An Alien Heat

Michael Moorcock
An Alien Heat Cover

An Alien Heat


If Oscar Wilde wrote an episode of Star Trek, this is the kind of strange new world he would imagine.

Decadent hedonists at the end of time use their almost godlike powers over matter to reshape themselves and their world at a whim, creating extravagant fantasies and epic parties that are grotesque in their excesses. "Virtue" and "self-denial" are just words from old books that have lost all meaning for them.

How could Jherek Carnelian, one of these far-future hedonists, hope to win the love of a judgmental time-traveler from Victorian England? That's the task he sets himself, and he undertakes it with all the self-conscious drama that characterizes his people. But to his surprise, his affectation soon turns to genuine affection. He actually falls in love with Mrs. Amelia Underwood and becomes completely obsessed with her. For her part, she sees him as, successively, a lunatic, a devil from Hell, and a project in moral reclamation.

But as Jherek changes from poseur to ardent, frustrated lover, our opinion of his culture changes, too. During his courtship, we're reminded that the Victorians had their own affectations, and they weren't nearly as colorful or as much fun as those of Jherek and his friends. That fact is borne home when Jherek travels back through time to pursue Mrs. Underwood and finds himself trapped in a Dickensian nightmare. As he is duped and abused in the Victorian underworld he seems -- well, an innocent abroad, which is really saying something, considering the sort of things he got up to in the early chapters of the book. And yet, despite the awful ordeal he undergoes, Jherek's sojourn in Victorian London is by far the funniest part of the novel. It's gallows humor (literally!), but it makes you laugh out loud, which expresses perfectly the paradoxical nature of this strange and wonderful book.