Blood: A Southern Fantasy was written in the early 1990s when Moorcock had been living for a short while in central Texas, and had recently traveled around the southern US. It is the first volume of the Second Ether trilogy. Despite a tone of straightforward exposition, it involves so much implicit worldbuilding (and multiversebuilding) that it can be confounding. A successful reader will likely have to just roll with it on many occasions. Chapter titles are polyglot with Spanglish, Creole, and German accounting for many of them.
The initial setting is a North America in which racial privileges and biases are largely reversed from our own. As a result of greedy accident, there has been a corrosive failure of reality, and chance has come to dominate over law in the operation of nature. The protagonists of the tale are gambler adepts. Chief of these for the story’s part is Jack Karaquasian, who is the Eternal Champion, or at least the Elric and Jerry Cornelius analogue of Blood. Gaming by means some sort of simulative technology never fully detailed, Mr. Karaquasian and his friend Sam Oakenhurst have made careers of this art. The upshot of the thing is a sort of Moorcockian psychedelic cyberpunk.
The Second Ether itself is another world differing in scale and fractally linked with the others in a multiverse roamed by “freescalers” and fought over by the Singularity and the Chaos Engineers. These are recognizable as the “Law and Chaos” teams of Moorcock’s earlier fantasies, but they are also expressed in popular media available in Jack’s world, recounting an interminable melodramatic space opera in short serial episodes by Warwick Colvin. The sort of porous relationship between these planes of existence reminded me somewhat of Grant Morrison’s later comic book The Filth.
Karaquasian and Oakenhurst become connected with love interests who draw them into the Game of Time that transpires in the Second Ether, so that they take on roles in the sprawling conflict of that other world. Despite an overblown cartoonish aesthetic, the Game of Time has a great deal of philosophical meat to it. These later chapters of the book are full of pan-solipsist cosmogony and piquant reflections on fate and freedom, honor and guilt.
WIthin Moorcock’s multiversal hyperwork, the Second Ether seems to have the strongest narrative ties to the von Bek books. Rose von Bek is Sam Oakenhurst’s romantic other. This first volume of a trilogy does come to as much of a conclusion as one might reasonably expect. I enjoyed it and I will proceed with the next volume Fabulous Harbors, which I have in hand.