This was amazingly subversive at the time that it was written. And I suppose that a person who was raised Christian or Jewish might find it mind-blowingly subversive even now. That’s worth commending, and it’s probably why this book is one of the SF Masterworks.
But that’s not why it’s a great book.
So don’t read the rest of this review if you really don’t want spoilers! But it’s not hard to figure out.
Karl is an uncertain, awkward sort of outcast whose relationship with faith has been problematic. He wants to believe but he has been failed by love and by faith so many times, and in some horrible ways that Moorcock brilliantly presents in a matter-of-fact manner, and doesn’t dwell upon.
Happening to acquire access to a time machine, Karl, who has become a psychologist in an effort to understand the human psyche, goes to confront the myth of Jesus once and for all. And he finds that like most myths, the historical reality is nothing like the stories.
So now he confronts the ultimate choice: does he make the myth a reality?
He decides to do so, knowing, as we all know, that this chosen path results in his painful, horrible death. And he does it anyway.
And this is what makes this a great book: it is largely because of his faults, because of his human frailties, that he chooses this path. But out of this grows an act that is astounding in its compassion and its heroism. Our weaknesses become our greatest strengths.
Between this and the story that was part of the Flashing Swords! #4: Barbarians and Black Magicians collection, Moorcock has won a new fan. I’m seeking out his work. Highly recommended.