Moorcock: Three Reviews
THE WHITE WOLF'S SON
Michael Moorcock. Warner, $24.95
352p. ISBN: 0-446-57702-02 (June 13, 2005)
Although acquainted with the Eternal Champion, my initial introduction to Moorcock was through books like AN ALIEN HEAT, THE HOLLOW LANDS, and THE END OF ALL SONGS, as well as GLORIANA and, later on, MOTHER LONDON. Eventually I caught up somewhat with Elric and Jerry Cornelius then flirted a bit with Pyat. I approached THE WHITE WOLF'S SON with some trepidation fearing I would be lost. Instead, I found answers to question I did not know I had. Readers previously unfamiliar (or somewhat baffled) with the "multiverse" created by Moorcock get a metaphysical short course; those already knowledgeable are exceedingly well served.
The complex plot begins when a menacing stranger appears near twelve-year-old Oonagh von Bek's family manse in Yorkshire. She quickly finds herself providing hospitality for a band of oddly familiar and strangely heroic men. Before much more can happen, the earth tilts under Oonagh's feet and she finds herself in the World Below. A handsome foxy gentleman, Lord Reynard, befriends her, but with the villainous Gaynor the Damned and Klosterheim after her, she soon needs more protection. The bad guys want to destroy the universe in order to "remake it in their own image" and think Oonagh is part of the key to their success. Elric of Melniboné plays a major role as does Oona, the Dreamthief's daughter (and Oonagh's grandmother). Many Temporal Knights and avatars of the Eternal Champion appear as the adventure spans the multiverse and several versions of Mirenburg to reach its climax in the Dark Empire of Granbretan. Although told from the viewpoint of young Oonagh, it is filtered through her later adult perspective.
Moorcock breaks "novel-writing rules" with glee in THE WHITE WOLF'S SON and it only enhances the story rather than detracting from it. Multiversal character Una Persson, for instance, stops the action entirely when she drops in to deliver a great deal about Elric's Dream of a Thousand Years to a character who much resembles the author. The breakneck adventure is also interspersed with considerable philosophizing, but the pace never lags. There are far too many characters, but the reader never loses focus. Moorcock makes it all work and astounds with a grand finale the serves as both beginning and conclusion to an epic fantasy saga that will really never end.
WIZARDRY & WILD ROMANCE
Michael Moorcock. Monkeybrain, $18.95
206p. ISBN: 1-932265-07-4 (November 2004)
Anyone seriously interested in fantasy of any sort should, of course, read this updated collection of Moorcockian criticism. Writers, scholars, and reviewers cannot be considered even minimally informed unless they've digested it. If there is such a thing as an Ur-document of non-Tolkienesque fantasy it is his essay "Epic Pooh," but that's not all this compilation presents. "Origins" offers a succinct but sweeping look at the foundations of fantasy. "The Exotic Landscape" brilliantly enunciates the importance of the connection between character, setting, and imagery in fantasy. Evolution of fantastic "Heroes and Heroines" is included as well as an appreciation of the comedic in "Wit and Humor." Fantasy is essentially a Second Romantic revival, we are told in "Excursions and Developments", and its commercialization and influence are summarized. (Moorcock does not muse on the consequences of the current trend in commercial publication that strips publishers of their power and cedes it to marketers. But who does?)
The addition of a number of recent reviews further updates and extends his views. Moorcock's opinions demand thought and often provoke reaction, but even at his most devastating, they are supported not only with intelligence and knowledge, but blessed with wit and conveyed with style. Those who disagree with him seldom equal his erudition and ease of understanding. Decked in a wonderful John Picacio cover, enthusiastically introduced by China Mie&eacville, and primly (if no less positively) afterworded by Jeff VanderMeer, this Monkeybrain Books edition should be in every library in the English-speaking world (and many outside it) as well as in your own personal collection.
NEW WORLDS: AN ANTHOLOGY
Edited by Michael Moorcock. Thunder's Mouth, $18.95
386p. ISBN: 1-56858-317-6 (November 2004)
NEW WORLDS: AN ANTHOLOGY was first published in the UK in 1983, but this is the first US edition. Intended not a "best of" but as a "sampling" of typical material, the earliest of the 21 stories, eight articles, and single poem dates from 1964 and the latest from 1977. More than a third of the total dates from 1967 and 1968, pivotal years of chaos and exuberance that rocked the world.
"New Worlds" was a British magazine (then an anthology series) that became identified as the nexus of science fiction's "new wave" during the 1960s and 1970s. The new wave's most revolutionary accomplishment was, perhaps ironically, to reintegrate science fiction with literature as a whole. What the "New Worlds" writers accomplished, as editor Michael Moorcock puts it in this edition's new introduction, was a unification of the once-separate worlds of the generic and general. "[T]hose worlds," he writes, "are no longer incompatible and are, indeed, now, generally, indistinguishable."
In fact, read today and taken as a whole, much of this fiction sometimes seems bland. It's a little too much like modern mainstream fiction in which nothing very interesting takes place. Other stories are of historical interest but no longer carry their original impact. When "Running Down" was first written, for example, M. John Harrison's eloquent prose was probably breathtaking. Now, it stands only as the original pattern for the more brilliant work that came after. "The Eye of the Lens by Langdon Jones" was wildly experimental in its day. It seems a bit tedious now. Norman Spinrad's druggy "No Direction Home" was once impressively original, but it has not worn well. Pamela Zoline's "The Heat Death of the Universe," still delivers its message with its juxtaposition of entropy and housewifery, but is now classic rather than au courant.
Ballard's "The Assassination Weapon" is a landmark piece that has retained its impact, but, as part of THE ATROCITY EXHIBIT is now iconic. And how do you now respond to a story like "Angouleme" by Thomas S. Disch? On one hand, the story of well-to-do child-murderer wannabes reads more like fact than fiction now. On the other, if you've read Samuel R Delany's "The American Shore: Meditations on a tale of science fiction by Thomas M. Disch-Angouleme" then you are overly aware of the story.
Any magazine or anthology is, ultimately, judged and remembered by the best and most memorable of its material. We may read scores of stories in the issues of magazine "X," but we will fondly recall what a great rag it was by the singular stories that stand out -- not the overall content or even a fair sample. "New Worlds" published stories like "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" by Samuel Delany, "A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison" by Harlan Ellison, JG Ballard's "Billennium", and Zelazny's "The Keys to December", and much more. This re-issue is historically interesting; perhaps a "best of New Worlds" is also called for.
The eight nonfiction pieces included were, for me, of particular interest. Daphne Castell in 1964 on "The Realms of Tolkien" based around an interview with the writer before he became an adjective; an incisive John Clute on James Blish; JG Ballard on MEIN KAMPF; John Sladek railing against von Daninken's CHARIOTS OF THE GODS in 1969. M. John Harrison rants about the (then recent) regrettable triumph of fantasy over reality, a topic he now rants about with more clarity. James Colvin provides a lesson for all of us pubic opinionizers in "A Literature of Acceptance," a gem of well-written opinion that, in retrospect, proves rather mis-guided in spots. ("Zelazny's LORD OF LIGHT is self-indulgent, infantile, self-conscious derivative, escapist fantasy...is pretty near unreadable...altogether a very embarrassing book indeed.") Christopher Finch writes on Eduardo Paolozzi's art 20 years before he became Sir Eduardo and David Harvey addresses "The Languages of Science." It leaves one to wonder where equivalent material is being consistently published today.