I took what others would have taken
July 20, 2008 2 Comments
Being a fantasy author is a good background for writing historical fiction. The past is an alien world, and the temptation is to fill it with people just like you and me. Michael Moorcock avoids this in Byzantium Endures, the first of four novels about the life of Pyat, a Russian engineer, in the first half of the 20th century. Born on January 1, 1900, Pyat is headed for hard times, and Byzantium Endures takes him from his childhood in the Ukraine to the end of the Russian civil war. Pyat is a resentful man, often mean-spirited, and an anti-semite. He is in his own view a brilliant engineer of unrecognized genius, far ahead of his time, but he’s not a reliable narrator, (he claims he built a flying machine at age 13, and later a ray gun that almost worked), so his actual abilities are a mystery for the reader. Pyat is sympathetic to the proto-fascist futurist movement, he believes in science, technology and reason, but also in tsarist Russia and the Orthodox Church. He hates the Jews and Bolsheviks for destroying the world he was promised, and the story is often interrupted by rants about Orthodox Russia’s rightful place in history. Like George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, the greatest scoundrel and coward in the British empire, Pyat is the ugly past in its own angry words, half revolting and half sympathetic, but unlike the Flashman novels, this isn’t comedy. How could it be?