In Michael Moorcock's Byzantium Endures, we learn about the early career of one "Maxim Arturovitch Pyatnitski" (or, as he comes to be called, Colonel Pyat), whose boyhood is spent in the last days of Tsarist Russia. The book is related in the first person, in Pyat's own style of delusional braggadocio, punctuated by the occasional anti-Semitic rant.

Pyat relates that as a boy, his Uncle Semyon gets him a place at the Petrograd Polytechnic, under an assumed name.

His final exam comes in late 1916. Before all the assembled staff and students, he begins his speech on the "ontological approach to the problems of science and technology"...

Indeed, I felt somewhat godlike. This was partly due, I suspect, to the effects of the cocaine.

This dissertation is interrupted early on, and one of the examiners tells the young man "We will make a Special Diploma for you".

Over the next few months, Pyat waits for his diploma to no avail. He inquires a few times and is told things like "oh yes, it is being prepared". Then the Tsar abdicates and Pyat has to flee back to Kiev. On to the next checker in his career.

Michael Moorcock makes us read between the lines a lot, but I'm still confused about the meaning of this sequence, especially in regard to the Special Diploma. I see two possibilities:

  • The examiners were actually impressed by Pyat's ideas and actually wanted to give him a diploma.

  • The examiners were so appalled by Pyat's cocaine-fueled rantings that they said anything to get him out of the lecture hall. Perhaps "Special Diploma" was meant sarcastically, referring to something like commitment papers.

Is there any reason to think it's not the latter?

  • 1
    Is this science fiction or fantasy?
    – Adamant
    Jul 31 '19 at 3:01
  • 1
    @Adamant Absolutely, yes. There are characters from Moorcock's other series, such as Jerry Cornelius's mother and Prince Lobkowitz, and though my mind retches to think about it, Pyat is often slotted into "another incarnation of the Eternal Champion".
    – Spencer
    Jul 31 '19 at 3:07
  • 1
    @Adamant It is listed in ISFDB, after all.
    – Spencer
    Jul 31 '19 at 3:13

I'm pretty sure from context that he's being given the bum's rush out of the theatre. His wild cocaine-induced ravings about mile-high killing machines and war that can be conducted merely by drugging the other side into submission are clearly nonsensical. The professors and the crowd of students at his viva are not impressed by his work (note that they stop him shortly into his preamble), but rather think him a lunatic, bound for the asylum.

Triumph was to be added to triumph. Vorsin personally led me from the stage. Students pressed around me, clapping, whistling, cheering, even laughing with delight. The senior professor raised his palm to silence them. But the noise continued. Behind me, like a conquered tyrant, crept Merkuloff. With his own hands Professor Vor-sin put my cap upon my head. He ordered Merkuloff to "fetch the troika." I asked if there was anything I could amplify for him. "All that can come later," said the generous old man, "when we both have more time and when you are rested."


"The Special Diploma will, of course, be very welcome," I assured him. "But my future interest will chiefly be in government work."

He said he was sure the government would supply my every need.

The irony is, of course, that his "special diploma" is ultimately taken seriously by his peers. By carefully editing the letter sent by Professor Vorsin, he convinces the military leadership in Kiev to make him a Doctor of Science.

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