This is the first volume of four novels that makes up one of Moorcock's greatest achievements, a memoir covering the years between the First and Second World Wars. The novel opens in Russia in the years before the Russian Revolution, with the narrator finding his way into a technical college due to his dubious family connections. It isn't long before the closing of the First World War and the beginning of the Russian Revolution throws the entire country into chaos.
Pyat is lost in the centre of it all, thrown from situation to situation, sustained by his ability to talk himself out of trouble and a gradual supply of cocaine. It is Pyat's personality that shines through in the narration all the time, his prejudices and obsessions are continually laid bare, exposing the troubled soul beneath. The greatest difficulty comes from filtering the truth from his lies, for Pyat is not the most reliable of narrators. To believe all his claims you must accept his invention of the aeroplane, the death ray, and countless other technical innovations. His embellishments colour the narrative as much as his personality, his flaws are clearly displayed yet he is equally oblivious to them. Constantly his problems are tinged with irony, his frequent moments of salvation doubly so.
There is no better "child of the twentieth century" as this Pyat, who was born with it. These books are an attempt at exposing the currents in society at the time that lead to the holocaust, without actually touching directly on the holocaust it shows the gradual debasement of human dignity that allowed the later horrors to occur. A horrific picture of the decent of Russia into war and anarchy as the revolution took hold. One of the great literary experiments of the last century, and one which should finally be concluded in this.