that make it stand out.

An Alien Heat is quick, and over with just as quickly. Good thing there are two more novels in this cycle.