The Shores of Death

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A novel also known as The Twilight Man, a substantially different version was first serialised in New Worlds, issues 144 to 145.

Publishing History (UK)

  • Mass Market Paperback, Compact, 1966 - as The Twilight Man
  • Mass Market Paperback, Sphere, 160pp., ISBN: 0-7221-6214-6, Jun 1970
  • Mass Market Paperback, Mayflower, 160pp., ISBN: 0-583-12339-2, 5 Sep 1974, Cover by Bob Haberfield
  • Mass Market Paperback, Roc, 192pp., ISBN: 0-14-017352-8, 1 Jul 1993, Cover by Mark Reeve

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Omnibus Publication

Publishing History (US)

  • Mass Market Paperback, Berkley, ISBN: 0-425-01820-2, 1970 - as The Twilight Man
  • Mass Market Paperback, Dale, ISBN: 0-89559-070-0, 1978, Cover by Greg Theakston
  • Paperback, Wilder Publications, 142pp., ISBN-13: 9781617203633, 17 April 2012

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Omnibus Publication

Synopsis

* * The following section may contain spoilers * *

Clovis Marca was born of an incestuous relationship, between father and daughter, in a tower facing the setting sun, in the twilight zone of a planet that had its rotation halted and the moon cast to earth by space dwellers, who had raided then left. His mother dying not long after he was born and his father when he was twelve, Clovis set out for the daylight side. After a long and arduous journey he met Narvo Velusi, who took him in and looked after him until he grew to manhood. As an adult he was well respected and liked, and involved himself in the local administration. After being elected to low-level committees, then the upper council, he was finally elected as Council Chairman. It was during his tenure that it was discovered that as a result of rising omega radiation, stemming from the raid from space, everyone was now infertile. The discovery was to have a profound effect on a society that had been considered almost perfect.

Marca left on a year long search for the legendary Orlando Sharvis, calling at Mars and Ganymede, but eventually ending fruitless. Returning to Earth, a party is thrown to celebrate his return and at the party Clovis sees Mr Take, who he had also spotted once or twice on his quest, but he soon disappeared. At the party he is told the Council had been disbanded, and he saw that some people had taken to wearing masks, with the mood of the party (which had been going on for some time, merely being moved to the venue on Marca's return) resembling a wake more than a celebration.

After attending a meeting in the Great Glade where various schemes and arguments were raised, Marca returned to his home near Lake Tanganyika with Fastina Cahmin, the youngest person on Earth. A few days later, when on his way to visit Narvo Velusi, he comes across a group of masked and robed people burning a house. Stopping to ask if he could help, he is told he is welcome to aid them in ridding the Earth of the artefacts of mankind. Declining, he carries on to Velusi's house. There, Marca is told by him that they were The Brotherhood of Guilt and as well as wearing masks they have sworn to celibacy. Velusi also tells Marca that he plans to build a transmitter to send a message that will act as a memorial for the Human race. On a later visit to view progress on the construction, Marca meets Andros Almer, ex-Controller of Public Communications and a former suitor of Fastina, who he had spoken to at the party. Almer tells him that he has formed a group of vigilantes to counter the attempts of The Brotherhood of Guilt to burn houses. Marca sees this as a further breakdown in society. Velusi asks Marca if he will recall the council, and Marca tells him he will consider it and goes home. After avoiding thinking about it and refusing to answer calls for some time, Marca finally contacts Velusi, only to be told by him that the vigilantes and The Brotherhood of Guilt are fighting right outside his house! Marca rushes over to Velusi's house and arrives just as the masked vigilantes are winning the fight and afterwards is told by one of them that they have all stopped using their own names so they do not know who has died.

At another meeting in the Great Glade to discuss reforming the Council, a fight breaks out between the rival factions again, and Velusi and Marca flee back to Fastina in Greece. They decide to avoid as much contact as they can with outside society, but it intrudes on their seclusion in the form of news bulletins from the vigilantes on the laser screen network. One of these features the execution, presided over by Almer, of three Brotherhood members. This prompts them to turn off the screens and move the house to Ceylon in the hope this will further remove them from the notice of the vigilantes. Velusi continues to visit the site of his transmitter and tells them that a sort of colony has built up around the work site, composed of people who wish to have nothing to with the warring parties.

Brand Calax, Warden of Ganymede, visits Marca, Fastina and Velusi to tell them that his spaceship, built to travel to Titan in the hope it would find fertile survivors of Orlando Sharvis' legendary colony, was ready to launch and would leave tomorrow, and they decide to watch the take-off on the laser screen. When they do, however, it is only to see it explode a few seconds after leaving the ground. Clovis and Fastina link this to the vigilantes and their suspicions are raised by an almost instantaneous news bulletin blaming the Brotherhood. Marca travels to see Almer and confront him over the act but comes away only with his suspicions that Almer had gone mad seemingly confirmed.

On his way back to Ceylon he is intercepted by vigilantes in aircars and told he is to be arrested for complicity in the sabotage of Brand Calax's ship, The Orlando Sharvis. Knowing his innocence, he manages to escape capture and throw off their pursuit, and returns to Fastina's house, only to discover that there are vigilante aircars already there. Entering the house he discovers two vigilantes holding Fastina, Almer holding a bloody sword, while Narvo Velusi lies dead on the floor. Marca attacks Almer in desperation and grief but soon realises that he could be killed by Almer at any time. Just as Almer is about to strike the fatal blow, Take appears, killing one of the henchman and disarming Almer. He then takes Marca and Fastina to the tower Marca grew up in, telling him not to attempt to leave and to forget about finding Orlando Sharvis for his own good. Take then leaves, using the only aircar.

Mr Take returns occasionally bringing provisions and repeating his warnings and this is the only contact the lovers have with the outside world until one day a vigilante finds them. He tells them they are, now called the Control, have driven underground or killed the Brotherhood of Guilt and that Almer, or Chief Control, as he now styles himself, wants his help with the factions which had broken out within the victorious party. Marca refuses to help and kills the scout in a trap originally set for Mr Take. Hiding the aircar the vigilante had arrived in, he then awaits Take's next visit. When he next visits with more supplies and leaves again. Marca follows at a distance in the Control aircar. His pursuit takes him to the night side and to the Moon, now half buried in the Pacific Basin. Upon following Take into a tunnel, he discovers that it has been hollowed out and that there is a settlement around Orlando Sharvis' laboratories, filled with people who have had there wishes fulfilled by the legendary scientist. Clovis encounters some of the inhabitants, one of them, with wires trailing from his exposed brain, telling Marca that he was probably the most intelligent man on the planet, but the power pack necessary to make it possible needed recharging every twenty minutes. Another of them, Philas Damiago, once the last murderer, warns him not to visit Sharvis, telling him 'Sharvis giveth and Sharvis taketh away'. He then sees Alodios, an artist who had gone missing at about the same time he had left on his year long quest, sitting on a chair close to the edge of a cliff. Questioning Alodios but getting no reply he realises, upon seeing his eyes, that he is immortal but insensate, like an animal. Mr Take who has become aware of Marca's pursuit and approched un-noticed, attempts to kill him by throwing him off the cliff. Marca saves himself using his grav-strap and floats up to where Take stands, only for him to kill Marca by smashing his head in with a rock!

Clovis Marca awakes in Orlando Sharvis's laboratory and is told by the ten feet tall, reptilian-headed scientist that he will have no after effects from his resurrection other than a temporary numbness and he is free to wander where he wishes. He also ells him that Mr Take has been trying unsuccessfully to enter the labs without Sharvis noticing and that Almer had traced the Control aircar to the Moon. He was even now trying to gain entry along with his men and Fastina but Sharvis had closed and disguised the tunnels. After much time spent wandering the laboratories and with only fleeting meetings with the scientist, Sharvis seeks him out and tells him that Take had decided to enter via the main entrance and that he had allowed Almer to enter with Fastina by opening a tunnel then closing it after they had entered it.

The moment of decision had come for them all. Marca asks for immortality for himself and Fastina so that the human race will not die and Sharvis answers that he could but he was lacking certain elements only available in Mr Take's body, the removal of which would be fatal. Take initially refuses to die, calling Marca a fool for not realising what he was asking for and refusing to allow him to ruin his life. Marca insists that Mr Take has told him he wanted to die so his miserable existence could end, and Take relents, telling Sharvis to take the elements. Almer asks if he can turn the Earth and Sharvis tells him that he has a machine which may very well do such a thing.

Marca awakes from the operation to make him immortal in a strangely numb body and is unable to feel any emotion at Fastina's joy at being restored to fertility. He realises that this was what Take had tried to warn him about and berates Sharvis who merely shrugs and says he did mention there might be side-effects. Shrvis assures Marca that his body will respond to certain stimuli and that he and Fastina will be able to continue the human racce. Marca just feels numb.

For the purpose of fulfilling Almer's request that he turns the Earth Sharvis takes Marca, Fastina and Almer deep down into the moon and on below the sea bed to a cavern with a large machine in the centre. Sharvis activates it then takes them to watch the effects. The group watch the shadowline creep across the planet, from pictures transmitted by a satellite Sharvis had tapped into. After completing a half turn, the Earth shudders to a halt and they rush down to the cavern only to discover the machine has destroyed itself and the stress of the movement has damaged the join in the tunnel between the moon and the seafloor. They beat a hasty retreat and Sharvis seals it off. Almer seems broken but quickly recovers and departs, promising to leave Marca and Fastina alone. After further assurances from Sharvis that their children will adapt to the levels of omega radiation, as the animals had done, because their lives would not be exended by the treatments given to all in the old society. Marca and Fastina return to their tower which now faces the sunrise, where Marca will have all eternity to watch his wife and children grow old and die, and to ponder whether Orlando Sharvis truly acted unselfishly or harboured some deep resentment against the rest of the Human race.

Analysis

There's little doubt that Moorcock's decision to almost completely revise The Shores of Death from its original appearance in New Worlds results in a much more satisfying narrative. Gone is the space travel and bird-like aliens of the serialisation and in its place we have a clearer allegory of how totalitarian states can come into existence through the acquiescence of society. Whether intentional or not, Andros Almer and his vigilantes have certain resonances with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in 1930s Germany, from their initial creation as a response to an existing perceived problem through to eliminating those with whom they simply disagree. (The Hitler connection being made slightly more explicit in the original version of the story.) Moorcock sets up the world of Clovis Marca as an anarchic-democratic utopia, where decisions are arrived at though simple popular consensus, but he shows how that consensus can also have disastrous results when people make the 'wrong' choice.

In his Introduction to the novel, Moorcock says that it is about fear and fear is explicitly cited as the driving force for all the main protagonists. Marca, Almer, Velusi and Calax are all driven by fear of extinction but all towards different ends. Marca's fear is solely predicated around his own (im)mortality, Brand Calax clings to the forlorn hope that mythical colonists may hold the key to Earth's continual existence, while Almer is seemingly obsessed with the idea that if the Earth is going to hell in a handcart then at least his will be the hand on the tiller. It's an almost Miltonian concept that it's better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, which reaches it apogee when Almer's world is plunged into eternal darkness once Sharvis turns the Earth. Only Velusi's giant transmitter endlessly broadcasting 'We are here' long after the human race has died carries both the calm acceptance that all things must eventually come to an end and the indomitable human trait of not going 'gently into that good night'.

In some ways, The Shores of Death is the epitome of Moorcock's assertion that his Eternal Champion stories don't have 'happy endings' although they may contain 'happy moments'. The story came about out of a bout of depression that Moorcock suffered at the time, which is perhaps why the ending is as downbeat as it is without being truly 'unhappy', although it is certainly tragic: Marca finally gets what he wants - immortality for himself and the survival of the human race as a species, but ironically is unable to enjoy either because Orlando Sharvis' operation has removed any sense of feeling that he used to have. As the final line has it: "He wanted nothing, regretted nothing; feared nothing." Marca is immortal but he is no longer human.

Connections

Working on the assumption that many of Moorcock's 'heroes' are variations on the same character - the Eternal Champion - it is interesting to note the parallels the reader may find in The Shores of Death with the Hawkmoon novels of a year or so later. In The Shores of Death, we are presented with a triangular relationship between Clovis, Fastina and Almer which is mirrored in the relationship between Dorian Hawkmoon, Yisselda and Baron Meliadus. Clovis is adopted by Narvo Velusi in much the same way that Hawkmoon is 'adopted' by Count Brass - although Velusi and Brass are very different characters and of course, Fastina Cahmin is not Velusi's daughter (as Yisselda is Count Brass'). Almer desires to unite what is left of the human race under his control just as Meliadus is instrumental in conquering Europe initially for Granbretan then later for himself. Take also shares certain similarities with the Warrior in Jet and Gold, he possesses knowledge that Marca lacks and rescues Marca and Fastina from the clutches of Andros Almer in much the same way as the Warrior removes Castle Brass from Aigues Mortes when it is besieged by Meliadus, although again the parallels are not exact since the Warrior doesn't try to kill Hawkmoon at any stage.

The underground domain that Marca discovers inside the Earth-bound moon recalls the underground domain that Elric and Moonglum encounter in the novella 'While the Gods Laugh'.

Revisions

The novel version of The Shores of Death is very greatly revised from the original New Worlds publication, although the first four and a half chapters are fairly unchanged from the serial version, as are the sequences where Marca finally locates Sharvis, although in the original Olono Sharvis is living on the planet Klobax. Of course, the ending is also different in that after being made immortal Marca and Fastina return from Klobax to the Great Glade where Marca kills Almer but his efforts to engage with the crowd and restore the former order fail because he has lost his passion. Finally, unable to love her, Marca abandons Fastina and walks out into the desert, consumed with the only feeling he has left - regret. The original readership complained at the time in New Worlds that the story seemed unfinished, as well as disputing the scientific basis for the story, a complaint that Moorcock concurred with in his Introduction to the novel:

"Others hinted - or stated blindly - that the science wasn't all it could be, particularly the idea of clashing galaxies 'exceeding the speed of light and converting to energy'. They were right. I wasn't convinced by the science either."

So among the revisions Moorcock made were to change the nature of the Earth's doom from the "clashing galaxies" to simple human sterility and make the entire story earth-bound, thus removing the alien visitors/space travel elements that occupied the middle and end sections of the serial version. There were some minor name changes too; as well as Olono/Orlando Sharvis, Brand Calax was previously Barre Calax (and survived to the end of the serial). The whole Daylight/Twilight/Nightside elements of the novel - as well as the incestuous birthing of Marca - were absent and the story itself takes place some time in the 30th century, where as the setting for the novel is less specific. Finally, Fastina Cahmin - as well as Take - has pursued Clovis Marca around the galaxy before encountering him in the Great Glade on Earth.

For the 1996 omnibus The Roads Between the Worlds from White Wolf, Moorcock changed Clovis Marca's name to Clovis Becker, thus identifying this incarnation of the Eternal Champion with the von Bek clan of other novels, such as The War Hound and the World's Pain.

Mike Says

On why he sometimes renames his characters - "Since the characters are being used often to link one theme with another I've been trying to introduce a bit more coherence into the overall sequence, which means sometimes taking a prototype character and turning them into a more developed version." (Q&A Archive Article #27)

On how he came to write The Shores of Death - "Don't remember Shores of Death that clearly. Sorry if it's depressing. I do know I was involved in raising two young children at the time. And I was thinking a lot about Mervyn Peake, who was getting worse. A version of him is in that book, as I recall. Or rather a version of who I was thinking about." [Moorcock is probably referring to the artist Alodios] (Q&A Archive Article #2402)

Mentioned in

Notes

  1. "We could all hear them now, very distantly. My Uncle Michael, who was of a melodramtic disposition, said it was the winds of limbo howling across the shores of death." (Chapter 18)

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