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Warlord of the Air

(Oswald Bastable #1)

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  1,602 ratings  ·  116 reviews
Suppose that a few of our present inventions had been made earlier, and others not discovered at all? How would the last century have evolved differently?

This is the story of Oswald Bastable, a Victorian captain who found himself in such alternate worlds. It is based on notes handed down to Michael Moorcock from his great-grandfather. It's a story of a world of empires sec
Mass Market Paperback, 175 pages
Published May 2nd 1978 by DAW (first published 1971)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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 ·  1,602 ratings  ·  116 reviews

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J.G. Keely
As ever, Moorcock is a wry, clever author full of ideas and insights, but he ends up rushing from one moment to another when I wish that he would let his stories play out. The characters and their relationships were intriguing and promising, but Moorcock tends to fall back on exposition instead of showing the development of his characters and plot through interaction and carefully-constructed scenes. The scope of his tales rarely seem to match the length of his books.

I have great appreciation fo
Nov 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: steampunk
Very good, if your into steampunk, which i very much am. It was so neat to read some that was written in the 70's and compare it with the steampunk genre today. This is the first book in a 3-novel volume i'm reading about Oscar Bastable called The Nomad of Time, if you have a more recently published copy, it is now called The Nomad of the Time Streams.
Moorcock's story, if it wasn't for the fantastical aspects, very much reminded me of George Orwell actually, in the way it covered British coloni
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is certainly well-written and interesting. It starts rather slow, with Moorcock explaining how he found a manuscript left by his grandfather, with the grandfather explaining how he met the main protagonist who dictated said manuscript, and then the main protagonist, Oswald Bastable, describing how he managed to get from a punitive expedition in the 1902 Himalaya to the 1973 British Empire build on giant airships. But the speed of the action increases, and Bastable goes through what app ...more
Apr 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This first Oswald Bastable novel was steampunk before there was a name for such a thing.... before there was anything-punk, come to dwell on it. It's an alternate-history political novel very much in the tradition of Wells, told with the found-manuscript framing made so popular by Burroughs. Set in a 1973 world in which World War II never happened, it shares some common themes and characters with other multiverse tapestry pieces, but isn't an integral part. It's more slowly paced than his sword- ...more
Andrew Lasher
Apr 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oswald Bastable IS steampunk. There may have been earlier examples of the genre, and perhaps there are later examples that more solidly explore the ideas behind steampunk, but the Nomad of the Timestreams trilogy is the definition of steampunk to me.

While a dimension hopping, time traveling Oswald Bastable might seem to be a hard pill to swallow, it is written with such an honest face that not only could I suspend my disbelief, I could almost turn full circle and believe that I was reading a his
Very much an entertainment, to coin Greene’s use of the term. Steampunk with a wide net of allusion from Conrad, Lenin and TE Lawrence to the fumbling bigot Reagan, I enjoyed this, I’m not sure it engendered a great deal of thought. There in that silence, that pause, remains the other books in the series. I’m not adept at finishing cycles.
Charles Dee Mitchell
In 1971, Michael Moorcock receives from his father a box of his grandfather's, and namesake's, papers. In the box is a typewritten manuscript prepared by the first Michael Moorcock in the year 1903. It is the transcript of a narrative related to the elder Moorcock by Oswald Bastable, an opium-addicted stowaway he encounters while taking a kind of rest cure on Rowe Island in the Indian Ocean. (Rowe Island is Moorcock's -- our Moorcock's -- invention.)

Bastable was a British officer serving in the
3.5 Stars

Intentionally written in the style of H.G. Wells as well as the pulp science fiction of the early 20th Century (seePhilip Francis Nowlan), but with modern (late sixties and early seventies) sensibilities. Having been a fan of this type of science fiction since my childhood I found "The Warlord of the Air" to be great fun. Mr. Moorcock combines Victorian and mid-twentieth century attitudes and throws the story at us with a wink since the inside joke is that we (the readers) already know
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have read Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock once before, many years ago. I saw it in a used book store on one of my visits a few years back and decided it would be worth trying again. So there you go, a bit of back history before my review.

The book was originally published in 1971. It purport to be a story written by Michael Moorcock's grandfather, from events he recorded back in 1903. It's a neat tale, told to Moorcock Senior by Oswald Bastable, a Victorian Captain who is thrust into the
Joseph Inzirillo
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I understand why this is considered a steampunk classic. Although, I will admit that it started a bit slow for me, it did pick up and get me sucked in, which is good because there are two more books in the series.

The best thing about this book is that Moorcock wrote it in a way that was reminiscent of writers from the early 1900’s, keeping the feel of it realistic. The airships and inventions are great but don’t have the intricate details of the newer steampunk genre. Remember, Moorcock and Jet
Peter Pinkney
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the book that started the so called "steam punk" movement, but is so so much better than other things that I have read in that so called genre (why to they have to be called punk, makes no sense).
Anyway Michael Moorcock is probably my all time favourite writer, and this is up there with the best of them. It could have been written for the Strand in Edwardian times, that's how authentic it feels, and it my edition it had illustrations that reminded me of the old Sexton Blake comics. Not s
M. Jones
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Long on politics, short on action and adventure. OK, so it takes all sorts, but this is my review and I felt like I was reading a pamphlet (which is not to say I do or don't disagree with the sentiments, just this is fiction and I prefer fiction to be fun). I'd also quibble with the status of this book as a steampunk classic. Not much 'steam' and pretty easy on the 'punk', too. It's dieselpunk, if anything. The presence of a few airships in a book does not a steampunk classic make.
Nov 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
The Warlord of the Air is an early example of steampunkery, written in the early seventies. I've never read Michael Moorcock before, nor have I read much SF from the seventies. In fact, I haven't read much steampunk, either. So, that combination of factors may color my response to the book.

The story: guy goes to temple in India in 1902, gets transported to the same temple in the seventies. Gets picked up by an airship, and starts to realize where he is--well, WHEN he is, I guess. He discovers t
Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sent out to deal with a troublesome warlord on the imperial frontier, Lieutenant Oswald Bastable, an army officer in 1902 India, unexpectedly finds himself in a 1973 where airships ply the skies and the British Empire continues to thrive. Feigning amnesia, he adapts quickly to life in a world which seems nothing less than idyllic. Yet Bastable’s path soon leads to a series of adventures that cause him to reexamine his initial assumptions and lead him to embrace a cause very different from the on ...more
Jan 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Moorcock doing what I think he does best. Taking characters from his giant toybox of “Eternal Champion” archetypes and throwing them into Hx, then shaking them about into alternate realities and times.
Bastable meets some old favourites (Una and I think Jerry have cameos), and some real characters (Joseph Conrad as airship captain, Mick Jagger as soldier) as he travels through time and gets caught up in revolution.
Presented as a found manuscript, by his grandfather, this may be the opium addled r
Jul 28, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In general the book was more successful in its ideas than in its story: the author gets carried away with the description of life in alternate 1973 and the exploration of the results of unchecked imperialism, and then skimps on the story aspects of plot and character. Much of it felt cramped, with the Warlord of the title only appearing some two-thirds through, and then Bastable experiencing a relatively fast change of heart to join him. This conversion is shown in a compressed time scale withou ...more
Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Moorcock tells this story in an alternative future, by the eyes of a typical soldier of the British Empire who is sent to an alternative future where the British Empire seems to have created an utopia. At least in the main character's eyes. The British Empire after years without going to war ( the technology is not as advanced as it was back in our actual 1973) which leads to apparent economical and social advances. We will know later that the Empire is in fact lying in fragile foundations. Alth ...more
Tim Hicks
Is Oswald Bastable sane? Dreaming? Time traveling? Dimension hopping?
Whichever, it's a fun read. Not what you might call meticulously constructed with a plot of jewel-like precision. More of a story reeled out across several drunken and/or dope-crazed evenings. But there's some social satire in there, and some buckles get swashed, and there are airships.

I won't hunt for the next volume but if it crosses my path I'll read it.
Roger Whitson
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book better the second time than I did the first time. Moorcock's historical imagination knows no peer.
I feel somewhat unkind offering only two stars for this book, but frankly it just turned out to be so far from my own interests. As it states itself in "feigned" publisher rejections, maybe it needs more adventure. Though the lack of a love story I'm frankly quite satisfied with.

This book may be more interesting for its time, being from the 70's, but again, I'm always after something stimulating, not necessarily only "as seen in context". It's only real theme is political anti imperialism, and t
This short novel is dieselpunk with a steampunk sensibility, envisioning an alternate twentieth century in which the Great Powers of the fin del siecle continue to rule over oppressed peoples around the world. Despite the very awesome premise it's a pretty thin and rushed book, light on character development and heavy on politics, and my main annoyance with it was its crashing lack of subtlety. I personally choose not to define myself as right wing or left wing, I consider both equally deplorabl ...more
Rex Roberts
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read

I first read a Michael Moorcock book in Guyana when I was 14. My family was there on vacation and I needed a new book. I enjoyed it, an Elric story. Hadn't read another Moorcock story since. 43 years later and I realize why I liked his writing. Warlord of the Air is a basic, no nonsense sci-fi story that, while now a bit dated in the premises, still makes for a good tale. Time travel, airships, good guys, bad guys, revolutionaries and the inimitable Brits makes for the basis o
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Been a long time since I have read one of Michael's books and supposedly I had read this one before but it didn't spark any memories and felt new even if I had. I've always enjoyed the multiverse, the eternal champion and all the others who populate it and all of its different variations. This one was a nice splash of alternate history/dimensions, steampunkish world, and much of the feel of H.G. Wells. A good read and I look forward to the other two in the series which I know I haven't read at a ...more
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hailed as one of the first Steampunk novels, it's really more of attempt to revive a bunch of tropes from Victorian literature. It has a Victorian-esque prose style that works surprisingly well at describing the alternate history setting. The plot filled with subversion of adventure story tropes, but it's hard to describe what makes this better than your average throwback without spoiling anything.
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Starts slow, picks up

I read some Moorcock in high school and found it a slog. This work, however, starts slow and then does a quick tour of 20th century leftist thought while touching every steampunk trope along the way. If you don't like politics or moral ambiguity, read another author. An enjoyable and fast-paced read, on the mean. Far superior to Priest's tiresome Leviathan series. For steampunk fun, start here.
Mark Singer
I first read this about thirty five years ago, and found it fascinating. It is a fascinating mix of alternate history, social criticism, and dare I say it, Steampunk, before the word was invented. My recent re-read was due to a rekindled interest in the works of Michael Moorcock as inspired by a mutual friend. I now can also appreciate the use of historical figures such as Joseph Conrad in an alternate timeline.
Mar 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
Pleasant enough. Interesting to see an alternative 1973 seen through the fictional eyes of someone from 1902 as i interpreted by someone from 'our' 1973, which seems as distant from now in attitude and understanding of politics and expected future as 1973 would be from 1902. I'm not sure if I'm being clear here, but I mean the different layers of acceptance of how the world does or should work were more more than the fairly straightforward story.
This book is a foundational work of the steampunk genre. What surprised me is that its politics are so progressive. I had the impression that steampunk is a reactionary and nostalgic genre, and that it emphasizes the cool parts of the Victorian era while ignoring things like colonialism and racism. But this book is about anti-colonialism as much as it’s about airships. Moorcock borrows not only HG Wells’s technology but also his radical politics.
Joachim Boaz
Full review:

"Notable as an Early Steampunk/Jules Verne homage….

The Warlord of the Air is the first of a trilogy of steampunk novels (Land Leviathan, The Steel Tsar) by Moorcock collected in the omnibus edition The Nomad of Time and later as The Nomad of the Time Streams.

The story follows Oswald Bastable [...]"
Marcus Wilson
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fast paced, exciting and fun read from Michael Moorcock. It is this writer at his ahead of his time best, an entertaining steam punk adventure in the tradition of Jules Verne that throws in time travel and alternative realities. It’s Moorcock at his most accessible, but that doesn’t mean much, things do get complex later on, and it fits very nicely into his multiverse.
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Michael John Moorcock is an English writer primarily of science fiction and fantasy who has also published a number of literary novels.
Moorcock has mentioned The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Apple Cart by George Bernard Shaw and The Constable of St. Nicholas by Edward Lester Arnold as the first three books which captured his imagination. He became editor of Tarzan Adventures in 1956,

Other books in the series

Oswald Bastable (3 books)
  • The Land Leviathan: A New Scientific Romance (Oswald Bastable, #2)
  • The Steel Tsar (Oswald Bastable, #3)

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