Michael Moorcock’s Sailor on the Seas of Fate continues the adventures of Elric the albino emperor of Melniboné. While his ambitious cousin Yyrkoon sits as regent, and his consort Cymoril doesn’t know if he’s dead or alive, Elric is in self-exile, exploring other lands so that he can better understand his subjects. He hopes to become a more worthy emperor and, perhaps, to discover why his own race has lost what he calls its “humanity.” For his ancestors are said to have been noble people, but that nobility has been lost and modern Melnibonéans are greedy, selfish, and decadent, lording it over the humans they rule.
At the beginning of Sailor on the Seas of Fate, Elric has just escaped prison and is being pursued by his captors. Just as all looks lost, a strange ship appears and rescues him. This is a spooky ship — shrouded in mist and mystery — and aboard its ancient timbers are three of the Eternal Champions who travel between the universes and appear at different times and places to fight the forces of Chaos: Hawkmoon, Corum, and Erekosë. They have fought side-by-side many times before, but since time flows differently in the different worlds, their memories are not all the same. Elric doesn’t even realize he’s one of them, but the captain of the ship has brought them together and leads them into battle against an enemy that threatens to take over the Multiverse.
After that episode, Elric meets an adventurer and treasure-hunter who wants to sail to the fabled island of R’lin K’ren A’a, the original homeland of the Melnibonéans. Elric accompanies him, hoping to discover more about his race and the events that occurred to change his peoples’ proclivities and drive them a bit mad.
The Elric stories are fun for readers looking for short, fast-paced, episodic sword & sorcery adventures with fantastic scenery, but they go deeper than that. Elric is not only brave, he’s complex and introspective. He likes to think of himself as a humanist, yet he also has the cold and selfish tendencies evident in other Melnibonéans. For example, he carries a sentient sword named Stormbringer who gives him the strength to overcome his frailties, but demands souls in return. Elric’s remorse about this is not quite convincing. Does he truly care about people? Or is he more concerned with feeling good about himself by satisfying his own self-concept of nobility?
I listened to Audio Realms’ production of Sailor on the Seas of Fate which is beautifully narrated by Jeff West and introduced by Michael Moorcock’s dreamy and languorous voice. The music and sound effects in this Audio Realms production were less bothersome to me this time. I’m not sure if they were toned down, or if I was just prepared to accept them.