Originally published in 1982 as The Nomad of Time (before K. W. Jeter gave a name to the genre), this compilation of Michael Moorcock’s early steampunk trilogy consists of The Warlord of the Air (originally published in 1971), The Land Leviathan (1974) and The Steel Tsar (1981). This was the first steampunk novel I read and was a huge contribution to my appreciation and perception of the genre.
It’s the story of British army captain Oswald Bastable who, during an expedition to the mountain stronghold of an Indian warlord in 1902, is presumed killed during an earthquake and wakes up in an alternate 1973 where the first World War never happened, thus the great empires of the world were never bankrupted and remain in power. Airships prowl the sky and the world is held in a seeming state of utopia through the balance of imperialism. But after encountering bands of revolutionaries and a Chinese/English warlord who plans to overthrow the great powers, Bastable realises that this ‘utopia’ has come at a huge cost to the colonies. Struggling to get back to his own time, Bastable experiences several alternate versions of the twentieth century including a world devastated by biological warfare where an African empire is on the rise ruled by a ‘Black Attila’ and an alternate 1941 where the Russian Empire struggles to put down a Cossack revolution led by one Iosif Dugashvili (Stalin).
Moorcock cheeklily slips in many real historical persons thinly disguised in these alternate visions including ‘Rough Rider Ronny Reagan’, ‘Bomber Joe’ Kennedy, Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin), Mick Jagger and Al Capone among others. The books are a deep exploration of imperialism, racism, socialism and colonialism, picking apart the extraordinary events of the twentieth century and reconstructing them in fine steampunk fashion.