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Literature / The Pyat Quartet

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Meet Maxim Arturovitch Pyatnitski, also known as Pyat. Tsarist rebel, Nazi thug, continental conman and reactionary counterspy: the dark and dangerous antihero of Michael Moorcock's most controversial work. Published in 1981 to great critical acclaim—then condemned to the shadows and unavailable in the United States for 30 years — Byzantium Endures, the first of the Pyat quartet, is not a book for the faint-hearted. It is the story of a cocaine addict, sexual adventurer, and obsessive anti-Semite whose epic journey from Leningrad to London connects him with scoundrels and heroes from Trotsky to Makhno and whose career echoes that of the 20th century's descent into fascism and total war. This is Moorcock at his audacious, iconoclastic best: a grand sweeping overview of the events of the last century, as revealed in the secret journals of modern literature's most proudly unredeemable outlaw. This authoritative edition presents the author's final cut, restoring previously forbidden passages and deleted scenes.


The series consists of four parts:

  • Byzantium Endures
  • The Laughter of Carthage
  • Jerusalem Commands
  • The Vengeance of Rome

This series contains examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: Of turn-of-the-century pulpy adventure stories, deconstructing the bigotry and Cultural Posturing sauturating them, and showing how conceited and out of touch with reality someone would have to be to believe he really was a Science Hero Master of All. At the same time, it's also a rollicking tale of adventure and danger in exotic locations, even if the "hero" gets out of sticky situations less by manly prowess and brilliant thinking and more by sheer dumb luck.
  • A God Am I: Al-Habashiya makes his slaves refer to him as "God" and wields absolute and sadistic power over them.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Pyat is prone to wild delusions, has an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and keeps having some kind of weird attacks where he comes close to passing out for no apparent reason. How much of that is inborn and how much is caused by some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder from living through a civil war at a young age is unclear.
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  • Author Filibuster: Pyat frequently breaks off from the story to spend multiple pages ranting incoherently about various topics (personal, political, historical, scientific, artistic... or any confused mix of all the above), only to then pick up the scene right where he left off.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Generally averted; for all his delusions of grandeur, Pyat rarely makes an impact on the world. However, there are exceptions. For one thing, while he won't give any details he's strongly implied to have been responsible for the mysterious death of Thomas Ince.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: When Pyat describes traveling alone through the desert in Jerusalem Commands, he starts talking about his female camel, Uncle Tom, in oddly glowing and romantic terms. Nothing is ever made explicit, but given who we're dealing with here...
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  • Bilingual Bonus: The text is peppered with expressions in different languages which are not translated. Pyat also tends to start switching from language to language when he goes into an especially incoherent rant.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Pyat hates Jews and blames them for everything that's wrong with the world. He's also strongly implied to be Jewish himself. The way he constantly feels the need to assure the reader of his non-Jewishness does nothing to lessen those implications.
  • Bungling Inventor: Pyat has a lot of weird inventions. They rarely work as intended.
  • Condescending Compassion: Pyat's attitude to women and any ethnicity other than his own. He can be very fond of them, but only as long as they seem to know their place.
  • Consummate Liar: Pyat is extremely good at saying what people want to hear and presenting himself as someone they should want to help and support. It helps that he's just as good at lying to himself, so half the time he fully believes that he's telling the truth, or at least the important parts of it.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Al-Habashiya, the Egyptian mob boss to whom Pyat is enslaved for a time. His habit of wearing dresses and pretending to be a woman is really the least creepy thing about him.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The premise is that Pyat enlisted Michael Moorcock to edit his memoirs for him.
  • Fair Weather Friend: No matter how much Pyat claims to love and cherish someone, it is never wise for them to assume he won't immediately sell them out the moment remaining loyal becomes inconvenient.
  • Foregone Conclusion: No matter what vainglorious scheme Pyat is up to at the moment, we know it's eventually going to come crashing down around his ears and that he'll eventually live out his old age in poverty and obscurity.
  • Hero of Another Story: Mrs. Cornelius, who weaves in and out of the story in the course of her own eventful life. Pyat initially meant for the story to about her life, with himself only as the observer.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Pyat consistently sees the people trying to stab him in the back as the finest people imaginable, and the people with his best interests at heart as treacherous backstabbers.
  • Hurricane of Excuses: Pyat tends to launch into one whenever he feels like events might make him seem somewhat less than sympathetic. It wasn't his fault! It was the custom of the time! You're just not worldly enough to understand different practices! People are always slandering him! He never said he was perfect! When even that isn't enough, he tends to proceed into completele incoherent rants before picking up the story again like nothing happened.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Pyat rants at length about the moral decay of society as evidenced by rampant sex and drug use, while snorting coke like it's going out of fashion and trying to screw everything in a skirt. But of course, when he does it it's a gentlemanly indulgence in refined pleasures!
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Pyat will sleep with just about any woman, but with a man only if he thinks that man is truly exceptional.
  • The Klan: Pyat gets involved with the Klu Klux Klan in the second book, and gushes over how they were true champions of civilisation... until they turned on him, at least.
  • Master of None: Pyat considers himself an omnidisciplinary genius, but it seems more like he knows just enough of a lot of different fields to fake actual competence in them.
  • Odd Friendship: Pyat and Mrs. Cornelius. She's a hard-nosed, down-to-earth cynic and he's a neurotic dreamer with delusions of grandeur. However, he has only good things to say about her, and she seems to regard him with some fondness even while recognising all his faults.
  • Omni Glot: Pyat speaks a lot of different languages, though he's described as "speaking every language a bit inexpertedly, including his own." The manuscript is said to have originally been written in a wild variety of different languages, randomly switching from one to another for no apparent reason.
  • Order Versus Chaos: As in many of Moorcock's books this is a strong theme, but with a twist - Pyat thinks he's a champion of Order, but it's obvious to the reader that he's a creature of Chaos through and through.
  • The Paranoiac: Pyat blames everything that goes wrong in the world and in his own life as the work of the sinister Jewish-Muslim-Communist conspiracy against the West.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Hooo boy yes. Pyat sees everything in terms of how it affects him, constantly wailing eloquently about how ill-used and unlucky he's been while dismissing the even worse fates of other people with mild regret at most. And usually plenty of Victim Blaming heaped on top of it, along with a great deal of Self-Serving Memory in regards to the part he himself played in their downfall.
  • Science Marches On: In-Universe. Pyat refuses to believe that anything he learned in his youth is false. In particular, cocaine is a marvelous cure for all that ails you, and the only reason people are now taught otherwise is because the powers that be prefer it that people remain stupid and sickly.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Pyat is really good at ignoring things that contradict his preferred narrative, though sometimes you can see the cracks. For example, at one point he actively admits that "Esmé" is just a teenage prostitute that he picked up and projected all his yearnings for his innocent youth onto, but that it's absolutely necessary to his mental well-being that he doesn't let himself get reminded of that fact.
  • Sinister Schnoz: Pyat has a prominent nose. He laments that this makes people think he's a Jew, even though he definitely isn't one.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Pyat is painfully aware of how small his name is, but he blames that on how he's been betrayed and exploited by evil people and robbed of his just fame and fortune. Interestingly, he seems to project his delusions of grandeur on people he likes, too - Moorcock mentions that Pyat seems to think that Mrs. Cornelius is world-famous, when in fact she's a charismatic local figure but nothing more.
  • Stealth Insult: People frequently says things to Pyat that he chooses to interpret as glowing praise but that sound to a perceptive reader more like thinly veiled insults.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: When Pyat spends entire pages furiously asserting his innocence about something, it's probably safe to assume that he's actually guilty.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Pyat was involved with the German Nazy Party in the thirties and still thinks that they had the right ideas, and it's just a shame that that unfortunate "Holocaust" thing got blown out of all proportion.
  • Unreliable Narrator: It's pretty clear that a lot of things did not happen the way that Pyat describes them. For one thing, he keeps contradicting himself. It's often unclear whether he's consciously lying or is suffering from Self-Serving Memory, though.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: A lot of the humour relies on the reader knowing all about the historical events and people Pyat encounters, since that's necessary for understanding how he's Entertainingly Wrong about them.
  • Villain Protagonist: Pyat is a thoroughly foul human being, but he's still the main character.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Pyat seems to think that he's starring in the sort of pulpy Victorian science fiction story he grew up reading, about a hyper-competetent gentleman scientist who embodies the romanticised values of Western civilisation and constantly has to battle ill-bred criminals and foreign savages. He's in fact living out a fairly cynical and gritty historical novel set in a Crapsack World where everyone, regardless of ethnicity or class, is either a huckster, a fanatic or a moron.


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