Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Revisiting Mike Moorcock


Gollancz is on a mission to publish the complete Michael Moorcock oeuvre, with the exception of those books—such as the Pyat quartet—that are still in circulation. This is my great opportunity to once again revisit one of my all-time favourite authors. I'm pre-ordering each volume the moment it appears on Amazon, and have so far received DAUGHTER OF DREAMS, DESTINY'S BROTHER, SON OF THE WOLF, CORUM: THE PRINCE IN THE SCARLET ROBE, CORUM: THE PRINCE WITH THE SILVER HAND, GLORIANA; OR, THE UNFULFILL'D QUEEN, HAWKMOON: THE HISTORY OF THE RUNESTAFF, HAWKMOON: COUNT BRASS, and will next week take delivery of ELRIC OF MELNIBONÉ AND OTHER STORIES.

I have to say, I don't much like the Gollancz covers. They're plain and boring, strike me as being rather cheaply produced, and make me long for all the old Mayflower editions that once lined my shelves. My god, I loved (and still do) those Bob Haberfield cover illustrations. They were unique and justifiably set Moorcock apart.

Anyway, back to the Gollancz editions. I'm reading them as they're delivered, so started with the ELRIC: THE MOONBEAM ROADS trilogy (DAUGHTER OF DREAMS, DESTINY'S BROTHER, and SON OF THE WOLF), none of which I'd read before. I have to take immediate issue with Gollancz's claim that "they will present the Elric stories in a consistent internal chronological order." Plainly, this isn't exactly the case. The trilogy most definitely does not occur at the beginning of Elric's saga. Gollancz has justified this by observing that Elric plays a relatively minor role in the three tales. This is true. So why call them ELRIC: THE MOONBEAM ROADS when the principal protagonists are the Von Beks? The publishing order doesn't fit into the Von Bek chronology either, as THE WAR HOUND AND THE WORLD'S PAIN and THE CITY IN THE AUTUMN STARS should come before them. Order-wise, I'd say these were certainly the wrong choice to kick off the "definitive Michael Moorcock" project.

If Gollancz are hoping to attract new readers to Moorcock's fantasy, then these were the wrong launch titles on that basis, too. Honestly, as much as I love and admire the guy, this isn't his best work. I found the first two rather confusing and, regrettably, a little tedious. Didn't enjoy them. The third was an improvement, but I still found it difficult to fully engage with it. The fact is, though I read them one after the other and finished last week, if you now ask me what they were about, I couldn't tell you.

Next up, CORUM: THE PRINCE IN THE SCARLET ROBE, which is the collected trilogy THE KNIGHT OF THE SWORDS, THE QUEEN OF THE SWORDS, and THE KING OF THE SWORDS—whose Haberfield covers I particularly liked—and now I remember why Michael Moorcock is so important to me.

As a matter of fact, these were the first Moorcocks I ever read. I must have been somewhere between 12 and 14 years old. I've read them once since, now a third time, and on all occasions they've completely hooked me. In them, I can easily identify what it is about Moorcock that has influenced me as a writer. AUDACIOUSNESS. Here we find gods of such vast size that humans are like ants beneath their feet; incomprehensibly powerful forces which, just as you're gasping at their sheer scale, are quickly outdone by even vaster entities. Yet, as you grapple with these concepts, its also apparent that Mike is writing about interior, psychological energies, too, so a sort of resonation occurs, rippling out from within the individual, into society and culture and politics, and beyond into the cosmic scale. Its brilliant and breathtaking and, most of all, FUN. It also explains why, to me, Haberfield's Hindu influenced covers were always the most appropriate.

I'm off to a convention in Poland tomorrow, and will take with me CORUM: THE PRINCE WITH THE SILVER HAND, which rather inexplicably is another one (or three: THE BULL AND THE SPEAR, THE OAK AND THE RAM and THE SWORD AND THE STALLION) that I've never read. Why, when I was so enamoured by the first Corum trilogy, did I never read the second? I've no idea. Most reviewers say it's not as good. As long as it's better than THE MOONBEAM ROADS.

3 comments:

  1. Mark:

    I recently posted a positive review of A RED SUN ALSO RISES on my blog. I'd love it if you'd take a moment and give it a look. The address is http://frankcampbell56.blogspot.com

    Thanks!

    Frank

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  2. I haven't paid much attention to the recent Gollancz editions because they struck me, immediately, as being exceedingly bizarre in their selections. Especially following the White Wolf and/or older Orion editions from the 90's, which if you ask me, hunt those down because THOSE are the closest thing to a proper chronological order you're going to find. They are also not perfect, and while the WW and Orion editions are mostly interchangeable there are minor differences even there (Orion didn't bother with a Kane of Old Mars volume, some of the short story/novella compendiums like the Earl Aubec volumes collect a few alternate stories between them). Whenever you can justify the sometimes exorbitant prices some of the OOP White Wolf editions go for, those are the best, in my opinion.

    It's interesting to have stumbled upon this post right at this time - a few years back I started in on the Moorcock collections, 15 Eternal Champion omnibuses + 4 Cornelius Chronicles collections (did you have any idea there was that much Cornelius? I only ever thought there was the one Chronicles collection) + the Blood trilogy and now finally I'm reading the Dreamtheif Daughter trilogy which absolutely should be the LAST - and not the first - books anyone should read. I've read the first two, and only have the White Wolf's Son to go. I also found Dreamthief's Daughter to be a slog, though Skrayling Tree absorbed me more. Those most recent Champion novels feel like Moorcock himself is going through too many motions, revisiting ideas and characters and tropes but only occasionally venturing into truly new territory for himself. I suppose when you've already written yea many books about the far limits of the human imagination, it's tough to trump yourself. That said, having a refreshed and thorough knowledge of the goings on inside all the other Champion stories makes those latest books much more intriguing. Otherwise, I can't imagine what the allure must be.

    My personal favorites from Moorcock (and this surprised me), where the DANCERS AT THE END OF TIME books. Some of the tightest narratives and most exhaustively explored characterizations I think Moorcock has ever done outside of maybe the Pyat books regarding said character exploration. Plus, Dancers takes a conceit and has serious fun with it for pages upon pages, I kept expecting him to ground the narrative after a quick "oh, look, here's an example of how outlandish the denizens at the End of Time would be compared to us today". But I think he outdid himself on conceptualizing, in detail and in action, what such a society would be and how they'd operate on a day to day basis. Those are some seriously impressive novels. Also, with the time travel elements and Victorian protagonist core, you might especially appreciate them.

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  3. I was just thinking about the DANCERS AT THE END OF TIME books this morning! I loved Michael Moorcock as an adolescent. I was so lucky to find these books in a small bookstore in Hamilton, Bermuda. Thanks for posting!

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