Book Review: The Sundered Worlds by Michael Moorcock (also published as The Blood Red Game)
In the distant future, Jon Renark comes to the wretched hive of scum and villainy known as Migaa, where the criminals and misfits of the galaxy have gathered. It’s the closest world to where the Shifter System will at some point appear, their one chance to escape the rigidly ordered society that rules humanity. For the Shifter System normally exists outside the universe as we know it, orbiting into it sideways from time to time.
Jon Renark has also come to go to the Shifter System, but with a nobler cause. He is a Guide Senser, a powerful psychic able to detect the shape of things, down to the very atoms of a human body or up to the location of every star in the galaxy. And he has learned that the universe is contracting at a rate faster than the speed of light. Renark has a hunch he’ll find answers in the Shifter…somehow.
Gathering up his two best friends, technician Paul Talfryn and former prince Asquiol of Pompeii, as well as Asquiol’s current squeeze Willow Kovacs, Renark makes the dangerous journey to the Shifter when it appears.
Within the Shifter System, the normal physical laws don’t seem to consistently apply, and the visitors are immediately attacked by beings they will learn are called the Thron, absolute xenophobes whose lust to destroy all other intelligent life is indirectly responsible for the existence of the Shifter in the first place. Renark and his crew are rescued by ships from the exile planet Entropium.
Entropium, filled with the refugees of a dozen different universes, has one governmental law–do what you like, as long as you don’t try to tell anyone else what to do. It’s not a happy place, but everyone has to get along, as the other planets are worse, and there’s no leaving the Shifter system once you’re inside. Talfryn and Willow decide to play it safe and stay, leaving Renark and Asquiol to planet-hop within the system to learn the truth of the multiverse!
This book is some of Michael Moorcock’s earliest published work, cobbled together from two novellas. It’s primarily important because it introduced the Multiverse concept he’d use heavily in his future work. Later editions have a bit of editing to fix the multiple typos in this first U.S. printing, and to tie the story into his Eternal Champion cycle.
It’s not much like Moorcock’s more famous New Wave fiction, being space opera in the tradition of E.E. “Doc” Smith. This story is all about the big concepts, and characterization is told, not shown. In the first half of the story, Willow seems to exist solely to be a female character. She’s quickly consigned to the galley (and never does finish cooking a meal), then dumped on the first alien planet, not to be seen for a while.
There’s a bit of mild humor in a side character who’s a parody of “beat” musicians, on Entropium since the galactic government outlaws his kind of music.
In the second half of the story, Renark and Asquiol return from the Shifter System changed both mentally and physically by their discovery of the nature of reality. It’s impossible, it turns out, to save their home universe, but they can preserve large portions of galactic humanity by getting them on spaceships fitted with dimensional drives, and emigrating en masse to another universe. Renark stays behind for vague reasons, and is the last living mind as the universe shrinks to zero.
The new universe is already inhabited, and while Asquiol tries to negotiate with the natives, the story focus switches to Adam Roffrey, a rebellious type who’s barely stayed within the law up to this point. Now he deserts the rest of humanity, piloting his ship to the new position of the Shifter System.
Turns out Roffrey is the husband of the madwoman Mary the Maze, briefly met on Entropium in the first half of the story. She’s been missing a long time, and until now Roffrey hadn’t known where. Roffrey retrieves Mary, and as an afterthought Talfryn and Willow, and heads back to where he left the rest of humanity. An understated love triangle begins.
Meanwhile, the natives of the new universe have proved to be hostile, but they’ve challenged the invading humans to a game to determinate who will be master. The Blood Red Game consists of teams beaming disturbing mental images at each other until one side collapses. (The cover illustrates a hallucination caused by the Game.) The humans are losing badly, but Mary the Maze may be the key to victory!
Overall, some great concepts with two-dimensional characters who do things because that’s what the plot says they do. Mostly for Moorcock completists, and even for them I’d recommend the later revised editions.
Once again this year I participated in the “Anime and Manga for Speculative Fiction Fans” panel at Minicon. As promised at the panel, here’s a list of the items mentioned–I make no representations regarding the quality of the ones I have not seen.
.hack: A series of interlocking video games, anime, manga and light novels about a virtual reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) called “The World.” The anime involves a player who abruptly discovers that they can’t log out, and their memories of their real life have vanished. Some parts of the universe have never appeared in a legal English edition, so the explanations contained in these are missing.
Akira: Members of a biker gang in post-apocalypse Tokyo get involved with psychic children, enmeshed in a government conspiracy. Both a really good manga and a decent movie (one of the first anime movies to come to the US labeled as such.)
Assassination Classroom: A junior high class must kill their teacher before graduation or he will destroy the world. Manga and now an anime series–see my previous review.
Attack on Titan: The Earth has been overrun by gigantic humanoids that eat people. The last remnants of humanity huddle behind enormous walls, but now those walls have been breached. It is up to a small army of specially-trained warriors to defend the humans from being devoured. An adequate manga that became a very popular anime. Violent and gory.
Berserk: The nigh-unstoppable warrior known as Guts battles demons invading a medievalish world. The twist is that his former best friend Griffith is the leader of the demons–but the public at large sees him as a savior. A long-running but very slow manga, and two anime series (the first cuts off at the worst possible moment.) Warning: extremely violent, including sexual violence, lots of gore.
Bleach: Ichigo Kurosaki can see ghosts, which is mostly an annoyance until he meets a mysterious girl who gives him the ability to become a Soul Reaper, a kind of psychopomp. After some adventures fighting the evil spirits known as Hollows, Ichigo gets caught up in Soul Reaper politics. Long-running manga and anime, which has been in its final arc for the last two years.
A Certain Magical Index/Scientific Railgun: Interlocking series of light novels and anime taking place in a world where mystics and mutants both exist and attend school together. The series differ primarily in their viewpoint characters. “Index” stars Touma, an unlucky lad with an anti-magic punch, while “Railgun” stars Misaki, an electricity-wielder.
Corpse Party: Originally a survival horror video game, this has also been manga, anime and a live-action movie. When a new school is built on the site of the former Heavenly Host Elementary (torn down after a massacre), some of the students decide to perform a mystic ritual of friendship which goes horribly wrong–they wind up in the old school with the ghosts of the murder victims.
Cowboy Bebop: In the not-so distant future, the solar system has been colonized, but a skyrocketing crime rate allows there to be a subculture of bounty hunters. We follow the quirky crew of the Bebop as they try to stay afloat in the business. Anime series and a really cool movie.
Crest/Banner of the Stars: A light novel series that became an anime and manga. Jinto’s home planet has been taken over by the Abh, a humanoid alien race which has the largest local empire. His father sold out his homeworld in exchange for a position of power, and Jinto has been sent off for education in the empire’s ways. He meets and befriends the Abh princess Lafiel on the way, but they get sidetracked by a war with the remaining human alliances.
Deadman Wonderland: In the near future, Tokyo is destroyed and a prison is built on it, where prisoners are required to battle for the pleasure of viewers. A boy is framed for the murder of his class, imprisoned, and discovers he has bizarre blood-based superpowers. Both manga and anime.
Durarara!!: A light novel series and now anime about the odd happening in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, It’s urban fantasy with some added elements; everyone has a secret, but few of them are the secrets you might immediately guess. Very entertaining.
Eden of the East: A naked man with a cellphone and a gun but no memory is met by a Japanese tourist at the White House. This begins a rollicking adventure as they try to unravel who he is and why he doesn’t remember anything. Anime series and a couple of wrap-up movies.
Evangelion: In a now-alternate timeline, the Earth is being attacked by alien monsters known as Angels, and must be defended by fourteen-year olds in giant robots. However, not all is as it seems, and the reason the robots require teen pilots is sinister. Started as anime, has had a couple of manga series, is being done as a series of reboot movies. Very influential.
Fairy Tail: Lucy Heartfilia is a young wizard who runs away from home to join the wacky Fairy Tail guild, teaming with a fire specialist named Natsu. They and their guildmates have exciting and long running adventures, both in the manga and anime.
Ghost in the Shell: Cyberpunk action with a special ops group in a future Japan overrun with cyborgs, robots and less definable cyber-beings. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a full-body cyborg, is our main protagonist. Manga and several different anime, both TV and film. Very influential.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: A high school student discovers the ability to jump through time (literally) and promptly abuses the heck out of it. Eventually, she comes to realize that just overwriting events doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, and there’s a hidden cost to her powers…oh, and they’re about to stop working. Very well done.
Higarashi-When They Cry: A small mountain village is trapped in a time loop–each repeat ends in murder. The characters slowly realize what’s going on, but can they stop it? Originally a “visual novel”, also now anime and manga.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: A series of series about people with strange powers, all of whom have a “jojo” sound in their name. Check out my review of the first two seasons of the anime adaptation! (The third season, “Stardust Crusaders”, is currently running.)
Kill la Kill: In the indefinite future, a girl seeking revenge for her murdered father comes to a high school ranked by special uniforms, and must partner with a sentient costume to battle against what turns out to be a much larger threat. Warning: nudity, sexual harassment. See my review!
Laputa–Castle in the Sky: A Welsh boy has a girl drop in from the sky–it turns out she’s the last rightful heir to the flying island of Laputa. Another descendant of that dead land wants to use it to conquer the world, and the kids must seek help from sky pirates. Vintage Miyazaki.
Last Exile: An “aeropunk” series set on a world at perpetual war–courier pilots must protect and deliver a girl who is the key to a peaceful resolution. Anime with a manga adaptation.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: A sprawling epic space opera concerning the clash between two great star nations, and the heroes on each side. Originally a novel series, turned into a lengthy anime. Very rich in character development.
Log Horizon: Another MMORPG gone horribly wrong story–this one is notable for the development of “non-player characters” who suddenly are developing actual personalities and free will.
Medaka Box: A girl who’s good at everything takes problem solving requests from a suggestion box at her school. Several volumes in, it turns out superpowers exist and (according to the fans of the manga) it gets really good. Was turned into a less well received anime series.
Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: A girl forms a club at her school to look for science-fiction beings, not realizing that she and everyone else in the club are themselves science fiction character types. Light novels, adapted into anime–skip all but the first and last episodes of Endless Eight.
Millennium Actress: A Satoshi Kon film about an actress who played many roles over several decades who’s being interviewed for a retrospective. It interweaves her life story with the history of Japan’s film industry. Some magical realism.
Moribito: A richly-imagined light novel/anime series about a spearwoman who becomes bodyguard to a prince supposedly possessed by an evil spirit. The truth is much more complicated. The author is an anthropology major and it really shows.
Patema Inverted: An experiment to control gravity as an energy source goes horribly wrong and much of Earth suffers inverted gravity, killing billions. The story picks up much later when two young people with different gravity orientations meet and their civilizations clash. This is an Internet-original series.
Record of Lodoss Wars: A Dungeons and Dragons inspired series set on the fantasy island of Lodoss, wracked by periodic wars between good and evil. A band of adventurers discover that there is a hidden hand behind the chaos. Two different animated series–the second is much longer and involves a second generation of heroes.
Redline: A “Wacky Racers in Space” movie–much motor action. The art style takes some getting used to.
Revolutionary Girl Utena: A girl was rescued by a prince as a child. Now Utena has come to Ohtori Academy to become a prince herself. But first she must fight a series of duels. Lots of symbolism and hidden agendas.
Sailor Moon: Wimpy junior high student Usagi discovers that she is actually the reincarnation of a moon princess and becomes a magical girl to fight evil, along with the rest of her Sailor Senshi pals. Manga, anime, live action series, and now rebooted as Sailor Moon Crystal.
Samurai Flamenco: A metafictional series about a male model who decides to become the first real-life superhero. Goes all the way down the rabbit hole and pulls it out the other side. See my review!
Samurai Jack: Japanese warrior trapped in a future where the evil spirit Aku has already won. Not anime, but clearly inspired by it.
Space Dandy: An “alien hunter” (he tracks down new species to register for the government) and his wacky companions run into various bizarre circumstances. Each episode appears to happen in a slightly different reality. Heavy on the fanservice.
String (?): Someone mentioned this, but I have no information on it.
Summer Wars: A math prodigy is invited to his crush’s family reunion to pretend to be her fiance. Meanwhile, an amok AI is taking over Japan’s primary Internet provider. These events are more related than they appear. Very heartwarming movie, but the English dub is heavy on swearing.
Sword Art Online: Our third series about an MMORPG where the players are trapped inside. Very uneven–the first arc is pretty satisfying, but the second is painful and subsequent storylines become divisive. See my review!
Tenchi Muyo–Ryo-Ohki!: Teenage boy discovers that he’s part-alien and has all sorts of alien girls coming on to him. This installment heavily features Ryo-Ohki, the adorable alien cabbit (who might also have a crush on Tenchi.)
Twelve Kingdoms: A very well-done example of the normal(ish) teenager sucked into a fantasy world plotline. Good world-building, and she’s not the first person to be brought over.
Yokohama Shopping Log: A quiet series about a gynoid who runs a cafe after most of humanity has gone away. Very peaceful.
Yukikaze: After an alien invasion, a pilot with an intelligent plane tries to battle the invasion despite interference from other humans.
Your thoughts, comments, anime or manga you’d add?