The Warlord of the Air

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The first novel in the Oswald Bastable trilogy, A Nomad of the Time Streams.

The novel was 'censored' by the original UK publisher (New English Library) due to the inclusion of real-life personages, such as Ronald Reagan and Mick Jagger, in the alternative world of 1973 that Bastable finds himself in. Moorcock approved the changes since the book had already appeared with the original text in the United States (published by Ace Books in 1971, reprinted 1973). However, all subsequent UK editions from Grafton/Granada and later US editions from DAW Books and SFBC used the censored UK text rather than the Ace Books text. The original text was restored for the the UK and US omnibus editions of A Nomad of the Time Streams in 1993 and 1995 respectively.

A list of character name changes is given below.

The original, and correct, title of the novel is The Warlord of the Air; however, various UK editions from 1974 to 1989 incorrectly used the title The War Lord of the Air (see covers below). This confusion may have arisen because the title logo in the original New English Library editions appears to split the word 'Warlord' in two with no hyphenation.

Publishing History (UK)

As The War Lord of the Air throughout:

  • Hardcover, New English Library, 160pp., ISBN: 0-450-00952-1, Sept 1971
  • Mass Market Paperback, NEL, 160pp., ISBN: 0-450-01264-6, 5 Oct 1972
  • Mass Market Paperback, Quartet, 160pp., ISBN: 0-7043-1085-6, 21 Jan 1974, Cover by Patrick Woodroffe
  • Mass Market Paperback, Orbit (Quartet), 160pp., ISBN: 0-7043-1085-6, 1976, Cover by Patrick Woodroffe
  • Mass Market Paperback, Granada, 160pp., ISBN: 0-583-13434-3, 25 Jun 1981, Cover by Melvyn - several printings
  • Mass Market Paperback, Grafton, 160pp., ISBN: 0-586-20888-7, 26 Oct 1989, Cover by Paul Damon

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Omnibus Publication

Publishing History (US)

  • Mass Market Paperback, Ace, ISBN: 0-441-87060-0, 1971, Cover by Davis Meltzer
  • Mass Market Paperback, Ace, 186pp., ISBN: 0-441-87600-5, 1973, Cover by Davis Meltzer
  • Mass Market Paperback, DAW, ISBN: 0-87997-775-2, 1978, Cover by Gino D'Achille
  • Paperback, Titan Books, 215pp., ISBN: 978-1781161456, 2013, Cover design by

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Omnibus Publication


* * The following section may contain spoilers * *

The novel is transcribed by 'Michael C. Moorcock' (purportedly the (true) author's grandfather) in 1903. Holidaying at the remote Rowe Island, he befriends Oswald Bastable, an ex-soldier stowaway who seems confused and disoriented beyond what could be explained by his opium addiction, and who is tormented by great guilt from an action he performed in his past. Bastable agrees to tell Moorcock the story, and begins his narrative with his experiences in North East India in 1902, sent as part of a British expedition to deal with Sharan Kang, an Indian high priest at the temple of Teku Benga, a mysterious and seemingly supernaturally powerful region. After a confrontation with Kang and his men, Bastable finds himself lost and alone in the caves around the 'Temple of the Future Buddha', where he is assaulted by a mysterious force and knocked into unconsciousness.

When he awakes, and escapes the caves, the Temple is in ruins, as if a great amount of time has passed. He is soon found and picked up by a massive airship, where he learns that it is in fact the year 1973, but not the one likely to occur in his own future. In this alternate future, the First World War never happened, and the colonial powers continue to assert dominance over their empires--for example, India remains a British territory, though Winston Churchill had been viceroy in this alternate future as well as in Bastable's own.

At first, Bastable marvels at the wonders that await him in his 'future' — London is a clean and peaceful city, and the world seems to be a utopia, held in balance by the great empires. Gaining employment amongst the great airship armadas, however, he soon comes into contact with a troop of anarchists — among them a mysterious woman named Una Persson, and an ancient Russian revolutionary named Ulianov. He initially maintains a patriotic resistance to their activities, but gradually discovers the truth: life is peaceful for the dominant empires but the seeming utopia of the empires' home countries is based on decades of unimpeded and unopposed colonial oppression, brutality and domination of their territories. As the First World War never happened to bankrupt the colonial empires and begin the gradual liberalisation and freedom of the colonies, imperialism remains unchecked and the world is greatly unfair and unjust. Great Britain, France, the Tsarist Russian Empire, the German Empire, Japan, the Italian Empire and the United States ruthlessly dominate this world and suppress anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist dissent.

Bastable, a fair and honorable man, is outraged by the cruelty, injustice and horror revealed to him, and begins to fight for the oppressed peoples of the world (opposing, amongst others, his former friend in the airship service, Major Enoch Powell). However, tragically, his mission to generate war and hostility between the empires in order to create the equivalent (in this universe) to World War I is all too successful, resulting in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at the hands of the anarchists.

The atomic blast knocks him loose from the alternate 1973, sending him to a new 1903. Wracked with guilt over his part in the destruction of countless millions of innocent lives, and dreading the 'future' of science and imperialism gone mad, Bastable makes his way to the caves of Teku Benga and returns to 1903, but alas, not his own original time. His experiences have altered him too much to settle into life in this new alternate universe; both his experiences and this sense of dislocation have driven him to opium. The novel ends with Bastable disappearing mysteriously, much to the 1903 Moorcock's amazement; and a postscript from the modern author Moorcock, establishing his grandfather's death on the Western Front in 1916.

Mike Says

  • "Warlord of the Air was 'censored' in the UK but not in the US! The legal department at [New English Library] didn't want the stuff about Reagan, Jagger and so on in, so asked for it to be changed. Knowing the US edition was there and that I could soon bring out the regular edition in the UK I didn't worry too much." [2]

Comparison of Characters Between Editions

The Warlord of the Air (Ace edition) The Warlord of the Air (UK/DAW editions) The Warlord of the Air (A Nomad of the Time Streams omnibus edition)
Lieutenant Allsop Lieutenant Allsop Lieutenant Begg
Major Powell Major Howell Major Powell
Michael Jagger Michael Jagger Michael Jagger
Captain Harding Captain Harding Captain Quelch
Reagan Egan Reagan
Johnson Johnson Steeton
Major General Fry Major General Fry Major General Nye
Count Rudolph von Dutschke Count Rudolfo Guevara Count Rudolf von Bek


With Una Persson this novel is connected to the Cornelius series, particularly The English Assassin, which shares some of the same background.



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